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45 Best Things We Saw at Bonnaroo 2014

Lionel Richie rules the night, Kanye West requests press and Skrillex runs a cross-generational Superjam

bonnaroo 2014

Dana Distortion

Bonnaroo 2014 has come to a close. Dogs were corned, potties were ported and the jams were indeed super. Here are the 45 best things we saw, from Kanye West's killer comeback to Skrillex's homage to music that makes people freak out to Neutral Milk Hotel's weep-a-thon. By Christopher R. Weingarten and Daniel Kreps

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Best Accidental EDM Show: Omar Souleyman

He's pushing 50, his stage movements are mostly walking around and clapping and his stage banter is "Hello" or "Hey, hey, hey!" Still, the crowd treated Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman like a hot superstar DJ. Well, obviously he makes dance music, but his trebly, winding keyboard lines aren't exactly the powerful bass drops coming from Skrillex. At Bonnaroo, Souleyman's performance was full of all the fun and chaos of a great EDM set — flags, beach balls, a guy in a Gumby suit, inflatable lobsters, thrown water and even a few crowd surfers.

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Best Free Massage: Deafheaven

In what has to be the first black metal set at Roo (though that "black metal" is in quotation marks), Deafheaven brought a unique level of extreme to the weekend. Live, they're best thought of as four shoegaze/mathrock/art-metal sound-sculptors (yeah, that includes vocalist George Clarke's precise screeches too), all anchored by sinewy drummer Daniel Tracy. Together they're a wash of triumphant, majestic noise over a high-volume, high-speed throb that could probably sooth any aching muscles close enough to the speakers. Clarke responded to the gush of sound with a gentle crowd surf and an evocative stage ballet that was once theatrical, intense, sensitive, and a little humorless — an metal combo of Bono, Rollins and Morrissey.

Bonnaroo 2014

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Best Performance by a Group on Thursday Night: San Antonio Spurs

Basketball fans lined up for hours outside the Cinema Tent to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals. As the hordes of San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat fans filled the auditorium, the room took on an almost soccer-arena atmosphere as chants of "Let's Go Spurs" and the Heat's interpolation of "Seven Nation Army" were volleyed back and forth. At tip-off, the air-conditioned area was completely packed, but by the time the Heat entered halftime down 20, Spurs fans had conquered the Cinema Tent like it was the Alamo, driving their opponents back out into the festival.

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Best Entrance: Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid singer sure knows how to make a cinematic entrance. After her band took their places to the sounds of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," Monae was wheeled onto the stage Hannibal Lecter-style, wearing a straitjacket. When she was finally freed, she showed her charisma and personality was big enough to fill the main stage, captivating the audience with hits "Tightrope," "Cold War" and "Electric Lady."

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Best Tearjerker: Neutral Milk Hotel

With two songs, Neutral Milk Hotel turned the This Tent into a screening of The Fault in Our StarsThe devastating combo of "Ferris Wheel on Fire" and "Oh Comely" — two poignant, beautiful tunes about destruction and atrocity — had tears pooling in festivalgoers' eyes. For many, it was an emotionally overwhelming moment to see the near-mythical Jeff Mangum — now with a long gray beard but the same unmistakable voice — and his merry henchmen perform these 16-year-old songs live, a possibility that seemed implausible just a few years ago.

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Best Non-Rock Rock Show: ASAP Ferg

"It's time to get ratchet. Feel free to mosh pit." For his debut Bonnaroo gig, A$AP Ferg pulled out all the elements of a good rock show: Crowd surfing, mosh pitting, stage diving. There was even some Girls Gone Wild-style debacuhery during an interlude where Ferg and his hypeman brought female audience members onstage to flash the crowd. To Ferg's frustration, none of them did. 

Gaelle Beri

Best Daytime Slow Jam Party: Sam Smith

"This is my first festival in America, I didn't think anyone would show up," Sam Smith told a crowd that was uncomfortably packed with Bonnaroovians, a rarity for any 2 p.m. slot. This concert served as an album release party for Smith: His debut LP In the Lonely Hour finally arrives in the U.S. on June 17th. Highlights from the set included the single "Money On My Mind," Smith's Naughty Boy hit "La La La," and a cover of Arctic Monkeys' "Do I Wanna Know."

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Best In-Air Light Show: Zedd

Zedd's blinking, bursting lights looked great from the clear across the festival and looked even better close up. Though he usually makes the kind of house music robot would fight to, it was his gentle hit "Clarity" that provided a peak before his set's final minutes.


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Best Education: ‘Take Me to the River’ screening and concert

If 73-year-old blues funkateer Bobby Rush doesn't get a full Syl Johnson-style renaissance in 2014, someone is dropping the ball. In Take Me to the River, a film where Tennessee and Delta legends explore what narrator Terrance Blanchard calls the "integrated music utopia" of Memphis and pioneers are teamed with contemporary talent, he collaborates with a geeked Frayser Boy, Yo Gotti is sprung on Bobby "Blue" Bland and Skip Pitts spends studio time with Snoop.

At Bonnaroo the film came to life with a performance by a 13-piece band (including Bar-Kays trumpet player Ben Cauley, the only survivor of the plane crash that killed Otis Reddingthat blasted through nearly 50 years of Southern music history as one revue. Stax hitmaker William Bell brought stunning theatricality and dynamics to his 1968 smash "I Forgot to be Your Lover" and Al Kapone used the same band to tear through 2005 get-buck anthem "Whoop That Trick." Rush and Frayser made a great team on Rufus Thomas' "Push and Pull," but none of this monster band's power could match Rush's solo harmonica blues rendition of "Garbage Man" —