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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

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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 Addition: The Kalliope Stage

The brand new Kalliope Stage wasn't anything fancy — just a large LCD screen, some speakers and a DJ booth — but it was major addition to a festival that keeps improving. Every day during the fest, thousands of soccer fans, a population too big to fit in the still-too-small Cinema Tent, would congregate in the field surrounding the Kalliope to watch World Cup games on the giant screen. When the day's matches ended, the screen would broadcast random sporting events — we caught a Mets game — until sundown. That's when the Kalliope Stage transformed into a hot dance club with DJs pumping out EDM and hip-hop until 4 a.m.

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Best Makeover: Broken Bells

Let's be honest: The Shins, although great in the studio, were notoriously lousy in a live setting. With Broken Bells, James Mercer has redeemed himself. Guided by Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton on bass, Broken Bells perform with a self-confidence and meticulousness that eluded Mercer's other band.

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Best Alt-Country Escape: Cass McCombs

Folk troubadour Cass McCombs provided some much-needed alt-country to the Tennessee crowd, bringout out a lap steel guitar and some intense six-string interplay. McCombs played the type of music we wish Wilco still made, including a beautiful rendition of "County Line."

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Best Non-Jam Jam Band: White Denim

Eager to get their midnight set at the That Tent going, White Denim started 10 minutes before scheduled. They made the most of that extra time as the Austin indie rockers jammed out their usually condensed songs. In the crowd, an exorbitant number of gray hairs filled the air with weed smoke, which makes sense, since White Denim play the type of music old dudes like to get stoned to: Bluesy grooves that lay the foundations for Phishy guitar solos and vocal melodies that sound like Jack White checking into the Mars Hotel.

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Best Intimate Session With a Star: Wayne Coyne

Hours before the Flaming Lips performed to tens of thousands of festivalgoers, frontman Wayne Coyne sat down for an interview at the Solar Stage with just a few hundred fans. The topic of the conversation was "Social Change Through Music," so Coyne discussed his work with helping homeless dogs in Oklahoma City and Amnesty International. Coyne is one of the most loquacious dudes in rock, so the topic often veered into unexpected areas, like Coyne's love of Barack Obama and why he considers R.E.M. to be punk rock. Coyne also revealed that the Lips' Sgt. Pepper's cover album should be finished by October, and that some proceeds from the release would go to causes that he supports.

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Best Use of Underused Instrument: Carolina Chocolate Drops

North Carolina old-time folk historians Carolina Chocolate Drops stopped by the Solar Stage to break down the weighty history behind their songs and talk about breathing new life into old compositions. One of the best ways they do the latter is by playing the bones, the clicking clacking castanet-like wooden sticks that helped power folk musics of America, Ireland and Canada. Their triplet rhythms couldn't be further removed from contemporary dance music around Bonnaroo — to the point where this old instrument sounded weirdly fresh. 

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Best One-Band ‘Nuggets’: The Allah-Las

Before the Allah-Las hit the stage, they had their work cut out for them: The "Hey Ya" sing-along broke out during the pre-set music a somber reminder Bonnaroo is probably the only music festival that the reunited Outkast didn't attend. The Los Angeles rockers quickly overcame this with their brand of psychedelic garage by way of the Modern Lovers — deep bass grooves, rich distortion and messy harmonies. Sound problems plagued the early portion of the set, creating a sunny, reverbed stew.

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Best Way to Beat the Heat: The Parachute

People would lay under it and teamwork would do the rest. Just like gym class without the fear of dodgeball day looming on the horizon.

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Best Tension Breaker: Animals as Leaders

You could sense tension in the air as security streamed into Miller Lite's cozy, cramped New Music on Tap Lounge, bracing for what frantic shred-metallers Animals as Leaders were about to unleash with 20 fingers on 16 strings. However, their set ended up being more like a crunchy, gnashing jazz-fusion record arranged for distortion pedals. The crowd in the packed house mostly headbanged politely, watched in awe or went for a quick crowd-surf in a banana costume. 

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Best Sociology Lesson: A Tribe Called Red

Ottawa's A Tribe Called Red are "an all First Nation DJ crew" that "remix traditional pow wow music with contemporary club sounds." Their live show works as the funkiest socio-political experiment around, exploring European relationships with Native American culture … in real time. When they drop the problematic Atlanta Braves "tomahawk chop" into a song, are you supposed to dance or riot? When white people appropriating headdresses stop by to dance, do you lecture them or simply gawk at their ignorance?

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Best Drake Cover: ZZ Ward

This bluesy singer-songwriter gave the festival its first "passersby stopping in their tracks" moment Thursday when she shared her bouncy, acoustic rendition of Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" on an unsuspecting crowd.

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Best Real Estate Lookalikes: These dudes

The plainness of the New Jersey indie rockers — their software engineer style with the wire glasses and the polo-and-khakis combo — was popular among thousands of Bonnaroovians, so much so that even our photographer was tricked into believing that the fellows posed here actually were the Atlas crew.

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Best Use of the Worst Slot: The Preatures

This Australia quintet were given the unenviable position of That Stage's Welcome Mat slot — a 3 p.m. Thursday gig when the majority of festivalgoers were still stuck on Highway 24 — but lead singer Isabella Manfredi immediately won the crowd over with her dream pop arrangements. The performance also showed how amped Bonnaroovians were for the World Cup: Drummer Luke Davison's USA shirt elicited chants from the crowd.

 

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Best Not-So-Silent Disco: DJ Logic

Just passing by the Silent Disco, you could tell what DJ Logic was spinning by what the raucous crowd would be singing, in unison, into the air — the hooks to "ABC," "Gold Digger," "Rapper's Delight" and "Mo Money Mo Problems." Though he's known for downtempo beats and jazz-scratch excursions, nothing was going to keep DJ Logic from playing the hits. Once we actually got our headphones on, you could hear that he was blazing through all of them with deft cutting — DJ sets are a dime a dozen at every festival, so how rare is it to hear actual scratching in a mix set?

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