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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 Rapping: Ms. Lauryn Hill

Her new reggae-rock arrangements may not please everyone (and the whole 27-minutes late thing never stops being annoying), but when Ms. Lauryn Hill goes into one of the raps from her classic days — like "Lost Ones" or "Final Hour" — she hits them running like Twista, pushing herself to lightning speeds. In the process it reminds everyone that before she was a reclusive genius eccentric song-writer, she was one of the most valuable lyricists in hip-hop.

 

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Best Alternative to Daft Punk: Kaskade

Kaskade's late, late Saturday night set was enough to make everyone forget that Daft Punk keeps turning down festival invites: Their dual-level LCD screens, smoke and confetti machines and amazing laser works were every bit the eye candy as the French duo's storied pyramid. At 4 a.m., when the DJ dropped an EDM rendition of Foo Fighters' "Best of You," the glow sticks were still flying in the night sky.

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Best Pork Pull: Hamageddon

Yes, you can purchase a "bacon flight" at Baconland  — that's applewood smoked, hickory smoked, peppered and sugar-cured bacon from five different states. But no one goes ham like the Sparseland collective, who cooked two pigs inside of this flame-shooting steampunk mecha-piggy. "They were torturing us with their bacon this morning," says collective member Scott about the smells coming from nearby Baconland. "So we're going to torture them with our pig."

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Best Rager: Danny Brown

The only place tougher to endure than a hot Bonnaroo Port-a-Potty was the pit at the Danny Brown show. Those kids crowd-surfing to the stage weren't thrill seekers; they were people just looking for an exit out of the suffocating, impenetrable human wall that had formed as the crowd anticipated the rapper's arrival. The pit for the Danny Brown set was easily the rowdiest, craziest, most aggressive of the whole weekend, and it was emblematic of the bro-ification of the Bonnaroo demographic. The Widespread Panic-loving hippies that graced the festival in its early days are in the minority as tank-topped dudes acting wild because the semester just ended now dominate. However, Brown's performance was awesome enough to satisfy the boisterous crowd.

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Best Unofficial Superjam: Damon Albarn

"I've never played a gig like this in America, it's a dream come true," Damon Albarn told the What Stage crowd during his midday set. Although Albarn is the frontman of two wildly successful bands — Blur and Gorillaz — he'd never performed a U.S. solo show of this magnitude, so he brought a little help with him. Like Jack White later that night, working as a solo entity allowed Albarn to roam his entire catalog, so when the time arrived to perform Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc.," De La Soul came running out onstage. Del the Funky Homosapien reprised his role on "Clint Eastwood" and a brass ensemble and a vocal group came onstage for "Broken." That's all in addition to Albarn's new backing band the Heavy Seas, who helped sharpen the Blur material and even busted out "Kingdom of Doom" from Albarn's the Good, the Bad, and the Queen side project.

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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. 

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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."