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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.

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.

Donut

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

Theonepointeight

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.

Slayer

Theonepointeight

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

Theonepointeight

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

Theonepointeight

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

Theonepointeight

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

Pallbearer @ That Tent

Theonepointeight

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

Theonepointeight

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

Theonepointeight

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.