Bonnaroo turns ten

Since its inaugural launch in 2002, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has grown into one of the United States’ most renowned and anticipated summer festivals.

Ten years in, the line-ups continue to impress and the painfully confusing stage names (This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, Which Stage and What Stage) continue to be hilariously bewildering. Located in Manchester, Tennessee and hosting some of the biggest names in music, film and comedy – not to mention countless up-and-coming acts – Bonnaroo is one of the few places one might find Eminem and the Black Keys sharing the same stage on the same night.
This year’s festival, though marred by excruciating heat, uncontrollable dust clouds and the tragic deaths of two attendees, continued to provide what are surely some of the highest calibre performances of 2011.

Thursday, June 9

Despite festival organizers opening campgrounds on Wednesday night this year, fans endured long waits to get past the gates, set up camp and hit the first round of shows on Thursday night.

Lo-fi California stoner rock provided the perfect opening to the weekend with back-to-back sets from Wavves and Best Coast. Led by sometimes-erratic frontman Nathan Williams, three-piece Wavves bounced through songs off their album King of the Beach. Highlights included “No Hope Kids,” “King of the Beach,” “Post Acid” and a snippet of an “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” cover.
Following Wavves and over at The Other Tent, Williams’ girlfriend Bethany Cosentino took to the stage, looking adorable in a polka-dot romper, to lead her band Best Coast through one of the night’s best sets.

The crowd jostled about, singing along to songs from last year’s debut record Crazy for You like “Boyfriend,” “Bratty B” and the title track “Crazy for You.” The packed tent was also treated to a cover of fellow Bonnaroo performer Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Closing out the night was one of Hollywood’s most talented multi-taskers, Childish Gambino. Known to most as Donald Glover, writer for 30 Rock or star of NBC’s Community, his set on Thursday night ignited the crowd into one of the rowdiest of the weekend. His trademark blend of rapping over indie rock samples came to life on stage, delivering characteristic tracks like “Do Ya Like” and “Bitch, Look At Me Now (Two Weeks),” featuring samples from Adele and Grizzly Bear, respectively.

Older songs like “Yes” made the setlist, as well as “Freaks and Geeks” from his latest EP. The live instrumentation on stage added to the energetic atmosphere, while Glover’s onstage antics like climbing the speakers and jumping into the crowd sent the jam-packed tent into hysterics.

Friday, June 10

Though there was no relief from the 94-degree heat or blistering sun, Friday afternoon did provide a stacked indie-rock line-up.

Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim absolutely annihilated their set at That Tent, blazing through tunes that included a cover of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” after which Matt Johnson excitedly proclaimed: “Bonnaroo, you’ve got everything I need!” Closing out the set with “Daylight” was an incredibly well received move that got the crowd (which spilled out far beyond the cover of the tent) dancing and shouting along.

Bonnaroo veterans the Decemberists proved they deserved their spot on the festival’s main stage with their early evening performance that featured a career-spanning setlist. Opener “July, July!” gave way to tracks off 2011’s The King is Dead, though fans were most definitely catered to with the inclusion of songs like “We Both Go Down Together,” “16 Military Wives” and “O Valencia!”
Frontman Colin Meloy implemented some serious charm and managed to get the tens of thousands in attendance to take a seat on the ground for set closer “The Chimbley Sweep” – with the crowd eventually rising and bringing the performance to a triumphant finish.

Arcade Fire closed out the What Stage on Friday night to make room for late night shows at the tents from Lil Wayne, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Ratatat.
The Montreal-based, Grammy-winning group powered through an hour and a half of old favourites from Funeral like “Neighbourhodd #2 (Laika)” and hits from The Suburbs such as “Ready to Start” and “City With No Children.” Indisputably though, the pinnacle of the night was the band’s spectacular rendition of “Wake Up” as the first encore song.

Honourable mentions: Ray Lamontagne, Florence & the Machine, My Morning Jacket, NOFX

Saturday, June 11

Despite a minor thunderstorm in the evening, Saturday’s stellar line-up went off without a hitch. Plus, the Comedy Theatre gave attendees an opportunity to retreat from the heat and enjoy a series of side-splitting shows.

Donald Glover ditched his Childish Gambino alter-ego from two nights before to entertain with two presentations of his hilarious stand-up routine.

British comedian Bill Bailey warmed up the stage with his musical brand of comedy, showing off both his musicianship and ability to make people laugh.
Nevertheless, the combination of Glover’s conversational style and ridiculous subject matter – from public pooping at Bonnaroo to having his glasses stolen by Reggie Bush to childhood trips to the Home Depot – secured him a spot as the highlight of the afternoon.

The evening got off to an explosive start at Which Stage with a powerful set from English darlings Mumford & Sons. A long way from last year’s low-key set at That Tent, the four-piece played to an overwhelming crowd of 50,000. Hits like “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man” turned the audience into a frenzy of jumping and clapping, while the encore featured members of Old Show Medicine Crow and The Apache Relay for a mesmerizing rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Later on, the Black Keys proceeded to fill the What Stage surprisingly well for a two-piece blues outfit, playing tracks like “Next Girl,” “Howlin’ for You” and “Tighten Up.” Though the limited between-song banter was fairly disengaging and half-hearted, fans didn’t seem to mind.Then came Eminem. The festival’s primary headliner, Marshall Mathers walked onstage at 11:00 p.m. and wowed an audience of ecstatic fans.

Repeatedly expressing his gratitude, the Detroit-born rapper’s setlist featured everything from “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and “Stan” to “Sing for the Moment” and “Crack a Bottle.” A medley featuring “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me” appeared to be the high point of the night – that is, until Slim Shady walked back out for an encore of “Lose Yourself” that riled up the crowd for the rest of the night.

Honourable mentions: Wiz Khalifa, Buffalo Springfield, String Cheese Incident, Gogol Bordello, Girl Talk

Sunday, June 12

Exhausted, dehydrated and crusted in dirt from the never-ending dust clouds, those who made it through the last day of the festival were treated to fewer, but equally impressive shows.

Iron & Wine’s afternoon set was laid back and provided the perfect soundtrack for 80,000 hungover, burnt out festival-goers.

Undeniably, however, the real gem of Sunday was garage-rock revivalist heroes the Strokes.

The five-piece band from New York City stumbled on stage a little bit late, with lead singer Julian Casablancas refusing to sacrifice any of his cool stage persona and donning black pants and a leather jacket in the 90-degree heat.
He later explained that the late start was a result of trying to catch the opening of Beirut’s overlapping set across the grounds. But when they busted out the opening hook to “Is This It,” nothing else mattered – the Strokes were there to put on a rock ‘n’ roll show.

Heavily relying on back catalogue material, songs from this year’s Angles served as filler to crowd anthems like “Last Night,” “Someday,” “What Ever Happened?” and “Reptilia.” As the sun set on the last night of Bonnaroo, Casablancas introduced the final song (“Take It or Leave It”) with a string of incoherent mumbles about people wanting water before exclaiming “Take it or leave it … all over my face!”

And with this frantically energetic track, the Strokes closed out The Cord’s coverage of Bonnaroo 2011, leaving 80,000 Bonnaroo-ers to file their way out of Manchester, Tennessee until next summer.

Honourable mentions: Ryan Bingham, Robert Plant & Band of Joy, Robyn, Widespread Panic