MANCHESTER, Tenn. — The coolest thing at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival might have been the weather, the balmy best in the fest’s 13-year history. USA TODAY cherry-picks the weekend highlights enjoyed by the camping crowd of 80,000.
Traveling man: Dierks Bentley’s Sunday began in Columbus, Ohio, where the country singer played Saturday. Before he appeared on Ed Helms’ Bluegrass SuperJam Sunday evening, his bus drove him to Nashville, where he caught a plane to Panama City Beach, Fla., to pick up his vacationing wife and three kids. They flew to Destin, then to Manchester, where they landed right behind headliner Elton John’s plane. “I love bluegrass music,” Bentley explained with a shrug. “I’d go pretty much anywhere to be part of it.” Plus, his kids — all ages 5 and under — can enjoy the show, which also featured Sarah Jarosz and Lake Street Dive. “No drums, no electric guitar,” he says. “They hate those.”
You never know what’s next: Where else other than a Bonnaroo SuperJam are you going to see Janelle Monáe sing Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” with a backing band that features EDM superstar Skrillex? A$AP Ferg followed with Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” and Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz sang The Doors’ “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” with The Doors’ Robbie Krieger and Skrillex playing guitar. To stall between setups Saturday night, Skrillex led the audience in a couple of verses from Disney tunes “Hakuna Matata” and “Part of Your World.”
White-hot: “Everybody else is just visiting,” said Jack White, who lives an hour up the road in Nashville, making him a hometown headliner. White opened his blistering two-hour-plus set Saturday with the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” and closed with “Seven Nation Army.” In between, he played songs from his new album, “Lazaretto.” He also became the second headliner in as many nights to rail against the press, calling Rolling Stone “a tabloid” and telling the audience, “You and I make music.”
Back at Bonnaroo: “This is my first Bonnaroo — certainly not my last,” Lionel Richie told his main-stage audience Saturday night. That’s not entirely accurate: Richie guested with Kenny Rogers in 2012. Richie performed a couple of dozen songs, including a midset string of Commodores hits such as “Three Times a Lady,” “Sail On,” “Fancy Dancer” and “Sweet Love.” He also seemed especially taken with a guy near the front wearing a fake afro and mustache: “Nothing like coming to the show, and you find your son here,” he said. “I knew I was going to be surprised, but this is out of control.”
Kanye plays in the dark: In 2008, West’s delayed set began at sunrise. Friday night, he began at 10:08. But West performed much of his set while wearing a full face mask, and he rarely used the video screens for anything more than displaying solid colors, which made it difficult to connect with his performance. West blamed the late start of his previous appearance on the headliners. “Pearl Jam went on three hours long,” he told the crowd. “They said I was running late. … Where the press at? Is y’all going to write all these (expletive) putting their hands up right now?” West absolutely owned the 15,000 or so people who could see him, but, beyond them, the reaction was mixed, with scattered booing. Wife Kim Kardashian watched the show from the soundboard, clad in a see-through top, cropped white pants and high heels.
Exceeding expectations: British soul singer Sam Smith didn’t expect his audience to extend far beyond the tent posts for his Friday afternoon show, his only U.S. festival booking this summer. “I was panicking,” he told USA TODAY. The “Stay With Me” singer made a bet with his manager that he’d buy drinks if he packed the place. “I owe him a lot of drinks.” The crowd sang along with nearly every song, including versions of Naughty Boy’s “La La La” and Disclosure’s “Latch,” on which Smith is a featured vocalist. “While I was singing, I was thinking, ‘This is a different country, and all these people are here to see me.’ It was amazing.” Smith sang Latch again Friday during Disclosure’s late-night set.
Escape artist: Two “orderlies” wheeled Monáe onto the stage in a straitjacket, and she “escaped” them several times during a high-energy set Friday. During her last song, Monáe jumped off the stage and ran deep into the audience.
Chaka Khan covers Led Zeppelin: Guitarist Derek Trucks led a Friday night SuperJam that began at midnight and featured wife Susan Tedeschi, Ben Folds, Taj Mahal, Anthony Hamilton and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. But the highlight had to be an appearance by Chaka Khan, who started with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” followed by Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be”; “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” a Wonder song made famous by Aretha Franklin; and Rufus’ “Tell Me Something Good.”
Memphis blues: Following a Thursday screening of documentary “Take Me to the River,” several of the film’s stars performed in the Bonnaroo Cinema tent. Highlights included blues singer Bobby Rush teaming with rapper Frayser Boy on Rufus Thomas’ “Push and Pull” and R&B great William Bell performing his 1968 hit “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” with rapper Al Kapone. “This is what the movie’s about, passing the torch,” said Bell, 74. “A lot of us are getting older. We want the legacy to be intact.”
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