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Bonnaroo 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Forty-four reviews that prove The Farm is more or less a permutation of nirvana

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    bonnaroo logans cosWe all come to Bonnaroo for one reason or another: love, escape, freedom, “fuck it.” Whatever brings you there usually brings you back. That’s because The Farm is more or less a permutation of nirvana —  a raw, unrivaled experience that, yes, includes unbearable heat and the occasional whiff of feces, but also one where the positives squash the negatives like a water bottle that’s been dropped in the middle of a Deadmau5 set. Hyperbole? Possibly. But nowhere I’ve traveled — be it a festival, a foreign country, or a small town in Iowa — has ever been so welcoming.

    Like many people, I’m often one to avoid public interaction with strangers, instead diving into my phone or using my ear buds to create an artificial wall, so I won’t be bothered. But not at Roo. For four days, I’m among new friends who are willing and able to hold a pleasant conversation. This is a beautiful tradition of Bonnaroo and one they’ve kept going for 14 years strong. Here’s why that’s important: The further we all drudge into the abyss of adulthood, the more we cherish these moments. Time passes while life spaces out and speeds up. Making the most out of this time is what Bonnaroo has always been about. What’s more, each year is vastly different, from additions and evolutions to lineup changes and our own expectations.

    It’s hard to ever walk in knowing what to expect.

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    This year, those who visited Manchester, Tennessee, were treated to a few new “luxuries”: flushable toilets (I’m obsessed), new stages, and even a grove-of-sorts featuring hammocks and one Instagram-ready forest chandelier. The Who Stage was a small, black-bannered home for bands who otherwise might not have made the cut. Off to the side was a tent where the same artists could interact with their fans and sign goodies. Not so hot was the buzzkill Kalliope Stage, which was tucked in between This Tent and The Other Tent, sort of like that sweaty guy who crams into your friends’ circle halfway through a show. The stage’s endless barrage of generic techno and dubstep plagued any ambiance being crafted on the more celebrated main stages.

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    However, as I walked with the crowd on my way back from watching the bloody season finale of Game of Thrones — Bonnaroo is very pro-Westeros, thank God — the communal “That was amazing!” feeling remained stronger than ever. We saw the potential artist of our generation (Kendrick Lamar). We saw a member of Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant). We saw a collection of some of the best artists in different genres (Caribou, Run the Jewels, Tears for Fears). And though I will likely have a month-long hangover, it was worth every second. The best part? We’re already counting down to Bonnaroo 2016!

    In the meantime, read ahead for our full report from this year.

    –Kevin McMahon
    Staff Writer

    Kacey Musgraves

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    That Tent — Friday, 7:15 p.m.

    “Let’s stay for five songs and bolt for Alabama [Shakes].” That was the consensus of the several gentleman behind me during Kacey Musgraves’ evening set. After taking in the cheesy Western milieu onstage, which included light-up cacti, I was on the same page. To be fair, Musgraves deserves plenty of credit for her work, which has inspired quite the following since her start on Nashville Star in 2007. Better yet, her songs fall perfectly in line with the medium-rare portion of the pop-country steak with platitudes and lyrics that taste good and go down easy: “Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy,” she sings on “Biscuits”. Thing is, I’ve just never been a steak guy myself. –Kevin McMahon

    Temples

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    The Other Tent — Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

    As the sun set on the first of four constitution-testing days on the farm, UK psych-rockers Temples took the stage to a noted sigh of relief. The quartet donned their standard ’70s garb, and off we went. 12-string lead melodies on tracks like “Colours to Life” and “Shelter Song” punch to the front and stick with you. Vocal harmonies sound like calls to the countryside set in another time. In all, Temples seem like the next logical progression in European psychedelia. While the word “recycled” comes to mind, it’s not meant in bad taste. We’ve got to recycle if we are to survive; it’s a good thing. –Kevin McMahon

    Bear’s Den

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    The Who Stage — Thursday, 9:00 p.m.

    After a 10-minute delay due to some rough soundcheck difficulties, Bear’s Den proved greatly worth the wait for the well-packed Who Stage crowd. Though the band’s heartbreak folk isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly connected with the girl who was brought to tears at the first note of opener “Elysium”. With warm vocals and spot-on harmonies, the British band delivered a gentle set that simultaneously beat with a solid energy, with guitarist Andrew Davie and banjo player Joey Haynes playing into each other as much as toward the crowd. There’s an earnestness in their show, and it clearly works. –Ben Kaye

    Iceage

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    This Tent — Thursday, 8:15 p.m.

