Photos by Mark C. Austin
The final day of this year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was hit with a cold front as storms threatened to rain down on the farm. Early afternoon shows saw patrons huddled together as they danced along to Gary Clark Jr, Delta Spirit, Black Lips and Grouplove to warm up.
Dark storm clouds aren’t exactly the best backdrop for the Beach Boys, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind as the band wove through their extensive song bank from hit to hit. Light rain began to sprinkle down on the What Stage field half way through the set as the band began “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and winds picked up as the band transitioned into “God Only Knows.” But not even the threat of a thunderstorm could interrupt the good vibrations. In the end the set served as a refreshing break from flashing lights and hypnotizing backdrops as the Boys proudly commanded the stage with just their instruments and brightly colored, very un-rock-n-rollish collared shirts.
As the Beach Boys started to wind down, Ben Folds Five took to the Which Stage to play some “old shit.” Frontman Ben Folds told the crowd he loved playing Bonnaroo because it’s a real music festival as he stood atop his piano to take a photo of the crowd flipping him off. Having more fun with the crowd, Folds improvised a tune early on when he forgot the lyrics to a song and later complimented the audience on their fine singing skills as they took charge of singing the horn part of the song “Army.”
During the festival Bonnaroovians were tasked with crowning either Aziz Ansari or Childish Gambino as Mayor of Bonnaroo, but it was Kenny Rogers who was actually honored with a key to the city by the real Mayor of Bonnaroo, Manchester Mayor Betty Superstein. After critiquing the crowd’s singing skills of some of his early hits, Rogers brought out friend Lionel Richie to sing “Lady” and “All Night Long.”
Almost completely devoid of annoyingly misplaced “woo”s and “yeah”s, the audience at Bon Iver’s What Stage performance swayed along in an almost meditative state as Justin Vernon scrambled, even crawled around the stage to transition from one song to another. Since major sound problems hindered the enjoyment of many of the main stage headliners, the crowd was relieved to find that Bon Iver’s eclectic sound rang out beautifully deep into the field.
Halfway through Bon Iver’s set the biggest head-to-head took place as The Civil Wars, The Shins, Young the Giant and fun. all played at the same time.
First up, The Civil Wars closed out the Other Stage with a touch of class as John Paul White stepped out on the stage in his signature black jacket and bow tie, while Joy Williams sported a very pregnant belly (the singer said she was due in about 10 days). Even though the duo was tucked away in the back corner of the field, you could still hear them belt out their final song “Poison & Wine” over the loud rocking sounds of the other bands playing hundreds of feet away.
A few minutes later The Shins’ “Caring is Creepy” rang through the farm as the band rounded out the Which Stage lineup for the year. At the same time Young the Giant blew fans away with what started out as a slower, grittier sound than usual and ended with lead singer Sameer Gadhia crowd-surfing through the This Tent crowd. Across the farm at That Tent, fun. singer Nate Ruess couldn’t wipe the gleeful smile off his face as he promised his band’s ‘Roo show would be their best of the year. We’ll let the fans decide if it was their best, but you could tell the band was having the time of their lives as the crowd roared through their summer hit “We Are Young.”
To close out the festival Phish returned to the farm for a two-set show. Working through their repertoire, the festival finale was filled with surprises. After bringing out Kenny Rogers to sing “The Gambler,” the band reinvented the song and sang it again in their own Phish-y way. Tennessee natives were thrilled as the band ended their second set with the East Tennessee anthem “Rocky Top,” and joined in as the band sang the lines “Rocky Top you’ll always be home sweet home to me.”