It’s been six years since Kanye West’s disastrous Bonnaroo debut. Many questioned why the promoters agreed to bring him back in 2014. In some way West’s performance displayed that everyone – his supporters and his detractors – were right.
When he stuck to his music during the 21-song career-spanning set, West had the attention and adulation of fans, especially those near the front of the stage. But with a production that showed a video image of his silhouette, West wearing a mask and then a rant that addressed his 2008 appearance and attacked the festival, Pearl Jam and the media, he ended up sending thousands away from the main stage area in search of artists who were happy to be here.
Pleased to return to the Farm after its 2008 debut, Vampire Weekend played an upbeat set that collected tracks from the group’s three albums.
Earlier on the same main stage, Janelle Monae displayed enough energy during her set that the entire festival could have been powered by her exuberant mix of soul, swing, pop and dance.
Overall, Bonnaroovarians had a wide variety of musical choices on nine stages on Friday, as well as live events at the Comedy Theatre, Cinema Tent and Kalliope Stage, which broadcast World Cup games and hosted DJs at night. The Silent Disco hosted DJs throughout the day.
Sending the controversy of West’s performance into the good night was SuperJam: Derek Trucks featuring Chaka Kahn, Taj Mahal, Eric Krasno, James Gadson, David Hidalgo, Willie Weeks, Nigel Hall, Adam Deitch with special guests Andrew Bird, Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson and Ben Folds. There was an old school Bonnaroo spirit of community, collaboration and great music that included covers of The Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”), Allman Brothers Band (“Statesboro Blues”), Led Zeppelin (“What Is and Should Never Be”), Stevie Wonder (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“Shining Star”), Sly and the Family Stone (“Sing a Simple Song,” “I Want to Take You Higher”) and Kahn doing her smash hit “Tell Me Something Good.”
The Orwells set at the New Music On Tap Lounge created an memorable bit of rock ‘n’ roll chaos when the audience knocked over barricades and sat on lighting trusses in order to be as close as possible to the group’s dizzying performance.
The day also featured strong performances by Greensky Bluegrass, Dr. Dog, The Head and The Heart, Phoenix, Mastodon, Umphrey’s McGee, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Jake Bugg, Skrillex, Chance the Rapper and Die Antword plus an emotional experience for fans during the reunited Neutral Milk Hotel set and Sam Smith who was surprised at the large turnout for his afternoon set and then sang his vocal part during Disclosure’s concert later that day.