My entire body aches. My feet hurt with every step, but we’ve survived three days at Bonnaroo now. And despite two guys sharing a one-person tent and a severe case of exhaustion, we’ve loved every second.
After Thursday Bonnaroo is jam-packed with music. The Districts opened with a surprisingly great set. Full of energy and charisma the band played a humble but confident set that was received with no shortage of applause.
Bonnaroo features a surprisingly heavy line-up this year. With bands like Unlocking the Truth, Between the Buried Me, Slayer, and even Against Me!, the lineup features far more heavy bands than most years. That said, after a couple songs of Between the Buried and Me, I needed a sonic change.
That came in the form of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who played a really amazing mid-afternoon set. With some funk and soul mixed into sweet, melodic indie-rock the band brought Mortal Love to life.
The night however, was something special. Alabama Shakes took to the main stage at 7:30 and brought the festival down. Playing mostly selections from their new album Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes brought the blues and soul to life. The singer’s screeches matched her soulful vocals and vicious guitar playing. In the looming midst of Kendrick Lamar’s performance, the Shakes set a high bar for all headliners to follow.
Then, the Compton rapper whose name was on everyone’s lips this year took the stage. The crowd ran on forever. When I turned to look I saw a mob of bodies and no end.
Taking the stage at the same time Kanye West performed last year, Kendrick brought a completely different energy than his peer. He radiated positivity, a smile hardly ever leaving his face. He called the show a party; Kanye fancied it a battleground. Kendrick sought to convert any haters through performance and exuberance; Kanye badgered them until they hated him more.
Lamar flew through most of his first major album Good Kid, MA.A.d City early in the show. He skipped his recent trend of bringing people onstage to rap the first verse of the title track, but opted to perform the song for fifteen minutes, and twice, until 80,000 chanted “It seems like the whole city go against me/every time I’m in the streets/I hear yah yah yah yah!” The crowd’s energy persisted despite the heat and fatigue, the 80,000 strong simultaneously together and in their own world experiencing the music in their own way.
If Kendrick keeps his promise to return to Bonnaroo it may be one of the festival’s biggest sets ever.
SET YOU CAN’T MISS TODAY: Sturgill Simpson
One artist I’ve been looking forward to from the day the lineup was released is Sturgill Simpson. The psychedelic country artist brings LSD to Nashville and shows the country stars how it’s done. He has a Waylon Jennings quality voice and even better songwriting chops. And he can shred on the guitar. Every note seems like a possible hammer on or run for Simpson. His set today, although different, should be very special.
SlEEPER SET: Trampled By Turtles
This folk group is can do straight bluegrass like Old Crowe, or do sincere folk like the very best. If you’re feeling like you need some banjo or mandolin in your life, head over to see Trampled By Turtles.
BEST SET SO FAR: KENDRICK LAMAR
This is very tight between Alabama Shakes and Kendrick for me, but something about Kendrick’s set seemed transcendent. It bordered on a religious experience at times. Kendrick has shown that he’s head and shoulders above most rap game competitors.