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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

  by L. Paul Mann

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018


L. Paul Mann enjoys the first two days of the Bonnaroo Music Festival, watching sets from Cage The Elephant, Muse and Sheryl Crow and is encapsulated by its legendary and unique Superjam.

The 17th annual Bonnaroo Music Festival kicked off amidst gorgeous late spring weather conditions, in the rural Manchester Tennessee countryside, on June 7th. The unique festival has struggled to maintain its distinctive identity in a world smothered with ever increasing cookie cutter festivals. This year's festival felt like it had turned the corner in providing a unique experience to its participants while maintaining its relevance in an ever-changing pop music demographic and landscape. The festival drew the largest crowd in several years, an estimated 80,000 plus music lovers. Much like the country as a whole, Bonnaroo has increasingly become more of a tribal experience, with music fans gravitating to specific musical genres and their respective social circles. To this end, Bonnaroo has wisely expanded their festival experience to reach into nearly every corner of the campgrounds, as well as the main Centeroo festival grounds. In recent years festival promoters have worked hard to improve every aspect of the Bonnaroo camping experience. Using the knowledge garnered from tracking festival goers’ movement via their electronic wristbands, developers were able to determine that as much as a third of the patrons were hanging in the campgrounds on a regular basis. Permanent showers and bathrooms were installed across the vast expanses of the camping areaand in Center itself. This year a full-service laundry faculty was even added. The Launderoo allowed concert goers to maintain a clean wardrobe throughout the festival. But the most significant change has been the commitment to offer a wide range of food, art, entertainment, and facilities across the nine distinct plazas that make up the general campground area. At Plaza 3 a barn was transformed into the House of Yes housing a nightclub and performance space. Events included day and night activities featuring a circus, DJ dance parties, and a cinema. One of the biggest changes in Centeroo this year was the removal of the comedy and cinema tent, with those activities moving to the campgrounds. Bonnaroo veteran Matt Shultz, the animated lead singer of Cage The Elephant was given a free hand at Plaza 9 to create his own multimedia presentation featuring interactive art and live performances. In fact, on this first day of Roo 2018, Cage The Elephant played a not so publicized set to 700 lucky concertgoers who squeezed into the venue. The comprehensive Bonnaroo app actually listed all the special events at the Plazas in great detail, but it took some studious research to find all the secretive information. Shultz was a masterful performer, as usual, leading the crowd in sing-alongs of the band’s hit songs like ‘Come a Little Closer’ and ‘Shake Me Down’. Later in the evening, the venue featured a set by the new Bowling Green, Kentucky quartet Dan Luke and the Raid. The band was fronted by Daniel Shultz who is the younger brother to Matt and Cage guitarist Brad Shultz. Other Plazas offered individual experiences throughout the four-day festival, catering to the different tribal tastes of this year's festival attendees. Plaza 7 was known as the Ville, curated by the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. The venue featured local Nashville artists and musicians, with a distinctive Americana flare. The Plaza also featured a nighttime karaoke bar. Plaza 2 featured The Love Shack restaurant, a tequila bar, and a public grilling area. There was also late night music at the venue. Plaza 6 featured a New Age chill zone, complete with Yoga instructors, meditation centres, craft booths and vegetarian food. At night the venue featured the ambient electronic beats of Tonalism. Plaza 4 featured a place for festival-goers to leave their mark on the history of Bonnaroo, with a Yearbook, Sketchbook project and the Bonnaroo Census. Day 1 But, of course, Bonnaroo is mostly about the music and this year's festival did not disappoint. The first day of the festival, in many ways is always the most interesting. With the two main stages shut down and many festival-goers establishing their campsites and getting their bearings, the five musical stages are readily accessible to eager music fans. The bands on the first day are a collection of unique up-and-coming new artists, world music and obscure acts that cater to open-minded music lovers. Local Nashville country music singer turned Hip Hop star Ernest K. kicked off Roo 2018 