Bonnaroo 2014 Day 2
L. Paul Mann
Day 2 of Bonnaroo began with a light drizzly rain and overcast skies. But thankfully the feared deluge never materialized and showers dissipated by the afternoon, offering nothing more than a cool mist. Combined with overcast skies it was one of the coolest and most pleasant days in Bonnaroo history. The weather certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the massive crowd which swelled in numbers from the day before. With the main outdoor stages now open this second day, the festival was running on all cylinders. A huge crowd had already gathered in front of the main stage by early afternoon, where jam band Umphrey McGees played. Their short set pleased the afternoon crowd. Meanwhile, over on the other Outdoor stage, Devonshire crooner, Ben Howard, was exhibiting his impeccable vocal skills in a mellow melodic set that also seemed to please a sedate afternoon crowd. The tiny New Music On Tap stage continued to be ground zero for the most hard core aggressive bands. Chicago based band the Orwells, played a raucous set that had ecstatic fans crowd surfing and crowding the tiny stage. Security led a valiant effort to shore up the flimsy metal barricade while fans of this teen band, that has a good grasp on traditional punk roots, went into a chaotic slam dance mode. More on the metal side, Washington DC based band, Animals As Leaders played an equally frenzied set later in the evening, with more of a classic metal feel. The power trio mixed elements of Hendrix and old school rock with more modern metal sounds.
Janelle Monae played a triumphant late afternoon set on the main stage, arriving on a dolly in a straight jacket. After tearing herself free, the gorgeous young diva led a crack R&B band in a upbeat set reminiscent in style, substance, and even dance moves, of an early Janet Jackson. The set was pure pop fun. The other Outside stage, meanwhile, featured Oregon Americana jam band The Head and The Heart. Their upbeat Indie sound was a great fit for a sunset wake up call to a Bonnaroo crowd ready to dance and party late into the night. Likewise, back on the main stage, Vampire Weekend led a huge crowd in a feel good upbeat sunset wake up set. The band, who just released their third album has garnered a large following amongst those who identify with a modern day flower child movement. By this time crowds of partying concert goers mobbed the alleyway between the main stage and the other Outdoor stage moving back and forward between the main acts. The French rockers, Phoenix were the first band on the Outdoor stage to take advantage of the setting sun and launch a spectacular light show. The upbeat sound and multimedia spectacle launched Bonnaroo into it’s prime nighttime mode.
Most of the festivities on the festival grounds took a breather, while the biggest single audience of an estimated 80,000, massed for the main stage set of Kanye West. While many in the massive crowd were adamant fans of the feisty rapper, mimicking his every word, many others seemed to be just curious onlookers. These casual observers seemed to be more like people attracted to a train wreck, titilated by the possibility of some unknown pending disaster. When the rapper launched into a long disparate rant about why he was so infamously six hours late for his last Bonnaroo appearance, many in the crowd began to head for the beer and food stands. But, even as he blamed everyone for his former tardiness, from Pearl Jam who played that infamous days’ headline set for over three and a half hours, to the press who reported on the event, his universal pop appeal proved to be irresistible to the massive crowd. While his set was winding down, a crowd had gathered in “This Tent”, across the festival grounds for a very different kind of musical experience. Fans of the Atlanta hard rock band, Mastadon, had their own chant for Kanye, while they waited to crowd surf their way towards this full power rock foursome. The intensity of Mastodon’s live perforce is not for the weak of heart, with a glorious ear shattering thunderous sound. This band simply rocks.
