50 Best Things We Saw at Bonnaroo 2015 - Rolling Stone
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50 Best Things We Saw at Bonnaroo 2015

From killer jams to a deadly ep of ‘Game of Thrones,’ a complete rundown of the fest’s essential moments

Best of Bonnaroo

Best of Bonnaroo

Kyle Dean Reinford; Theonepointeight

The 2015 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival featured hundreds of artists, dozens of food trucks and more glitter than we can quantify. And thanks to top-notch headlining performances from Billy Joel, Kendrick Lamar and Mumford & Sons, it was another unforgettable, never-ending bonanza. We trekked from the Other Tent to the What Stage to the Cinema Tent to uncover all of 2015's can't-miss moments. From to the much-ballyhooed all-star SuperJam to a secret venue in the campgrounds, from a mega Game of Thrones viewing party to one incredible donut, these are the 50 best things we saw, heard or tasted at Bonnaroo 2015.

Billy Joel

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best of the Fest: Billy Joel

As expected from one of the few artists alive capable of selling out New York's Madison Square Garden on a monthly basis, Joel was more than up to the task of headlining, and his crowd-pleasing two-hour, 21-song performance served up the perfect blend of crowdwork, spectacle and generation-bridging. Going into Sunday night, the big question was whether Joel would orient his set list for the Bonnaroo crowd or if he'd stick to the mix of classics and deep cuts that he presents on his sporadic arena gigs. The answer was a little of both: After the opening salvo of "My Life" and "Pressure," Joel dipped into a string of non-singles ("Everybody Loves You Now," "Zanzibar," "All for Leyna"), but after festivalgoers weathered those lesser-known cuts, he dropped hit after hit after hit, including a one-two punch of "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and "Piano Man" that closed out the main set before his the encore. 

Still, this wasn't just another gig for Joel, and his self-deprecating onstage demeanor quickly endeared him to the crowd. He joked about not even owning a copy of his first LP, Cold Spring Harbor, before "Everybody Loves You Now," and when newly lit paper lanterns filled the sky, a perplexed Joel banged out the Twilight Zone theme on his piano. As he has done in recent months, he invited his longtime guitar roadie Chainsaw to provide a rush of adrenaline with a cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," while ZZ Top's "Tush" made a brief appearance during the middle coda of "River of Dreams."

But what truly made Joel's Bonnaroo-closing set unique was the audience. There's something blissfully communal about witnessing tens of thousands of people — hardcore Joelees, Greatest Hits inheritors and the sweaty, glittery, glowstick-tossing kids who were bopping to Bassnectar the previous night — swaying back and forth, arms around shoulders, and collectively wondering aloud with Joel, "Man, what are you doing here?" Joel can perform at the Garden every month until he's 90, he could sing until the lights really do go out on Broadway, but there's nothing like Bonnaroo.

Kasey Musgraves

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best of the Fest (Tent Edition): Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves clearly loves Bonnaroo — during her geeked 2013 performance, she mentioned how she snuck in one year and saw Nine Inch Nails. Also, she blurted out "I fucking love Bonnaroo so much." She spent her 75-minute performance sneaking in little asides to the assembled Roovians, letting them kmow she was one of them: the outbound bus to Vegas in "Blowin' Smoke" went to Bonnaroo, the scotch in "Trailer Song" became mushroom tea, she introduced her pedal steel player and then threw glowsticks. Musgraves is clearly excited about (if not a product of) Bonnaroo's genre-mixing, the country version of all the stages bleeding into one another — this meant a Tracy Chapman style take on T.L.C.'s "No Scrubs," a New Wave-y take on Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" and a swing at Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." The rest was a mix of neotraditional country revivalism and pop savvy, part homage and part wink — check out those light-up boots and neon cacti, not to mention her little square dance in hit single "Biscuits." The best part of Musgraves' Bonnaroo journey was hearing her biggest hit "Follow Your Arrow" — in 2013 it was a buzzy album track that boasted blue-state politics and a motivational chorus, in 2015 it was a sing-along for thousands and she wanted "them to hear us on the fucking main stage." 