on Thursday afternoon. Also from Nashville, Blank Range brought some country-tinged rock to Centeroo. The former frontman for the band Toy Soldier from Philadelphia, Ron Gallo played a spirited indie set. Frenship, a Los Angeles pop duo, brought some fancy dance moves to their high energy set just before sunset. The girls graced the first day of Roo 2018 with diverse sets including Lissie. The barefooted Iowa-based indie folk singer wowed the crowd with her vocal prowess. Young pop siren CYN from Michigan played a well-received set. Her fresh young voice captured the attention of Katy Perry, who signed her to Perry’s new record label. The Other stage, which evolved into an all EDM mega stage last year has become the most sophisticated multimedia stage, and EDM fans were treated to some spectacular sets on the opening day. Representing the girls, DJ, CloZee brought her own take “Glitch hop” to an adulating crowd. The young DJ is a 21-year-old student from Toulouse, France, majoring in Sound Engineering. She brought all her skills to bare in an impressive set. Finally, representing the girls, up and coming female synth-pop star Elohim, from California played a late night set that had the whole tent dancing to her catchy songs like ‘Fuck Your Money’. For those who love traditional soul music, there was plenty to celebrate on the first day of Roo 2018. Both the Spencer Lee Band and Durand Jones and The Indications brought new interpretations to the genre, much to the delight of soul music aficionados. R.Lum.R from Florida played some excellent neo R&B music. No Roo would be complete without Jam bands, and Arizona’s Spafford and Baltimore’s Pigeons Playing Ping Pong brought well-received late night sets to the faithful. Popular DJs like Space Jesus kept up a multimedia assault on EDM fans until 3a.m. on The Other stage. But for the hardcore EDM fans, the music didn’t stop there. Snake and Jake’s Christmas Barn and the Silent Disco both returned offering up dance music until dawn. But the real late night action happened at the Kalliope. The multimedia EDM stage returned after a hiatus last year and offered up guest DJ sets and with pulsating beats, lights and video until well after sunrise. By the end of the first day, it was already a non-stop 24-hour party for many hardy young and very enthusiastic concertgoers. Day 2 Friday, June 8th was the first full day of Bonnaroo 2018. While hardcore EDM fans were just beginning to take a nap in the hot morning sunshine, early bird music fans were waking up to a full day of activities. Centeroo exploded with life expanding massively with the opening of the main stage area. Everywhere, festival goers seemed to be enjoying their experiences and approaching the festival in the spirit that the promoters have always envisioned with Bonnaroo. A sort of Woodstock vibe permeated the crowd, with most in some sort of sexy or comical festival ware. Beaming smiles and enthusiastic high fives seemed to be the order of the day. Most festival goers seemed to be prepared for the warmer temperatures and developed all manner for keeping cool. The Centeroo fountain was ground zero for those wanting to spend the day wet and wild. Copious amounts of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic were readily available across the festival site, with little waiting compared to past years. In fact there were so many food and beverage options across the festival grounds this year it was hard to make a choice what to eat and drink. The music choices were also too numerous even for an ADD generation with track shoes to fully engage in. Muse was the first of the three headline acts to appear at the festival on this day. The trio played a well-received set of rock with an eye-popping multimedia presentation. The band offers up a modern version of the power rock trio, in the grand tradition of Cream or the Police. The group employed a multitude of guitars and electronic instruments, that featured several of their own built-in LED light displays. But, while many music fans enjoyed the band’s set, many thousands more opted to swarm the other main stage waiting for the midnight set by hardcore EDM artist Bassnectar. Thousands of Bass heads stood in front of the massive bass amps, to head bang like music fans at a hardcore metal festival. In fact, the headline acts at Bonnaroo are almost becoming irrelevant to the experience as a whole. While in past years Bonnaroo always tried to get at least one legacy act that was not touring, for a unique extended set, the headline acts in recent years are the same playing multiple summer festivals. The explosion of new festivals has led to the simple reality that no one offers up an exclusive set anymore and the headline acts at Bonnaroo end up just playing another replicated