Many Bonnaroo ’09 attendees pitched their tents in the pouring rain Thursday, and it seemed like clouds might shield the fest’s final day from the blazing Tennessee sun. But the sky began to clear around 3:00 p.m. when Citizen Cope started playing their slow emotive funk on the Which Stage, and Erykah Badu brought the metaphorical and physical sunshine for her set on the gargantuan What Stage. She came out with a slow sassy strut, wearing a Public Enemy sweatshirt and a tall bowler hat. “Peace and love y’all,” she announced before singing “The Healer,” a jazzy rap with lyrics befitting the Bonnaroo spirit: “Sex, music, hip-hop is bigger than religion here. Sex, music, hip-hop is bigger than government here.”
Andrew Bird praised the ‘Roo while performing his intelligent brand of rock on the Which Stage: “This is my favorite of all the festivals,” he said before starting up “Opposite Day” with its xylophone, plucked violin and lots of whistling. On the other side of the festival grounds Okkervil River played to a packed crowd in the Other Tent, their red-bearded frontman, Will Sheff, singing energetically and passionately. “I’d like to play a song about jumping off a bridge” he said before kicking into “John Allyn Smith Sails.” In the This Tent Merle Haggard played classics with his fine tuned country band. People raised beers and yelled when he played “Folsom Prison Blues.”
As the late afternoon approached and the crowd began to get giddy for Phish, Snoop Dogg took his place on the main stage. He arrived late — not a big surprise — but made an immediate impact, prowling around cool and defiant, taking the audience through his hip-hop hits. He opened with “Next Episode,” and his live band was surprisingly energetic and forceful. He then performed Jamie Fox’s “Blame It on the Alcohol,” abruptly stopping midway through the song to ask the audience, “Hey, why aren’t we singing about my favorite drink?” Cue the inevitable — and solid — “Gin and Juice.”
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By 8:00 p.m. crowd in front of the main stage had grown into a far-reaching sea of people in anticipation of Phish’s impending set — their second headlining gig of the four-day fest. (Check out our report from their first night here.) When the sun set and the first night breezes appeared, the band emerged. “Still here, huh?” Trey Anastasio joked. They started playing “AC/DC Bag,” segueing directly into “N.I.C.U..” The audience roared.
Anastasio played an exotic soaring solo on “Gotta Jibboo,” and the band riffed heavy on the intro to “Punch You in the Eye.” Audience members lit up sparkling fireworks during “Sparkle,” and were delighted to hear favorites “Bathtub Gin” and “Character Zero.” An impeccably tight “Tweezer” was followed by “Horse” and “Silent in the Morning.” The slow tottering intro to “Run Like An Antelope” cleanly built up to its signature climax: Anastasio’s frantic arpeggio picking against the rest of the band playing with full force.
Towards the end of the first set Anastasio paused to introduce a surprise guest: Bruce Springsteen, the previous night’s headliner. Anastasio introduced the Jersey legend as “my boyhood hero.” Springsteen fronted Phish for three songs, “Mustang Sally,” “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days,” and as Anastasio and Bruce traded licks Springsteen held his own pretty well against the jam-guitar god. Fans were ecstatic, arguing over the implications of the event.
Phish’s second set was far more jam oriented, with improvisations lasting longer and growing more adventurous (“46 Days” “Limb by Limb” “Backwards Down the Number Line”). “Rock and Roll” led into a dark warbling jam and “Light,” a new song, produced one of Anastasio’s most inspired and melodic solos of the night. Phish closed their set with the bass and drum-fueled instrumental, “First Tube.” The audience vigorously threw glow sticks into the sky and fireworks were set off to the mark the climax of the show as the extremely diverse and electric Bonnaroo ’09 came to its end.