As a festival, Bonnaroo has come to be defined by its diversity – Malian worldbeat duo Amadou and Mariam, bookish indie stars Grizzly Bear and hip-hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan performed within hours of each other on Friday. But the main-stage headliner always plays unopposed, the idea being that the entire Bonnaroo community can coalesce around a single artist. Across cultural, generational and aesthetic lines, whose catalogue could possibly be more universal than McCartney's? The answer: Nobody's. And that made this the single greatest Bonnaroo headlining performance in the festival's 12-year history, as it was moment after awesome moment of fever-pitched collective transcendence. "Paperback Writer," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band on the Run," "Blackbird," "Something" (played in tribute to George Harrison), "Eleanor Rigby," "We Can Work It Out," "Hey Jude" – to have not gotten swept up in and invigorated by the life-affirming celebration would be an outright rejection of joy.
On the heels of a recent pair of theater residencies in L.A. and New York, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers eschewed tried-and-true set-list standbys like "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "Free Falling'" in favor of deep cuts and covers from the farther reaches of its vast catalog. "Free Falling," along with other obligatory staples like "Learning to Fly," "Refugee" and "Running Down a Dream" were still highlighted throughout the show, taking their normal places in the running order to boot. But the band did match ‘em with unexpected album cuts ("Rebels," "Good Enough") and covers ("Baby, Please Don't Go," "Friend of the Devil"), and appearing far more engaged in the process.
After a last-minute cancellation by Mumford & Sons, Jack Johnson rose to the occasion, proving he had a sense of humor about the pressure of the event – flying his band from around the country, renting the stage equipment and rehearsing all day for his first show with the band in over a year. He led huge sing-alongs of Mumford & Son's "The Cave" (the whole set was dedicate to Mumford and Sons' bassist Ted Dwane, who is recovering from surgery to remove a blot clot from his brain) and Johnson's own staples like "Brushfire Fairytales" and "Bubble Toes." Johnson also quieted the farm with a spare solo acoustic set including a sweet "Better Together." "All the quieter songs felt like they worked the best," Johnson told Rolling Stone. "I didn't necessarily have them jumping up and down, but I felt like those moments really connected."
The Superjam was the place to be Saturday night. After D'Angelo played a funky covers set last year (backed by Questlove and Co.), Jim James and the John Oates crew raised the stakes, performing a soul-stirring set ranging from John Lennon's "Instant Karma!" to Prince's "1999" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Higher." R. Kelly emerged for a Sam Cooke medley of "A Change is Gonna Come" and "Bring it on Home to Me." They then invited up Brittany Howard, who screamed a soul-stirring take on "Satisfaction," closest to the live Otis Redding version. Earlier, Howard took the stage to duet on Sam and Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."
Midnight on Saturday provided the hardest decision of the entire festival: R. Kelly performing on the Which Stage, Superjam with Jim James, John Oates and Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters, Billy Idol and Weird Al on separate stages. Like many of the heroically ridiculous antics in his storied career, Kelly wasted no time before confounding assembled fans and morbidly-curious novelty seekers. Always one to make an entrance, the religiously lecherous R&B cornerstone-cobbler first appeared perched on a crane in the Which Stage rafters, as a choir took its place below. Meanwhile, an opening "Ignition" suffered from a false start. What exactly was going on here? Was a more elaborate reveal planned? Was this a genuine Spinal Tap moment, or just another calculated antic from the mind that brought us "Trapped in the Closet?"
In the most mind-blowing of Saturday's sets (and perhaps the most compelling performance of the festival, with the exception of Paul McCartney), the enigmatic Icelandic singer was costumed in a form-fitting, bubble-textured silver dress and cranium-encompassing headgear adorned with thin white whisks standing on end and making her look like a singing space-age dandelion. A true piece of performance art, the show had aesthetic rising action, with Björk pacing out her set to build from down-tempo cerebral sonic hauntings like "Crystalline" and "Hidden Place," to explosive, aggressive dance-electro chargers like the frenzied industrial stomper "Declare Independence" and the pyro-augmented, rhythmically chaotic closer "Nattura." At one point, the singer startled the crowd when she let out a piercing shriek, angrily checked her mic stand against the stage and lunged urgently towards fans on one of the pits. She changed a mellow day into an intense night as if on command during the Post classic "Hyperballad," which morphed into an abrasive, almost EDM-leaning outro just as the sun set.