Kendrick Lamar


Best Improvement: Kendrick Lamar

"How many y'all were with me from the beginning," Kendrick Lamar frequently asked during his Friday night main stage performance. The "beginning" in this case was Lamar's messy 2012 gig at Bonnaroo, where the Compton rapper, then backed by just a DJ, dropped embryonic renditions of not-yet-released good kid, m.A.A.d. City tracks on a largely indifferent Thursday audience. A lot has changed in the past three years: the K-Dot of Section.80 is running game and got the whole world talking. His 90-minute What Stage set retroactively improved the live quality of those cuts, playing eight of them like a victory lap for a race everyone already knows he won a long time ago. Now that everyone can recite his rhymes back to him, his physicality carried the performance. Lamar stumbled around like he was drunk on sex during "Fuckin' Problems," exploding on every "yawk" in "m.A.A.d. city," and exploding even harder when he played "m.A.A.d. city" a second time.

bonnaroo wedding

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Story for Your Kids: Bonnaroo Weddings

Festivalgoers offered up the coveted plots of shade they had staked to form an aisle for Pablo and Danielle to walk down Thursday, the first of a handful of impromptu wedding ceremonies to take place at Bonnaroo. Overseen by an officiate wearing a tie-dye shirt, the couple said "I do" in a small, short ceremony outside the Which Stage in front of close friends and hundreds of strangers as a power ballad from a hard-rock band at the New Music on Tap Lounge provided an unsolicited soundtrack. For many of these unions, Bonnaroo had served as OKCupid, since the couples met for the first time on the festival grounds.

My Morning Jacket

Winston Marshall & Marcus Mumford

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Lighter-Raiser: Mumford & Sons

In 2013, Mumford & Sons' headlining Bonnaroo gig was canceled at the last minute after bassist Ted Dwane underwent brain surgery. "We're finally here, two years too late," the band quipped during its Saturday night set. Mumford & Sons opened the affair with an introductory video where the group — wearing full costumes that obscured their identities — ran around Bonnaroo high-fiving festivalgoers. Despite plugging in their guitars for their new album, Wilder Mind, the Mumfords opened up their 20-song headlining set softly, performing "Lovers' Eyes" and "I Will Wait." 

However, by the third song "Snake Eyes," the electric guitars came out, and the two-hour "fucking party" Marcus Mumford promised kicked off. The quartet strummed out one anthem after another, and even though they played to an audience that felt like pretty much everyone at the festival — excluding Slayer fans and kids waiting for a front row spot at Bassnectar — Mumford & Sons' performance was deeply intimate, full of the warmth and togetherness that Bonnaroo is always preaching to their attendees. 

There was also a pair of surprise moments during the concert: Actor and bluegrass maven Ed Helms brought out his banjo to accompany the band on "Awake My Soul," and members of My Morning Jacket, the War on Drugs, Dawes and Hozier all came out for the show-ending sing-along of Joe Cocker's rendition of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends."

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Workout: Florence and the Machine

Let it be known that Florence's foot is OK. She ran across the stage like she was trying to get away from the music, and by "Queen of Peace" she was practically sprinting. Her entire set seemed like she was trying to break down any barriers between herself and the very, very large audience, and she did a lot of running to make it happen. She bounded — barefoot — through the photo pit and around VIP to get closer to her fans. However, a simple sign that said HUG? meant that someone had to put in some work besides Florence. "If you can get to me, you can have a hug," she told the audience member holding the sign. She would ultimately give her two hugs.



Best Subversion of Festival EDM: Deadmau5

Deadmau5 may be the most brilliant man in electronic dance music in spite of — or because of — his unquenchable desire to duck every stereotype, expectation or trope of a Saturday night headliner. A fan of acts like Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails (as evidenced by 2014's while(1<2)), Deadmau5 has no problem being a "dance" act who can play ambient sizzles and moody piano. His trademark mouse head was emulated in countless homespun varieties over the weekend, but seemingly spent most of his set laying disembodied on the stage instead of on his shoulders. When playing his 2012 song "The Veldt," he let a single synth line bug out with no beat, accompanied by a light show that was just a screen showing a sunrise, lighting up the night sky. Also, there was a hilarious super disco break where the guy whose official bio states he "doesn't like being called a DJ" pulled a great pisstake on the idea that EDM dudes are nothing but button pushers: He sat on a sofa while two folks in a "Left Shark" costume and hot dog suit danced next to an inflatable palm.

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes @ What Stage


Best Barnburner: Alabama Shakes

The last time Alabama Shakes performed at Bonnaroo, in 2012, they were saddled with a late Thursday night set on one of the smaller stages. Three years later, Brittany Howard and her finely tuned roots rockers were performing to a Friday night crowd of at least 50,000 at the fest's main What Stage. "I never thought we'd be here, on this stage," Howard told the crowd before stumbling for words. "It's really hard to come up with something to say." She didn't have to say anything: The Alabama Shakes' sundown gig was yet another showcase of Howard's unparalleled vocal acrobatics as the tight group shimmered through slow burners like Sound & Color's "I'm Yours" and high-energy rockers like "Hang Loose."

