To kick off the first night of Bonnaroo ’09, Rolling Stone did what we do best: we invited some ace up-and-coming acts to play our very own party, sponsored by Vitamin Water. At 8 p.m., Brooklyn synth-pop trio Chairlift heated up the fest as the sun set over the 650-acre Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee. The crew delivered a mellow set of woozy, ’80s-throwback tracks that was heavy on tunes from their gorgeous debut, Does You Inspire You.
(Click above to catch Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes hanging in a hammock with Janelle Monae and Chairlift explaining how it felt to brush against Phish’s Mike Gordon on the festival grounds.)
“I’ve always wanted to do that — play these songs as the sun was setting over some giant field,” singer Caroline Polachek told us backstage. “I always thought our songs were suited to that.” The trio also pulled out a couple of neat tricks, closing their set with a gothic-disco version of Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction.” A classically trained opera singer, Polachek effortlessly simulated Snoop’s Auto-Tuned vocals — and she did it without the help of the effect. As bandmate Aaron Pfenning told us, “She doesn’t need any Auto-Tune. Her voice is perfect.” Jay-Z would approve.
Once the sun set, the weather turned nasty and torrents of rain turned the fest grounds into a giant pool of mud. But that didn’t dampen fest-goers from getting down to Lexington, Kentucky quartet American Princes, who mix Pavement’s slacker-hero romanticism with Weezer’s tightly wound, pop-rock hooks. “It’s finally cooling off,” singer David Slade said to the rain-soaked crowd. “I might run out there in a minute. It’s the only chance I’ll have for a shower all weekend.”
Sci-fi diva-in-training Janelle Monae wrapped up the party around 11 p.m. Apparently, the girl was transported to Bonnaroo from the 1950s via some sort of time-traveling machine. Sporting a stylish tuxedo, black-and-white saddle shoes and an Elvis-style pompadour, Monae turned out a terrific, high-energy set of retro-futuristic jams that touched on old-school hip-hop, Sixties orchestral pop and sexed-up funk. She played her role as the female counterpart to OutKast’s Andre 3000 with aplomb. You could tell the crowd — heavy on preppies and fratboys not to mention a cameo from Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and Bryan Poole — were all “WTF?” but that didn’t stop them from busting some serious moves to frenzied jams like “Many Moons.”