Another year of Bonnaroo is in the books and a memorable year it was. Narrowing down our ten favorite sets from the 23 we ended up seeing over the weekend was no easy task. Nothing completely disappointed this year. Everyone seemed to bring it to The Farm. These ten just brought a little extra.
1. Elton John
Bonnaroo has been on a roll lately with the legends. Paul McCartney took the top spot on our Bonnaroo 2013 list and Elton John landed atop our list for 2014. When you have a solid two hours of hits like "Rocket Man", "Your Song", and "Crocodile Rock" to pull from, it's sure to be a grand time. John's first American festival appearance seemed to leave the classic rocker stunned by the enormity and hopefully with an appetite for more.
2. The Flaming Lips
It was a very close thing for Wayne Coyne and company to take the #1 spot over Sir Elton. Their Saturday Late Night show was a 90 minute party, from the first moments when Coyne came out wearing butterfly wings he'd ground scored at A Tribe Called Red to the rousing finale of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the band delivered a strong setlist and the kind of visuals we've come to expect from The Flaming Lips at Bonnaroo.
3. Skinny Lister
British rockers Skinny Lister may have been playing a short set on Bonnaroo's tiny Cafe Where stage, but they made every second of it count. The cramped environment in the packed house, where all the chairs had been unceremoniously shoved to the back by fans trying to crowd up, fit Skinny Lister's brand of punk infused boozy Brit pub rock perfectly. From crowd surfing band members to singer Lorna Thomas passing the jug around to share among attendees, it was just the kind of party to give you a Bonnaroo second wind.
4. Lionel Richie
A lot of eyebrows were raised among the Bonnaroo fanbase when Lionel Richie was listed just behind the headliners on the poster. How could a legacy act be billed ahead of white hot current acts like Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, or The Avett Brother? On Saturday night at Bonnaroo, Richie showed the doubters why; because he can still deliver. In what was a headliner-worthy 90 minute set, Richie was funny, engaging, endlessly gracious, and in perfect voice. It's easy to forget just how many hits the man has between his various projects until he rolled seamlessly from one to the other in an endless succession. By the time he played "All Night Long", a good portion of the audience appeared to be fine if he'd done just that.
5. Big Sam's Funky Nation
Big Sam is the hardest working man at Bonnaroo. He holds the record for the most shows played in a weekend when Big Sam's Funky Nation performed almost constantly all weekend. While they weren't quite as busy this year, they still delivered a strong performance on What Stage. With a booty shaking mix of funk, jazz, and rock and a sense of humor that punctuates everything, Big Sam's Funky Nation is a party everywhere they go.
6. Jack White
Jack White is a seasoned Bonnaroo veteran, having played with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and Dead Weather. This year, he got to prove his mettle not only as a solo artist but as a headliner. And boy, did he deliver. White's 90 minute set stretched to almost 2 hours, quite a feat considering the energy White put into running around the stage. His setlist was a perfect mix of new material off his just-released "Lazaretto", material from his previous solo album, and a fair helping of White Stripes and Raconteurs material. Nashville's favorite transplant may very well become one of Bonnaroo's favorite go-to headliners.
7. Derek Trucks and Friends Superjam
Friday night's Derek Trucks and Friends Superjam would have made our top ten list on the strength of just five words: Chaka Khan sings Led Zeppelin. But while Chaka's stunner of a rendition of "What is and What Should Never Be" was the runaway highlight of the evening, it was hardly the only one. David Hidalgo from Los Lobos also proved that Derek Trucks wasn't the only guitar god up on the stage. Every time he picked up a six string, everything just sounded better.
8. Bluegrass Situation Superjam
This one could really be 7a, as it and the Derek Trucks Superjam were almost equal in our books. While Chaka Khan owned the Trucks Superjam, Sarah Jarosz absolutely stole the Bluegrass Situation Superjam. After a fairly standard number to kick off her contribution, Jarosz immediately transitioned into Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy", which is exactly what most people would have thought she was if she hadn't surprised everyone. Instead, realization slowly built through the crowd and the place went nuts. In addition to Jarosz, there were memorable performances from Bryan Sutton, Robert Ellis, Dierks Bentley, and of course the leader of the show, Ed Helms.
9. Sarah Jarosz
While Sarah Jarosz's solo set didn't have any stunners like "Crazy", it didn't really need it. From the opening chords of her haunting arrangement of Poe's "Annabel Lee" to her sing-along closer of Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House", Jarosz and her seriously underrated pair of bandmates were on point. Sarah Jarosz is the future of roots music, and she's building the future now.
10. The Wild Feathers
Nashville's own The Wild Feathers made the most of their Bonnaroo debut, packing the house for their festival opening show on Thursday before flying to Ohio on Friday and then back to Bonnaroo for a full court press blitz on Saturday. The band's multiple vocalists and straight forward guitar-based rock and roll give them a unique niche in an EDM and genrefied festival scene. Expect to see The Wild Feathers back at Bonnaroo in the future, and in a much more prominent slot.
Just missing the cut of the Top 10 were Canadian rockers Monster Truck, blues rocker ZZ Ward, and roots rock duo Shovels & Rope.