Sooper Groop Tent

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Tent: The Sooper Groop Tent

This humble abode, just past Camp Han Solo in the Groop Camping section, probably didn't have the wireless Internet of your Airbnb but it did have its own inflatable guard lizard.

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket @ What Stage


Best Return: My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket's insane midnight sets made them festival favorites in Bonnaroo's early years as Jim James and Co. would perform a mix of album cuts and unique covers deep into the morning hours. However, MMJ last appeared at the fest four years ago, making their return in 2015 one of the most anticipated sets of Bonnaroo. Tethered to just two hours of main stage time on Saturday night, the band's set list wasn't as freewheeling as those anything-goes shows, but they did use the time to showcase well-seasoned cuts off their new LP, The Waterfall, and mine deep into their catalog. Among the many highlights were standout renditions of "Victory Dance," "Gideon," "I'm Amazed" and an absolutely mammoth "Dondante." 

Robert Plant

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters @ Which Stage


Best Reason to Stop Moaning About How Led Zeppelin Aren’t Reuniting: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

It's easy to see why Robert Plant is reluctant to reunite with his old bandmates; he's having way too much fun with his new ones. Over the course of his Sunday night performance, a loquacious Plant was routinely cracking jokes and sharing anecdotes during a gig that alternated between Space Shifters material and Led Zeppelin classics. Some of Plant's Zeppelin oeuvre was radically transformed in the hands of the Shifters; "Black Dog" ran at a crawl and "Going to California" was warmed by rootsy, front porch feel as the inimitable Plant was accompanied by only acoustic guitar and mandolin. 

Any time Plant lulled the crowd with his Lullaby and. . . the Ceaseless Roar material, he quickly shook them awake with the Led cuts, including "Dazed and Confused" with a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "No Place to Go" serving as intro. Plant closed out his too-short 75 minute set with a love-themed medley that swept through "Crossroads," "I Just Wanna Make Love to You," "You Need Love," "Who Do You Love" and "Whole Lotta Love" before bidding the audience farewell with IV's "Rock and Roll."


Raury @ The Who Stage


Best Star Turn: Raury

Up-and-coming songwriter Raury doesn't always sing in tune and he doesn't always have the best breath control — but, hey, the 19-year-old XXL Freshman is less a Frank Ocean–style prodigy and more a Tyler-style bloodletter out to make you feel his pain. He brought a tent-sized crowd to the tiny Who stage, and a main-stage–sized rock band too — keytar, background singers and a guitarist and bassist ready to indulge in Prince-ish choreography. If Kendrick and D'Angelo are out to make hip-hop and R&B go full Sly Stone, then Raury got the memo. He said, "I'm here to take you higher," before his SBTRKT-assisted "Higher," flashed double peace signs and (in a move that out-loves Woodstock) asked strangers to hug the person next to them. It seems like Raury is only going further out before he's fully famous: His new song, "Odyssey," was a chorusless blur of quick, Andre 3000-esque rapping that built to a shout.

Gary Clark Jr

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Use of Stage Time: Gary Clark, Jr.

The notes just tumble from Texas blues/jam/rock/funk guitarist Gary Clark Jr., and he could have spent his hour-long Bonnaroo set playing ripping solos and wailing near the top of his neck — which, to some extent, he did. But Clark, who's going to be on the road through July, tested some new material on a huge crowd. With the follow-up to his 2012 major label debut on the way, he worked on what may be a muted, soulful new sound. "Hold On" sounded like something between D'Angelo, Amy Winehouse and an echo suite for Stones Throw. "I feel like getting real intimate with you," he said before playing "The Healing," sans band. The song, a cross between John Legend and Alice in Chains, had never been played live before, but the way people clapped along, rapidly absorbed the chorus ("This music is my healing") and applauded at the end, made it seem like an old favorite, or at least destined to become one.


Amish Donut

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Thing We Ate: Amish Baking Company’s Donuts

We tried poutine, BLTs, reuben burgers, jambalya, fried chicken sandwiches, quesadillas and more, but for the second year in a row nothing can top the Amish Baking Company's sticky, stretchy sugarsplosions. They're still everything you love about donuts amplified — the sweetness is sharp, the doughiness factor is extra pliant. Hot, affordable and still the one to beat.

ryn weaver

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Move From Bonnaroo 2014: Ryn Weaver

This time last year, Ryn Weaver was just another body among the sweaty Bonnaroo masses. "I came here last year, I got acid over there," Weaver told the crowd at the Other Tent, pointing towards the Fountain. "Really glad to be playing this year." The California pop singer, packing vocal chops worthy of the Grand Ole Opry (about an hour up I-24), laced her Thursday afternoon set with synth-heavy stunners plucked from her upcoming LP, The Fool.