For Macklemore, The What Stage — where, impressively, the rapper made his Bonnaroo debut — was a proving ground, not just to prove he's not some flash-in-pan one-hit-wonder with a novelty hit, the ubiquitous, fucking awesome "Thrift Shop," but that he has the makings of a genuine superstar, taking the massive crowd in the palm of his hand and communicating directly with them. "I believe we are in the biggest civil rights fight of our generation," Macklemore said introducing the song "Same Love." And the crowd agreed. That much was abundantly clear when the rapper implored them to point a single index finger up in the air if they supported equality. "That's the most ones we've ever seen at one if out shows and that's a beautiful thing." Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are nothing if not original, writing their own emo-to-quirky hip-hop playbook free of the machismo and other tired hip-hop tropes.
Lamar went from a Thursday late night This Tent slot to prime time on The What Stage in a mere year. For an hour straight, the at-capacity field looked like a wheat field in a windstorm as Lamar called on them to spit along to slammers like "Backstreet Freestyle," "A.D.H.D." (played for "day-one" fans) and "P&P," reacting in kind like Peter Gabriel fans during a performance of "Biko," but with raw collective aggression. More than once the rapper appeared in awe of the crowd losing its shit, stunned and basking in the ovation.
David Cross admitted to being massively hung over as he took the stage at the comedy tent, but he still delivered a solid set. He blasted headliner Paul McCartney's underwhelming fireworks display. "He makes a million dollars every 80 seconds – what a cheap motherfucker," Cross said. (It should be noted that Cross was spotted watching Macca's set from the front barricade, smiling ear-to-ear throughout the entire performance.) He ranted against everything from texting teens – "I hate your generation" – to homophobes who argue what the founding fathers would have thought of gay marriage. "It was 245 fucking years ago," Cross said. "These people would literally be freaked out by cotton candy."
Like A$AP Rocky, the Australian bedroom-psych troupe Tame Impala could have easily played one of the larger stages, but instead packed the Other Tent, with thousands of fans pouring out onto the grass, screaming every word. For their first show in Tennessee ever, Kevin Parker and Co. created a psychedelic wall of sound even more dynamic than their last LP, Lonerism; nailing the spooky groove of "Keep On Lying," extending the power chord stomp "Elephant," and leading a huge sing-along of "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards."
The shock value of seeing Bob Saget telling the filthiest jokes imaginable was a thrill for fans in the comedy tent, who applauded wildly as Saget joked about everything from how Full House alum Dave Coulier used to shave his balls to strapping on a guitar and singing a song called "My Dog Licked My Balls." He recalled fans coming up to him on the street in front of his daughter and referencing his Half Baked line saying, "You suck dick for coke" (Her response? "I thought you were directing now, dad.") He also recalled the time he had to interview Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James on the View. "I told her I couldn't put her book down – it was stuck to my hand." The set culminated with John Stamos unexpectedly walking on stage to survey the crowd and deliver the Half Baked line "I seen it." The place went nuts.
The (soon-to-be) rockstars of Thursday were L.A. up-and-comers Haim (pronounced hi-um), who played an hour-long set at That Tent, delivering the breakout set of the day. Effortlessly slip sliding across smooth, Reagan-era radio pop, and riff-replete power rock, the band could've won the crowd over on the strength of songs like the infectious "The Wire" or the retro-industrial "Send Me Down," but stage presence including monitor stands, encouraging crowd-wide clap-alongs and pitch-perfect vocals pushed their set to the stratosphere.
20-year-old English indietronica star-in-the-making Charli XCX was banging her head like Beyonce at the Superbowl on Friday, skipping across the stage scantily clad in a plaid and camouflage school-girl's uniform, belting out razor-sharp melodies in loud, smoky bellow over a sleek, synth-pop sheen and a propulsive live drummer. "I want to know who's taken any drugs this weekend," Charli polled the criminally modest-in-size crowd, to inevitable cheers. "This song's about E, so this one's for you," she continued, introducing the gritty, dance-floor-ready "Take My Hand." The tent went into full roof-raise when the singer busted into "I Love It," the almost disgustingly catchy hit she had with Swedish electro duo Icona Pop. If Charli XCX continues to win over crowds with her hooks and stadium-suited gestures, she could follow the path of Boston synth-pop college favorites Passion Pit, who had a breakout with their 2009 first-day tent slot, in the middle of a rainstorm.
Indie-rock fans didn't have it so easy on Sunday, as overlapping sets from Tame Impala, The National, Divine Fits and David Byne and St. Vincent left many in a near circle-on-circle-encompassing Venn diagram of listeners with some agonizing choices to make. It's a shame that more people weren't checking out Divine Fits. Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner played with the commitment of a young band on a mini stage, Daniel bouncing across the stage slaying his Telecaster screaming the New Wave hook "Baby Get Worse" and the ragged, charming "Would That Not Be Nice."