As the magical Midnight hour fell, the lucky Friday the 13th Bonnaroo crowd basked in the near full moonlight and prepared for the iconic Super jam. The Super jam was born as a festival experiment, unique to Bonnaroo. Much like the iconic Jam Cruise, which brings a wide range of musicians together to jam in experimental improvisation, the late night set is designed to allow musicians as much time as they like to play into the early morning hours. The Friday the 13th jam was orchestrated by guitar extraodinaire, and sometimes Allman Brothers member, Derek Trucks. He was joined, in a continuously morphing band, by his wife, singer guitarist, Susan Tedeschi, guitarist David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), and guitarist Eric Krasno, (Lettuce), as the powerhouse guitar base for the jam. A Legendary rhythm section included, bassist Willie Weeks and drummer James Gadson. Nigel Hall and Jon Batiste held down the duties as keyboardists. An army of horn players, including Ryan Zoidos (Lettuce) and Karl Denson were on hand. With these masterful players anchoring the jam, including a full quartet of background vocal singers, the guest players began to roll out. The dizzying number of singers and musicians that graced the stage over the next few hours were too numerous too keep track of, but there certainly were standout highlights. Susan Tedeschi took over the lead vocal roll early, leading the band into a guitar drenched version of the “Staple Sisters” staple anthem, “Respect Yourself”. Master blues icon Taj Mahal led an astounding segment of guitar drenched classics of the genre, including Allman brothers staple “Statesboro Blues” and the classic “I Can’t Turn You Loose”. Other great singers rotated in including Andrew Bird and a classic performance by Bonnaroo everyman Ben Folds, who sang and played keyboards on a captivating version of “Space Captain”. But it was the closing set by Chaka Khan that really wowed the large crowd that had gathered from other late night stages by this time. Khan played a host of covers including Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. But it was her jaw dropping explosive vocals on the Led Zeppelin classic, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, that led the guitar quartet into an electric frenzy, and captured the true spirit of Bonnaroo in all of it’s glory. While the Super jam summed up all of what makes Bonnaroo the most interesting and unique of all music festivals, there were still other late night moments pushing the envelope in other directions.
The expectedly most outrageous moments came after 2am in the morning, when the South African hard core EDM and Rap mashup duo, Die Antwoord finally took the stage. The late start in the set prompted fears that the group, who canceled recent shows, due to the illness of vocalist Ninja, may not show. But it just added to the anarchy of the event with some fans leaving, then surging back into the tent, when the pair finally showed, creating a moshing slam dance towards the front of the stage. Tall lanky Ninja, along with his tiny female partner in crime Yolandi Visser, appeared onstage in their trademark Orange jumpsuits. Backed by their DJ in a Gorilla mask, the white rappers are sometimes mistaken as racists, but their actual persona is that of the poor South African version of “trailer trash”. The duo actually embraces the massive cultural diversity of their country, but are a musical throwback to the pure anarchy of punk. Opening with their trademark ranting rap "Fok Julle Naaiers”, the band immediately assaults the audience both literally and figuratively, and the resulting frenzy drive the bands fans wild. Ninja immediately launched himself into the crowd, taking out press photographers and security with his giant boots as he lunged into the euphoric masses. Yolandi in the meantime pranced and danced with her middle finger in the air. The groups schtick is to slowly disrobe through the set, revealing Ninja’s tattooed body head to toe, and Yolandi’s sexy little figure. The band looks a bit satanic with Yolandi sporting black contact lenses and a metal grill on her teeth, while anti religious symbols adorn their persona. But it is the fierce vocal juxtaposition of the gravel voiced Ninja and the squeaky little Yolandi that creates the true dynamic of this truly unique musical marvel. Rap seemed to dominate the early hours with more traditional artist Chance The Rapper playing an early morning set to nearly first light. This Chicago based powerhouse rapper whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a riveting and rambunctious stage presence. Meanwhile Screamo heavy metal fans were treated to a late show by Swedish rock veterans Meshuggah. Lead singer Jens Kidman wailed in the classic primordial scream that is the trademark of this genre while the band played ear shattering mosh pit music. Hardcore EDM master Skrillex meanwhile kept all the young dance fans happy on the Outdoor stage, with a massive light show that delighted his hardcore fans. Dressed in all manner of costumes that have come to define the genre, the huge crowd came together in a classic EDM rave, dancing until near dawn. Even the silent disco was overflowing with EDM fans, buoyed by a line up of famous DJ’s that played literally to dawn. There is nothing like late night Bonnaroo in all it’s diversity to be found anywhere else on the planet. It’s hard to believe that the hordes of young music fans will last through two more days and nights of music.