courtney barnett

Courtney Barnett @ This Tent


Best Grunge Show: Courtney Barnett

Don't let the singer-songwriter label trick you: Courtney Barnett's live show packs just as much bite as her piercing lyrics. At Bonnaroo, Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit material roared, bolstered by a power trio configuration, sludgy bass and a grunge veneer. On the highlight "Small Poppies," Barnett slowly navigated the haunting balled toward cacophony before erupting into the coda, "An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye/I used to hate myself but now I think I'm alright." Later, Barnett executed a precise, intense rendition of "Avant Gardener," stabbing every syllable as the transfixed crowd mouthed along.



Best Place to See Unexpected Kisses: Slayer

First and foremost, we won't attempt to do justice to the look Slayer vocalist Tom Araya gave a beach ball. Slayer shows are usually renown for their no-prisoners, no-pity, no-mercy, no-fucks-given attitude from the audience — but this is Bonnaroo after all, an event that kicked off the day with nearly three hours of yoga and meditation programming. So yes, people went berserk, moshed, started a huge circle pit and crowd-surfed. But, when one guy was pulled from the crowd, he kissed the "Safety Staffer" on the forehead. Another crowd-surfer grabbed a Staffer and kissed him on the cheek on the way out. And while "Dead Skin Mask," "Mandatory Suicide" and closer "Angel of Death" were all as lean, quick, precise and brutal as you'd expect, they were gently undercut by the way Araya said "Bonnaroooooo" like he was looking for a Scooby snack.

SuperJam/Rhiannon Giddens


Best SuperJammer: Rhiannon Giddens

With her slow version of the Police's "Roxanne," Rhiannon Giddens was one of the few high points in this year's SuperJam — though she may have been half a beat off. When the final choruses rolled in and she started vamping in her huge voice, it became obvious that a Giddens rock album needs to come down the pipeline in the next few years. 

However, moments like that were few and far between. The annual SuperJam no longer holds any semblance of an actual musical conversation, and is instead rock-star karaoke cloying for social media attention. This year's "Throwback SuperJam Dance Party" was basically the world's wackest JackFM playlist, with the addition of rando performers. Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis and Corey Feldman were all there to do things and be famous. Cherub's Jordan Kelley played Cameo's "Word Up," a classic funk song by any measure, alongside Richard Simmons footage for maximum nostalglols. Charli 2na doing "The Message" and Jamie Lidell doing "Sexual Healing" were so on-the-nose that they were practically unnecessary. Metallica's Rob Trujillo, a great funk bassist as evidenced by his days in Infectious Grooves, played versions of Ozzy's "Crazy Train" and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" for the thousandth time. Jack Antonoff completely bungled the words to INXS's "Need You Tonight." Curator Pretty Lights did something completely out of context with Prince's "Erotic City" inside of it. It wasn't exactly the SuperJam of our dreams.

Mac Demarco

Mac Demarco @ This Tent


Best Late-Night Stoner Bro-Down: Mac DeMarco

If last year's Bonnaroovians were aping the debate-team look of Real Estate, 2015 was the year that dudes embodied DeMarco's carefree style. "This is our second time at Bonnaroo, first time was crazy, hopefully this time is even crazier," the indie goofball told the Friday midnight crowd. Things got crazy: DeMarco's haphazard set was packed with broken strings, onstage tunings, awkward banter that openly mocked the "hipsters" in the pit and a cluster of unwanted feedback; the microphone ironically and repeatedly flared up as DeMarco sang "I just wanna go" on "The Stars Keep Calling My Name." However, the crowd ate up the technical difficulties, exalting into revelry by the time "Blue Boy" arrived.

Uber Helicopter

Uber Helicopter


Best One Percenter Mode of Transporation: Uber Helicopters

Bonnaroo teamed with Uber this year to provide a method of getting to the fest that 99 percent of festivalgoers couldn't afford. For just $1,500, the UberChopper ferried in wealthier attendees from Nashville, dropping them squarely on the helipad on the outskirts of the festival grounds that's used to bring in the marquee talent. However, the helicopter ride was only a one-way ticket, and while Uber offered a complimentary ride back to Nashville, that means even One Percenters had to sit in traffic Sunday on their way off the Farm.


