Author: David Heinrich
Returning from Bonnaroo was one of the saddest drives of my life. The four-day festival weekend was far too short for me: after this weekend, I wanted to move to Manchester, TN. I reflected on what was a life-changing weekend of great music, art, and community. It was really liberating to go to The Farm and leave all of my worries behind for a few days. I danced with strangers, bonded with my friends, and enjoyed some of the best shows I’ve seen in a truly unique and special place. There’s something really magical about the place that’s hard to describe without being there. The festival-goers are all upbeat and outgoing, which made for a really cool social environment, unlike any other festival I’ve been to. High-fives were doled out in abundance and everyone was truly radiating warmth and positivity.
It wasn’t just the people that made the experience, though. We all shared in seeing some truly amazing shows over the course of the weekend. Here are a few of my favorite performances from Bonnaroo 2018.
Bon Iver put on two breathtaking sets on the Which Stage on Saturday night. Their first set was all Bon Iver material, where Justin played mostly 22, A Million songs. He also played some rarities from his first two albums, like “Creature Fear” from For Emma, Forever Ago. His performances of “715- Creeks” and “8 (circle)” really stuck with me. His second set was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He was joined onstage by some other collaborators. Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National made an appearance, and so did other members of their new project PEOPLE. There was a group of 5 dancers who were captivating to watch throughout the whole set. Justin Vernon invited a lot of friends and guests out to sing songs, rotating through a cast of vocalists that will make your mouth water. Moses Sumney sang an R&B cover, Francis and the Lights played a few tracks, and Amelia from Sylvan Esso did a duet with Justin on the Bon Iver track “Flume”, but also contributed to a group cover of the Sylvan Esso song “Coffee”. The best moments of this unique and once-in-a-lifetime set were Justin’s rare live performance of “Woods”, during which I had an out-of-body experience, and the closer. The whole group came back out onstage to sing the Francis and the Lights/Bon Iver collab “Friends”, complete with a group dance number made famous by that song’s music video. It was the most memorable set from a weekend of amazing sets. I was left in awe.
Playboi Carti almost burned This Tent to the ground with how much fire he was putting out through the speakers. The Atlanta trap rapper had contagious, seemingly limitless energy on stage, and he really engaged the crowd well. Pi’Erre Bourne’s production sounded as good as ever. His trunk-knocking bass lines really got the crowd going. The repetitive nature of a lot of Carti’s lyrics actually fostered a really interesting live show dynamic, because fans and newcomers alike could learn the words while the song was going. By the last chorus of “wokeuplikethis*”, the whole crowd was screaming the hook back at Carti. He fed off of that interaction and carried the hype throughout the whole set. In a set filled with highlights, the best moment had to be Bonnaroo’s deafening rendition of “Magnolia”. It was a triumphant moment for a rapper on the rise, with nowhere to go but up from here.
Anderson .Paak drew a packed crowd to the What Stage for his set, where Bonnaroovians filling the main stage field. The crowd was treated to one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, from .Paak or from anyone. He had the whole crowd grooving to songs from all across his discography. He leaned heavily on his 2016 breakthrough Malibu, but fans also heard some NxWorries tracks, stuff from Venice, and his awesome new single “Bubblin”. My favorite track of the set was the KAYTRANADA-produced “Lite Weight”, which had the crowd longing for more after his all-too-short set. The live percussion was mind-blowing, the vocals were smooth and buttery, and .Paak’s “YES LAWD!” energy spread all across the farm. .Paak is one of the most talented musicians out there right now, and we should be lucky to be existing in the same space he currently is.
Kali Uchis put us under a spell late Saturday afternoon. The rising star from Colombia played an amazing set with her live band, featuring music from her Por Vida EP and her wickedly good 2018 debut Isolation. Kali stole the show, showing effortless grace and poise in all of her movements and dances. Watching her made you wonder whether she was a real human, because she just looked too flawless in everything she did. She was sporting one of the best looks of the weekend, in an all-Statue of Liberty green outfit (even her hair) with a monogrammed and jeweled belt. She brought a crowd of adoring fans, who especially loved cuts like “Your Teeth In My Neck”, “After The Storm”, and the biggest bop of the set, the Steve Lacy-produced “Just A Stranger”. Kali is destined for arenas at some point, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to see one of the most exciting young voices in R&B in such an intimate setting.
Sylvan Esso killed their sunset spot at That Tent. The atmosphere under the tent turned into a dancefloor very quickly after they took the stage. The Bonnaroo crowd took to Amelia and Nick very quickly. There were lots of fans singing all of the words with me, but they won over a lot of newcomers as well. Amelia’s dance moves and vocals were on point, and Nick’s beats were as fine-tuned as ever. They had a mesmerizing light show going on, but the focus was on the electricity of the duo. The two of them have such a natural stage chemistry that was a treat to watch, especially during dance numbers like “H.S.K.T.”, “Radio”, and “Just Dancing”.