set, which seems increasingly perfunctory in today's corporate music world. In fact, the only set that lasted over two hours at this year's Roo was the one that makes the festival so unique and continues to keep it relevant as a groundbreaking live music event. That would be the Superjam. The late night extravaganza was one of the most excellent jams in the festival's history. ‘The Great Wide Open’ billed as a tribute to the music of Tom Petty was curated by the drummer of My Morning Jacket, Patrick Hallahan and guitarist Craig Pfunder from the band VHS or Beta. The core band also included Wilco guitarist Pat Sansone, MMJ bassist Tom Blankenship, Mark Heideger of Vandaveer, Daniel Creamer of the Texas Gentlemen and the Watson Twins on backing vocals. A revolving door of guest singers and musicians, including some special surprises then took the stage to perform their favorite Tom Petty songs. Paramore’s Hayley Williams sang an animated version of ‘Into the Great Wide Open’, to get things rolling. A beaming Sheryl Crow, who had early played the main stage set that included a duet with a poster pulled from the crowd with Tom Petty on it, tore through a guitar-drenched version of ‘American Girl’. Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who was a surprise guest, offered a reiteration of Stevie Nicks' and Petty's roles on ‘Stop Draggin' My Heart Around’. Rayland Baxter joined his father, pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, to cover ‘Here Comes My Girl’. Soul singer Jalen N’Gonda reinterpreted ‘You Got Lucky’ into a beautiful genuinely soulful rendition. One of the most exciting moments of the evening came when Matt Shultz appeared with his lead guitarist from Cage The Elephant, Nick Bockrath in tow. The band featuring four guitarists played a searing ear-piercing version of ‘Breakdown’, while Shultz pranced about the stage, jumped on amplifiers and launched into the crow. Shultz has become a regular fixture in the super jam having appeared several times. Several years ago he eerily channeled Jim Morrison during a cover of the Doors, in a super jam featuring a guitar jam with Robbie Krieger and a guitar-wielding Skrillex. Vanessa Carlton, another surprise guest, sang ‘Learning to Fly’. The Wild Feathers played “I Won’t Back Down.” Lead singer of The Revivalists, David Shaw, sang ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’. He was joined by guitarist Audrey Freed, and music photographer Danny Clinch on harmonica, to augment the core band. There were so many other guests, music journalists covering the event were unable to keep track of all the songs they played. Just some of the other performers included Sameer Gadhia, lead singer of Young The Giant, Frenship, Moon Taxi, Langhorne Slim, Japanese Breakfast, Durand Jones, Larkin Poe and others. After finishing a two-hour set, most of the evening's performers flooded the stage for a two-set encore of Traveling Wilburys’ songs. It was indeed a once in a lifetime performance for the lucky late night music fans crammed into the venue. Earlier in the day, there was a plethora of great music across the festival featuring multiple genres of pop music. Sheryl Crow’s MainStage set seemed to surprise even her with the fervour of the young audience. Crow exclaimed, “These songs were written before you were born. How do you know the words?” This in response to the crowd singing along to her biggest hits en masse. Paramore also turned in a set that wowed the mainstage crowd. Hayley Williams, looking a bit like one of the replicants in the original ‘Blade Runner’ movie danced maniacally across the massive stage and launched into the group on several occasions. Manchester Orchestra played a particularly intense rock set in the midday sun. Sturgill Simpson played a birthday set in the early evening on the MainStage featuring his incredible guitar skills. The Revivalists played a riveting set as usual led by the animated Shaw. R&B singer Khalid played an excellent evening set full of great dance moves amidst a multimedia extravaganza. For EDM fans The Other stage offered up an all day and night line up of top DJs that kept young dance fans torn from staying at the stage or exploring other dance music sets. Bassnectar offered up the midnight set that was was the highlight of the festival for many young EDM fans on the Wish stage and Chromeo offered up their own brand of EDM in a late night set at That Tent during the Superjam. It was a great day of music and a home run for festival promoters on day 2 of Bonnaroo 2018. Photos by L. Paul Mann www.lpaulmann.com

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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Manchester, Tennesee, 7/6/2018...8/6/2018

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