Pallbearer @ That Tent


Best Self-Zing: Pallbearer

Doom metal low-end spelunkers Pallbearer had the misfortune to play across the fest from Brown Sabbath, the horn-laden headbanger tribute act. But the timing at least allowed bassist Joseph Rowland to joke, "Unfortunately there's two Black Sabbath cover bands playing right now." Pallbearer slowly undulated and bent their strings with almost telepathic precision, but their jokey stage presence and otaku-y T-shirts (Creepshow, Frank Zappa) made them not at all menacing and more like a metal band you can blow bubbles at — which someone ultimately did.

unlocking the truth

Unlocking the Truth @ This Tent


Best Wake Up Call: Unlocking the Truth

As the third band of the entire fest, teen metalcore sensations Unlocking the Truth didn't let a 5:45 p.m. Thursday set go to waste. Lead singer Malcolm Brickhouse said right up front, "We wanna see this crowd go nuts, all right?" So by the first chorus of their first song a hand shot up indicating someone in the crowd had already lost a shoe. It was a decidedly heavy way to kick off the weekend. But this is Bonnaroo after all: a flip-flop went flying, a stuffed penguin headbanged and a pond of straw hats bobbed.

Against Me

Laura June Grace

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Crowd-Surfers: Against Me!

Maybe just because there was so many of them during the Florida punk crew's no-nonsense 16-song set, that, statistically, some of them would be interesting. One seemed to prep for a photo op in a full graduation robe and mortarboard — then tossed his diploma. Another was a punk with a full Eighties Mohawk with a color we couldn't quite discern. Another was taking the ride with his GoPro. 

Run the Jewels

Run The Jewels @ This Tent


Best Punk Show Disguised as a Rap Show: Run the Jewels

In the shadow of the massive Kendrick Lamar headlining set that was scheduled to end 15 minutes earlier, wandering off to see hip-hop's most abrasive alpha dogs, Run the Jewels, felt like sharing a secret handshake. It was hot (El-P: "It feels like we are in motherfucking Africa right now"); it was combustible (songs like "Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1" have parts custom made for an audience to explode); it was emotional (Killer Mike performed his verse in the police brutality meditation "Early" holding the microphone stand like Trent Reznor); and it was unnecessarily obscene (the audience sang along to the line "dick in her mouth all day" to which El-P noted, "Dear Diary, today I got Bonnaroo to scream the stupidest fucking chorus in the history of music").

tove lo

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Pop Show Disguised as a Rock Show: Tove Lo

Tove Lo has a legit Number Three Billboard hit ("Habits"), a second on the way ("Talking Body" is at Number 12) and a crowd that probably topped My Morning Jacket's, the biggest of any tent show. But for a pop star, Tove Lo brought no pop spectacle. She performed with just two drummers and a keyboardist, having to carry an enormous show on her personality and performance alone. Spoiler: not a problem. Her dancing was slithery, her voice was cold alongside the music and wildly expressive when a cappella. She blew kisses in the middle of "Got Love" (the audience went wild) and flashed the crowd in the middle of "Talking Body" (the audience went wild).

Earth Wind and Fire

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Curveball: Earth, Wind and Fire

Thousands of festivalgoers flocked to Flying Lotus' late-night set after Kendrick Lamar's main-stage performance hoping that the rapper would make an appearance, since the pair collaborated on the latter's "Wesley's Theory" and the former's "Never Catch Me." However, while Flying Lotus was lighting up the Other Tent, Lamar — along with SuperJammer Chance the Rapper — instead made a surprise cameo during Earth, Wind and Fire's Which Stage funk workshop, freestyling over the legendary outfit's textbook grooves. Before the rappers took the stage, Earth, Wind and Fire delivered a brilliant set featuring over a dozen members onstage, each playing an indispensable role in a well-oiled machine. The dense layers of guitars, horns, percussion and their extraordinary bassist Verdine White all locked into perfect sync as the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers ripped through a greatest-hits set that boasted "Sing a Song," "Shining Star" and "Boogie Wonderland."

Brown Sabbath

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Masters of Reality: Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath

Austin, Texas psych rockers Brownout brought their Ozzy-loving side project Brown Sabbath to the Which Stage on Friday, reinterpreting the Paranoid legends' music through a Southwestern gaze. Tony Iommi's crushing riffs were decorated with scorched-earth and Morricone flourishes, while Brown Sabbath's horn section brassed up "The Wizard" and turned "Children of the Grave" into a funereal death march. However, every great cover band is only as good as their lead singer, and Alex Marrero, dubbed "the Mexican Ozzy," did an as-advertised job.

