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Bonnaroo 2018: 31 Best Things We Saw

The coolest, wildest, hottest experiences at the weekend-long Tennessee bash, from the Killers’ headlining set to the candied bacon bites

Bonnaroo 2018: Best Things We Saw

Rob Loud

Since its first edition in 2002, the Bonnaroo Music Festival, which took place this past weekend in Manchester, Tennessee, has become one of America’s premier fests. Its musical purview has shifted quite a bit since its earliest days as a haven for jam bands; this year, the wide-open spaces at the Farm made room for the glittery beats of Kaskade, the acerbic pop of Khalid, the high-octane boasts of Future and the hybridized rock of Alt-J, as well as twin sets by folk-ambient guru Bon Iver that called back to the fest’s earliest days as a space for bands to stretch all the way out. The site’s camping-friendly space gave even more opportunity for a plurality of aesthetics, with glittered-up revelers, shorts-and-tees music heads and a robe-clad man who proclaimed himself to be “Bass Jesus” coming together under the Bonnaroovian Code – think Bill & Ted’s edict to “be excellent to one another,” spread out over four days of heat, mud, music and other types of funk.

Best things we saw at Bonnaroo 2018

Douglas Mason/Getty

Fiercest Brass Section: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

The contemporary landscape for R&B means that live-band soul and funk groups are unlikely to get played on radio or appear on a major streaming service playlist. But festivals like Bonnaroo serve as a nurturing environment for these acts, where fans greet each horn section and James Brown-like scream with glee. Within 24 hours, Bonnaroo played host to Victory’s singer-songwriter funk, Durand Jones and the Indications’ lowrider soul, and the raucous New Orleans brass outfit fronted by Trombone Shorty. Shorty is an indefatigable frontman, alternating between vocals, tambourine, trombone and trumpet, and the sound of his band, Orleans Avenue, comes from the muscular wing of funk-rock, full of florid guitar solos and tightly choreographed dancing by the two saxophonists and bass player. Sometimes the horns served as a combustion agent – at one point, Trombone Shorty held a trumpet trill for well over a minute, fingers flying furiously as the crowd egged him on. But at other moments – especially during a screeching cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” – the brass served as a calming force, an anchor that kept the band grounded. The Friday-afternoon This Tent crowd was especially receptive to Trombone Shorty’s opening act, Workaholics’ Adam DeVine, who provided a quick, puerile introduction. “Look at all you sweaty fucks!” DeVine said. “Normally they put me in an air-conditioned comedy tent. But they said, ‘You’re gonna be in a hot tent with a sweaty crotch.’ I said, ‘Where do I sign up?” E.L.

Best things we saw at Bonnaroo 2018

Jeff Kravitz/Getty

Best Tribute: Tom Petty SuperJam

As the leader of this year’s SuperJam, My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Callahan called up a rotating cast of singers from pop, indie rock, country and soul to pay tribute to Tom Petty. There was plenty of star power – Paramore’s Hayley Williams tackled “Into the Great Wide Open,” while Sheryl Crow blazed through a casually masterful “American Girl” – and several surprise duets: Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (pictured here) reprised Stevie Nicks’ and Petty’s roles on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” and Rayland Baxter and his father, pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, performed together on “Here Comes My Girl.” An event like this could make an argument about overlooked songs in Petty’s catalog, or reimagine some of Petty’s classic tracks as a way of illustrating connections between his work and later bands that used his music as inspiration. But this SuperJam had a more straightforward goal: Eliciting sing-alongs. The song choice was a greatest-hits distillation of Petty’s catalog, and the renditions were unfailingly faithful. One of the night’s most exciting moments came when a singer made room for his own interpretation of Petty’s work. Jalen N’Gonda’s “You Got Lucky” was full of virtuosic falsetto runs, pushing Petty’s mean-spirited original – “you got lucky when I found you” – toward something tender and more reverent. E.L.

Best things we saw at Bonnaroo 2018

Jeff Kravitz/Getty

Best Teachable Moments: Clean Vibes’ “Trash Talk”

Music festivals can suck up a lot of energy – the planetary kind, that is. But Bonnaroo prides itself on being sustainable, offering plenty of water sources to encourage easy refilling of Camelbaks brought in and stainless-steel cups bought on site, seminars on “clean camping” and growing one’s own food, 100-percent compostable food-service items, and a trading post where people could swap bottles, cans and butts for merch and sundries. Often times, though, a trash area with more than one option for disposal can cause confusion, and Bonnaroo had three destinations for its festivalgoers’ detritus: recycling, compost and landfill. Thanks to the “Trash Talk” program operated by the festival’s pickup crew Clean Vibes, those who hesitated before the bins were smoothly guided to their trash’s correct destination – and, perhaps, given a gentle reminder about how they could sort their waste when they arrived home. M.J.

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