Topaz Jones played a small stage to a packed crowd that was vibing from the get go. He played some great tracks off of his album Arcade. The fans really loved “Howlin’ At The Moon” and his closer, “Tropicana”, but every track had a sweet dance beat and some dextrous rapping over it. His tour DJ and collaborator KILLED the production on a lot of the songs. At one point, after bringing out Leven Kali, Jones said that this evening was “about family, about friends, about squad, and about gang”. It was a great way to start a weekend that was focused on community and friendship. He really set the tone for the rest of the acts I saw.
Daniel Caesar was pure magic. The talented R&B singer from Canada brought a passionate crowd of devoted fans to This Tent late Sunday evening, and wowed the crowd with his croons and emotion. His set was tender and loving, and was a great way to get all of the feels out one last time before the end of the festival. At a lot of times, the crowd knew every word and took over singing duties momentarily from Caesar. “Best Part” was one of my favorite songs of the weekend. We all sang the H.E.R. verse and then Daniel came in and made us all swoon with his voice and his lyrics (“You’re my water when I’m stuck in the desert, you’re the Tylenol I take when my head hurts” was particularly endearing). He showed his appreciation the whole time and was very thankful and humble for the large turnout he brought.
Japanese Breakfast played a fantastic show at This Tent early on Friday afternoon, kicking off the first real day of the festival. Their set was filled with more somber indie cuts, but they also mixed in a few shoegaze-y psychedelic loop tracks and some upbeat dance songs. “Machinist” really got the crowd moving, and “Road Head” put us in our feels. There was a special moment when they covered The Cranberries that really resonated with the audience. Japanese Breakfast was a great teaser for the rest of the evening’s music that day.
Leven Kali is a fantastic showman. The R&B singer made the crowd swoon with his amazing voice and slick dance moves. He had charisma and swagger in abundance, making for a really engaging performance. He led a sing-along to his track with Syd “Do U Wrong” and wowed the crowd later with “Smile”. He is a really talented performer and instrumentalist, and played in perfect sync with his live band.
Shiba San is a DJ from France, and his set had me dancing more than any other this weekend. Fans of house music will surely recognize his label Dirtybird Records, run by Claude Von Stroke. He had an amazing setup of visuals to compliment his booming bass grooves and minimalist production. Rather than most festival EDM sets, where there’s an in-your-face bass drop every two minutes, Shiba San’s set was a smooth run of house tracks mixed expertly and seamlessly. At a certain point, the music sort of became secondary to the club atmosphere that started to take shape. The nature of Shiba San’s house music allowed us to listen and enjoy it while simultaneously dancing, being social, and getting to know the people around us. That vibe is something you wouldn’t find in a packed festival crowd too often.
RUFUS DU SOL
Rufus Du Sol completed my favorite trifecta of shows of the weekend, coming immediately after Shiba San and Playboi Carti on Friday night. Rufus had a smaller crowd than I had expected, but I think a lot of that had to do with their positioning in That Tent against Khalid on Which Stage. Because of this, there was lots of room to dance and the set was still intimate. The fans that were there were really passionate and showed their adoration for Rufus Du Sol with raucous cheering between songs. At one point, the show stopped for a whole minute of constant hollering and applause. Some of my favorite tracks were “Like An Animal” and their magnum opus, “Innerbloom”. The new material they played was excellent as well, so be on the lookout for more new releases from them soon.
Pond was a perfect way to kick off Saturday. They provided an hour of great psych rock that was well received by the Bonnaroo crowd. They had amazing visuals that captured our attention. The 5-piece band was very odd, to be quite honest. Their set filled with layered guitars and reverb vocals, but also included a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor and quirky banter in between songs. They were charming if not a little out there. My favorite quote was when the lead singer said “If you don’t eat your veggies that guy David Guetta is coming to get you: he lives under your bed”.
London neo-soul/funk collective Jungle really brought the boogie to their Sunday afternoon spot. The 7-piece live band got down, and so did the crowd. During the track “Drops”, I turned over my shoulder and saw a spontaneous group of about 30 people dancing in unison. The feet didn’t stop moving, and I saw a lot of breaking and a lot of moves during tracks like “Happy Man”, “Busy Earnin’”, and “Julia”. The group showcased a couple new tracks from their forthcoming unannounced second record, and this set only served as a tease for what is to come from the group. May their second album come as soon as possible, so that I may dance to Jungle again in the near future.