Bonnaroo 2013: A Retrospective

When covering Bonnaroo came up earlier this year, I honestly wasn’t eager for the opportunity. I attended back in 2009 and had convinced myself that I probably wouldn’t be going back. I found little appeal in being in the sun for four days with 75,000+ people, but I’m whole-heartedly glad to have been back on the farm this past festival. Sure, there were the minor differences between attending with a general admission ticket and working press for the event (namely the air conditioned work area and some amazing food from The Fat Back Collective), but for the most part we were “roughing it” with the rest of the crowd.

A few things solidified Bonnaroo 2013 as one of the better events I’ve been to this year; an amazing lineup, fairly mild weather, and a staff that is fully dedicated to improving the festival experience. The festival’s changed a good bit since the last time I was there, with one of the biggest improvements they’ve implemented in the recent years being the use of RFID wristbands. The wristbands offer a number of unique options for festival goers, allowing them to “check in” to areas around the festival and automatically update their social media to show which bands they’re seeing or where they’re spending their time.

Between myself and the other writer covering the event, we’ve come up with our highlights from Bonnaroo 2013. We hope you’ll share yours with us and that we’ll see you on the farm next year! Happy Bonnaroo!

Day One – Thursday, June 13th

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers @ That Tent – As if her soulful pipes, smart looks, and red-hot band weren’t enough reason to go see Nicki, perhaps you should give the bands cover of “I Can’t Go For That” a try. Or listen to her latest single “Little Too Late”. If there was anyone else better suited to open up Bonnaroo 2013, the thought’s beyond us.

Milo Greene @ That Tent – Another early act of the festival that blew us away. Crafting textured, orchestral-pop, Milo Greene may have been making their first appearance at Bonnaroo, but they had everyone in the audience captivated. You can read our interview with Robbie and Marlana from the band here.

Ariel Pink @ This Tent – Ariel Pink got weird. The best kind of weird too. This was definitely a set that left more than a few Roovians scratching their heads and wondering if “that actually just happened”. These were the “feel good” vibes that we needed to get us into the first evening.

Jonny Fritz @ New Music on Tap Lounge – This was hands down my favorite set of the entire weekend. Fritz and his band work wonders on stage, and the group of die-hards that gathered at the front of the stage and sang each word only pushed them further. For most, it seems there’s is a certain level of authenticity that is lost at these big festival but for Fritz this was not the case. The best way that I think I can describe their presence at the festival is simply that it made sense. It was straight-forward, comical enlightenment. Fritz played the next morning as well, and you can bet that I was there.

Killer Mike @ The Other TentR.A.P. Music of all kinds was present at Bonnaroo; from Kendrick Lamar and ASAP Rocky to Wu-Tang to LiL iFFY, hip-hop fans could get their fix. If they didn’t make it to Killer Mike’s late night set Thursday though, then they probably went home a little empty inside. Mike and producer EL-P have a brand new album out also – titled Run the Jewels that is a must-listen.

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Day Two – Friday, June 14th

Reptar @ The Other Tent – We felt honored to see all the love Bonnaroo gave Peach State bands and Reptar’s set was one of our more anticipated. The band was joined by a full horn section and immediately had the Other Tent audience bouncing around and sweating all over each other.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit @ Which Stage – Jason Isbell’s newest album, Southeastern, continues in the trajectory that Here We Rest set out in. Isbell’s early afternoon performance was exactly what the audience needed; a soulful and unobtrusive hour of heart-felt Americana. We’ve seen him and his band a number of times over the years and this was one of our favorite sets – a pleasant surprise. 

Amadou & Miriam @ That Tent – There wasn’t a single person in the crowd who wasn’t smiling during this set. The lovely married couple from Mali were ecstatic to be in Tennessee and jammed through a set of Afro-blues, much to the audience’s delight. This was our first time seeing “the blind couple from Mali”, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Matrimony @ New Music on Tap Stage – Seeing our old friends from North Carolina on such a stage was an incredibly happy moment. This band has been working relentlessly over the past few years and it completely paid off; they’re now signed with Columbia Records and just released their label debut, Montebello Drive. Though they had the tough spot of going set-to-set with Paul McCartney, they definitely held their own. Read our interview with them here.