    Apparently, I avoided some awkwardness by arriving to Iceage’s set a few minutes late: The controversial Danish punks started playing their “On My Fingers” only to stop a minute or so later. After a separate lighting issue was resolved, though, the band finally launched into their hard-charging sound for good, and at its best, it was mesmerizing. Even when guitarist Johan Wieth chugged out an entrancing, standalone riff toward the end of the set, all eyes were on frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, whose phantom-like presence was as intriguingly theatrical as it was strange. Credit where it’s due, though, because Iceage’s other three members were locked in in their own right, with drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen smashing away at a near-scary velocity. One quibble: Iceage’s overall gloominess isn’t exactly conducive to cheery festival vibes, and they didn’t modify much to help that. –Michael Madden

    All Them Witches

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    The Who Stage — Saturday, 12:00 a.m.

    On record, Nashville’s All Them Witches are a heavy mix of Southern blues and hard rock psychedelia. They brought that same sound to the Who Stage as the clock struck midnight Saturday night, but perhaps inspired by Bonnaroo’s roots, they expanded their sound and ventured into more jammy territory. With Mumford’s fireworks blasting behind them, they tore through cuts from Our Mother Electricity and Lightning at the Door. It was a confident performance from such a young band, but could have used more of the muster that’s found on the records. Regardless, these guys have a bright future ahead of them. –Carson O’Shoney

    Gary Clark Jr.

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Which Stage — Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

    With B.B. King’s symbolic passing last month, the blues need a chosen son now more than ever. If Saturday evening at Bonnaroo is an indication, Gary Clark Jr. seems to be up to the job. He embodies the face-lift rhythm the blues needs if it’s to remain a widely valued staple of music in 2015. His updated version understands, embraces, and incorporates the music the blues has influenced: from country to rock, hip-hop and beyond. At the end of April, Clark mentioned he was about finished with his second album in an interview with Rolling Stone. It might just turn out to be a stumbling genre’s defibrillator. –Kevin McMahon

    Mini Mansions

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    The Who Stage — Friday, 5:30 p.m.

    To simply label Mini Mansions a Queens of the Stone Age side project is doing them a disservice. Sure, QOTSA’s bassist, Michael Shuman, is involved, but the band is really about the keys and vocals of Tyler Parkford and the drums and vocals of Zach Dawes. Their mix of Marc Bolan-esque glam, late-era Beatles psychedelia and glitzy synthpop was a perfect fit for the new Who Stage. Highlighted by a slowed-down cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, they thrilled their small audience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them back here on a bigger stage soon. –Carson O’Shoney

    Dej Loaf

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    That Tent — Thursday, 6:45 p.m.

    Even with her candied melodies, which make her music closer to TLC than Trick Trick, Detroit rapper/singer Dej Loaf showed up in Manchester distinguished by her street sensibilities. A member of XXL’s 2015 Freshmen class, her Bonnaroo set was a chance to see whether the hype is warranted. She got some serious mileage out of “Try Me”, performing the hook with and without the beat at separate points during her set. It’s her hit if she has only one, but the thing is that she has (or has been featured on) other unstompable earworms, too: “We Be on It”, Kid Ink’s “Be Real”, and The Game’s “Ryda”, among others. Onstage, she coolly performed these songs and more, with accompaniment coming from Detroit rapper Oba Rowland. Buoyed by chants of “Detroit vs. Everybody,” Dej and co. confirmed there’s a movement in her city worth siding with. –Michael Madden

    Cameron Esposito, Kurt Braunohler, Ron Funches

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Comedy Theatre — Thursday, 4:00 p.m.

    With an eclectic mix of performers slated for the first show of the weekend, the comedy theatre opened with a bang. Our Comedian of the Year for 2014Cameron Esposito, kicked things off with a hilarious routine focused on lesbianism and periods. Adorable soft-spoken goofball Ron Funches came next, warming the hearts of the audience with his giggle alone and making them giggle themselves with his views on his newfound richness. Jamie Lee fell a little flat after those two, as a self-proclaimed “basic bitch” telling gross-out jokes. Luckily, Kurt Braunohler closed the show on a high note, from stories of proposing on a hot air balloon (tip: don’t) to messing up his marriage within days of tying the knot. It didn’t hurt that he told the crowd how much better Bonnaroo was than Coachella, aka “desert prison.” A little Bonnaroo love goes a long way, but this crowd loved him either way. –Carson O’Shoney

    BRONCHO

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    New Music on Tap Lounge — Thursday, 11:15 p.m.

    Closing down the On Tap stage on Thursday, BRONCHO shifted seamlessly between shoegaze, garage rock, and punk, all with hooks that just ever so subtly register in pop. Drummer Nathan Price started the set with a cigarette between his lips and kept his head down over his kit the rest of the time, cutting his drums with whip-sharp hits. Frontman Ryan Lindsey twitched about with a jerky, mumbly energy, all yelps and sputters, but in a good way. He glared down at the crowd with something that looked like disinterest or even hostility, but he was actually just having a ball, and so was the highly responsive late-night crowd. –Ben Kaye

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