Art walk

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Bonnaroonatic Nerd-Out: The Art Walk

Did you know there is a face (and hat) hidden in the design of the Bonnaroo Post Office? Did you know that, as a functioning post office, it's technically a federal building for the weekend? Did you know the sparkling disco ball atop the tower was designed by Radiohead's lighting pro? Early Thursday afternoon, Bonnaroo's bearded Head of Visual Design, Russ Bennett, led a small group of interested fans on a small "art walk," providing director's commentary on everything from the giant pig sculpture to the iconic fountain. However, as a docent, Bennett seemed more determined to be entertaining than educational: Spotting folks plopped on bales of hay, he quipped "that's the art of sitting."


Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Reason to Skip the SuperJam: D’Angelo and the Vanguard

Any hope Bonnaroovians had of catching both D'Angelo and the subsequent SuperJam later in the night slowly dissipated after the singer arrived 30 minutes late. However, the wait was worth it once he and the Vanguard finally took the stage as they delivered seductive neo-soul and ground-shaking funk for 90 straight minutes. The gig boasted a ferocious rendition of "The Charade" that was dedicated to Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, the astro-funk rave-up of "Sugah Daddy" and an remarkable, non-stop encore where the band reached a James Brown and the Famous Flames-level of energy, intensity and passion, not once taking a foot off the gas as they ripped through cuts like "Left & Right" and "Back to the Future." Throughout the performance, D'Angelo was eager to share the spotlight with the Vanguard, giving each individual member of the expert outfit an opportunity to soak in the cheers.

Tears for Fears

Roland Orzabal & Curt Smith

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Eighties Dance Party: Tears for Fears

Forget the Throwback SuperJam: Tears for Fears were the real party for festivalgoers who actually experienced the Reagan era. The long-running act opened with "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and just piled on the hits after that: "Sowing the Seeds of Love," "Pale Shelter," "Break It Down Again" and more. Tears for Fears' set also leaned heavily on their 1983 debut LP The Hurting, an album that never really connected with American audiences. ("Especially in Tennessee," Curt Smith joked.)  The band strung three singles together from that album: "Mad World," "Change" and "Memories Fade." ("Kanye!" audience members screamed on the latter, a nod to the rapper sampling that track for "Coldest Winter.") Following Roland Orzabal's magical, muted performance of Radiohead's "Creep," the New Wave favorites closed out things out with the powerhouse tandem of "Head Over Heels" and "Shout."

Chance the Rapper


Best Guest: Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper would be named Mayor of Bonnaroo if he was checking in on Foursquare. On Friday night, Chance spit some freestyles with Earth, Wind and Fire. On Saturday night, he giddily nailed all the words to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" in the SuperJam, letting his voice crack and strain. On Sunday, he showed up in Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's set to add an impromptu melody and shoot a water gun. "You can't put that shit on Spotify," said Gibbs.

The Grove

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Chillout (Location Edition): The Grove

Subtly ensconced in the Bonnaroo campgrounds, nestled between Camp Chewbacca and Camp the Geek, lies a shaded little oasis known as the Grove. Far from the never-ending EDM that thumps late into the night, the Grove looks and feels like a yoga retreat, right down to the calm, ambient soundscapes that are piped into this wooded area. A ring of faux-Porta-Potties in the middle of the space actually encircles a small venue used for small, unannounced concerts. This relaxing haven filled with art installations (new to the fest in 2015!) was among the year's best-kept secrets.

The War on Drugs

Adam Granduciel

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Classic Rock (Young Edition): The War on Drugs

During the War on Drugs' nine-song, career-spanning Saturday afternoon set at the Which Stage, frontman Adam Granduciel proved to be a one-man classic-rock radio station, rolling his words like Bob Dylan ("Arms Like Boulders," "An Ocean in Between the Waves"), baiting hooks like Tom Petty ("Red Eyes"), pinpointing idiosyncratic lyrics like Bruce Springsteen ("Burning") and unleashing note-perfect solos like Mark Knopfler. Stripped of their glossy studio embellishes found on Slave Ambient and Lost in a Dream (but assisted by a trumpeter), the War on Drugs pumped out clean, unfettered rock & roll.

Flying Lotus

Steven Ellison

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Reality-Altering Visuals: Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus has already been touted for his jaw-dropping, near-Daft Punkian stage design, and after blowing minds at Coachella, the Los Angeles beatmaker brought his epic live show to the Other Tent late Saturday night. "It's a beautiful night. It's fucking lovely. It's a shame 'cause you're dead," FlyLo told the crowd before loading into his booth, which was sandwiched between two semi-transparent screens. Each canvas displayed different images that worked in unison, creating a three-dimensional effect. Shape-shifting polygons, skulls and angels ascending to the heavens populated the screen as white lasers shot out into the audience. In addition to his You're Dead work, Flying Lotus also dropped remixes of Drake's "Know Yourself" and Schoolboy Q's "Collard Greens." 