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Day Three – Saturday, June 15th

Patrick Watson @ This Tent – If it was possible to wake up to Patrick Watson playing a show every single day, it’s safe to say that the world would probably be a better place. A sense of calm settled upon the large crowd that gathered for his set and it truly set the tone for a good part of the day. We’d love to see him and his band return to the farm in 2014, so we’ll hope this get’s passed along to the right people.

Two Gallants @ That Tent – Returning to Bonnaroo for the first time in five years, Two Gallants made an impressive wake in the mid-day schedule. The duo’s live show leaves little to be desired and we were completely thrilled to be able to speak with them directly following there set, though it’s probably not the best time to do an interview with anyone.

Cat Power @ Which Stage – Bonnaroovians were lucky enough to have the chance to see one of Cat Power’s only US shows of the Summer. Marshall looked incredibly happy and sounded even better, and her band followed suit completely. Yet another fellow Georgia we can be proud of.

Bjork @ What Stage – Choosing between Bjork and Dwight Yoakam wasn’t as easy as we imagined it would be. After stopping into see a few of his country-rock classics, we found ourselves swept up in the “county fair” mentality and were dancing along with strangers and looking for the nearest funnel cake booth. However, Bjork seems to be far more elusive, so we made our way to the main stage to catch the last half of what turned out to be an incredibly powerful and dynamic set (not that we were expecting anything less). She played a number of tracks off of Biophilia but made sure to throw in a few that fans haven’t heard in a long time. Perhaps a collaboration between her and Yoakam could one day happen…?

Preservation Hall Jazz Band @ This Tent – This was one of the most memorable sets we’ve ever been to. The Band is legendary, and for a good reason. Despite the fact that Jack Johnson had graciously stepped in to fill the slot for Mumford’s, This Tent was the place to be on Saturday night. They played through a rousing set of Orleans jazz numbers, the performance climaxing with a special appearance from Jim James himself on “St. James Infirmary”.

“Rock ‘n Soul Dance Party Super Jam” @ This Tent – Never seen or heard anything like this before. When we weren’t picking our jaws up off the floor, we were sweating out the day and dancing all over the place. One should only fully expect that when Jim James, John Oates, Zigaboo Modeliste, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more (Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, R. Kelly, Billy Idol) get on the same stage that some sort of magic is going to happen. The set was electric, and a perfect way to end the night.

Day Four – Sunday, June 16th

Baroness @ This Tent – Too be honest, we we’re expecting a bit more from the band, but they still delivered what probably was the heaviest set of the weekend. The band sounded strong for the short amount of time it’s been since their near-fatal bus accident and their two new members have made a smooth transition into picking up where the group left off.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros @ Which Stage – Despite being a band that we’ve seen more times at festivals than anywhere else, there’s little intimacy lost between those sets and theatre shows. Singer Alex Ebert and the band led the crowd on a journey that had the members of the audience that we talked to “spellbound”.

The National @ What Stage – It was beautiful. Their set, combined with seeing the newly released documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers”, made for an incredibly personal experience for us. While the band was set on playing songs from their newest album, Trouble Will Find Me, they made sure to play through favorites like “Fake Empire”, “Terrible Love”, and “Buzzblood Ohio”.

Royal Thunder @ New Music on Tap Lounge – Closing out the weekend with a band from Georgia only seemed fitting, so it was much to our delight that Royal Thunder was one of the very last bands to play at the festival. Their album CVI has been one of the most acclaimed metal/rock albums of the past year and we’re looking forward to seeing them at Bragg Jam in Macon.

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All photos courtesy of Chuck Madden