Bleachers @ This Tent


Best Third Act: Bleachers

As he recalled onstage, Jack Antonoff played the exact same tent a decade ago as frontman of indie rock band Steel Train, and returned to the festival with with fun. in 2012. But he may have topped himself with Bleachers, whose mid-afternoon Saturday set was full of explosive energy — he had broken a sweat by the propulsive second number "Shadow." Wearing a Mets jersey, he delivered infectious, tightly-wrapped pop hooks of last year's Strange Desire as he pogoed across the stage, dropping to his knees during one climactic sax solo by Evan Smith. Antonoff reveled in delivering hooks like "Reckless Love," "Roller Coaster" and "Wild Heart," which sounded huge. Many in the crowd knew every word, and anyone who didn't howled along to their blazing cover of "Go Your Own Way." "You're the fucking best, every last one of you," Antonoff told them. "There is nowhere else in the universe I'd rather be." 

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Madlib & Freddie Gibbs + Chance the Rapper (Surprise Guest)


Best X-Rated Entertainment: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

When Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs wasn't spitting rapid-fire bars, he was providing the afternoon crowd with raunchy, late-night material. "They're gonna show titties, I'm gonna rap all motherfuckin' day," he said. "I'll wrap my dick around those titties." Gibbs had more than sex on his mind — he led a "fuck police" chant more than a dozen times. Meanwhile, Madlib played a fantastic foil, adding sharp, percussive cutting to "Shitsville" and tapping in bass drum beats in his imitable, off-center rhythms.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ The Other Tent


Best Chillout (Music Edition): Unknown Mortal Orchestra

With midday temperatures approaching 90 degrees, the psychedelic pop troupe Unknown Mortal Orchestra provided some much-needed shade and cool vibes during their Other Tent session. "If you need to, you can get away from the sun," frontman Ruban Nielson fittingly sang on "If." Unknown Mortal Orchestra's hour-long set was filled with breezy, feel-good jams and highlight by their Motown-inspired "How Can U Luv Me," topped off by a killer three-minute drum solo.

Jamie XX

Jamie XX @ The Other Tent


Best Set in the Worst Slot: Jamie xx

It was too hot and too bright when Jamie xx took the stage at 6 p.m. Saturday, but that didn't stop festivalgoers from packing the Other Tent to watch the xx mastermind spin for 90 minutes. Jamie xx's dubbed-out, sophisticated beats and hypnotic stage show — complete with fog machines, pulsing lights and a disco ball — would have looked and sounded infinitely better after midnight (on numerous occasions, security had to douse the dancers with water bottles) but it was still a triumphant first Bonnaroo for Jamie xx as a solo artist.


Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Band If You Missed Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds This Summer: DMA’s

This Sydney, Australia sextet brought Manchester, U.K., to Manchester, Tennessee, during their Thursday afternoon slot, delivering Glastonbury-worthy hooks powered by a three-guitar assault. The DMA's have been accused of sounding perhaps too much like Morning Glory-era Oasis — even Noel Gallagher has criticized the Brit-pop revivalists — but the DMA's flexed some of Oasis' cheeky bravado at Bonnaroo as frontman Johnny Took copied Liam Gallagher's trademark circular sunglasses and Adidas track-jacket look.


Game of Thrones Screening @ Other Tent


Best Viewing Party: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season Finale

Given its placement during both the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup, Bonnaroo has long packed its air-conditioned Cinema Tent for sports-related viewings. Since Sunday also coincided with the cultural phenomenon known as Game of Thrones — and because the number of GoT fans far outnumbered the Cinema Tent's strict 500-person capacity — the festival set up a series of outdoor watch parties on its giant Other Tent screen so Throners could catch the season finale before or after Billy Joel. Together, thousands gasped and awed at the plot twists exposed in the episode, putting how you experienced the end of Season 5 to shame. HBO also had the Iron Throne on site all weekend, allowing fans to photograph themselves as the ruler of Westeros.

Sturgill Simpson


Best Outlaw: Sturgill Simpson

The country music establishment still doesn't know exactly what to do with Sturgill Simpson. Really, his fantastic, dynamic afternoon set would only complicate the matter. He and his band came out to "Run the Jewels" by Run the Jewels before launching into the hard honky-tonk of "Life of Sin" (bass player Kevin Black wore a shirt that said "BOOM BAP"). The band let rave-y triangles pulse on the screen behind them for "Sitting Here Without You" and iTunes visualizer-style EQ lines pulsed for "Long White Lines." An outlaw to the outlaws, Sturgill's the only cowboy in New Balance sneakers.

Tanya Tagaq

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Scream (Avant Garde Division): Tanya Tagaq

"I'm from about 300 miles from magnetic North," explained Inuit throatpunk Tanya Tagaq. "So this Eskimo is really hot." She promised her band would take it slow so she didn't lose consciousness in the heat and then dove into an hour of the weekend's most mesmerizing improv. Since Tagaq usually plays "new music" festivals and smaller clubs, it was unknown how she would play in a festival tent that would soon be crowd surfing to Against Me! The audience responded swiftly and loudly, cheering during the kinetic peaks of performance — her wolf howl or her Diamanda Galás-esque high-pitched yowls — with a wash of cheers. Tagaq didn't pander to the crowd nor provoke them, instead seeming like she was in her own world, writhing around with her eyes rolled back or looking like she might wander off of the edge of the stage.



Best Place for a Mini Burning Man: The Kalliope Stage

With Mumford & Sons playing mostly unopposed on Saturday night, where do the kids who can't sit still get their kicks? While tens of thousands were ho-heying, a devoted group was letting their freak flags fly at the Kalliope Stage. As a DJ spun the most cartoonish trap possible, this is where you could find painted breasts, a tuxedo, smoke machines and a light-up Afro wig. Part Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, part Nineties rave, all glowing everything.


MØ @ Other Tent


Best Newcomer: MØ

The Danish singer born Karen Marie Ørsted lit up the Other Tent Sunday with her unique brand of icy, textured synth-pop and engaging, energetic stage presence. In addition to cuts off her Diplo-produced No Mythologies to Follow (including the set highlight "Don't Wanna Dance"), MØ also whipped up a minimalist cover of the Spice Girls ballad "Say You'll Be There" plus her Major Lazer feature "Lean On."


Woods @ This Tent


Best Jam Band: Woods

The indie folk crew Woods may seem like an unlikely choice for this title at the jam-founded Roo — three of their last four studio albums barely crossed the 30-minute mark — but the band lured in the Phish-loving faithful with numerous cuts that stretched well past 10 minutes. (Singer Jeremy Earl can even pass for an Anastasio.) Woods' spirited improvs ranged from ambient to folk freak-outs ("Is It Honest") to guitar ragers ("With Light and With Love"). The group also sprinkled in a handful of shorter, softer acoustic numbers — as all jam bands are wont to do — but it was their climatic, swirling rockers that were as fiery as the Saturday temperature.

Robert Kelly/Cameron Esposito

Kyle Dean Reinford; Theonepointeight

Best Biology Lesson: Cameron Esposito and Robert Kelly

These two comedians couldn't have had more disparate slots — viral sensation Esposito leading a set of alterna-geeks like Kurt Braunholer, Kelly closing a set of shocky podcast bros like Ari Shaffir. However both delved hilariously deep into our disgusting bodies. Esposito had some frank and hilarious talk about menstruation that she posited as a way to gross out dudes — though when she suggested a Bonnaroo port-a-potty just for diva cup disposal you could hear some women audibly gasping. Kelly focused on material that seemed a little, well, adult for an audience of audience ready to freak out to Deadmau5 — childbirth, going to the urologist — but he talked directly to an older gentleman near the front row and the audience grabbed some vicarious giggles.

The Very Best

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Pronunciation of the Word “Bonnaroo”: The Very Best

As if under hypnosis from their own floaty Malawian pop melodies, the Very Best couldn't help but sing it. Bonna-roo-oo-oo.

Mastro Spray-Tattoo

Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Way to Turn Yourself Into Living Art: Mastro

Festivalgoers lined up to become a human canvas for New York-based artist Mastro, who turned the appendages of countless attendees into eye-catching human graffiti. Providing an arm or leg for Mastro's colorful temporary tattoo sleeves was definitely one of the hottest trends of Bonnaroo 2015.

Moon Taxi

MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Trevor Terndrup of Moon Taxi performs onstage during the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 12, 2015 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Josh Brasted/WireImage)

Josh Brasted/Getty

Best Fake-Out: Moon Taxi

Between Against Me!, Rustie, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a notification from the app that a high-fiving world record attempt was going down, the lure of the food court and some general exhaustion and a little bit of laziness. . .you can forgive us for not checking out scruffy indie proggers Moon Taxi. However, yards away, they pulled us in regardless with the sounds of a hard-hitting, no-punches-pulled cover of Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up." Wait, is that Zack de la Rocha screaming? Does that mean he's in town to team with Run the Jewels? Once we got closer it was apparent that it was just keyboardist Wes Bailey doing very convincing vein-popping yells. Did we mention they added keyboard to "Wake Up"?

In This Article: Bonnaroo

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