Best of Bonnaroo 

A report from four days in the field at Tennessee's biggest music festival.


Danny Clinch


More than 80,000 people invaded the small town of Manchester, Tennessee, last weekend for the 12th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Festgoers transformed a 700-acre stretch of farmland into a bustling, up-'til-dawn, four-day party boasting more than 150 musical and comedic acts across 10 stages.

Thursday night, Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring performed at the The Other Tent, one of the fest's main stages. The band pleased the eager crowd with its lyrically haunting electronic earworms, performing their seductive debut album, Shrines, in its entirety, as well as their recently released cover of Soulja Boy's "Grammy."

Later, English indie-rock quartet Alt-J played This Tent, rolling through tracks from their 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave. Singer Joe Newman's beautifully warbling voice shone through on crowd favorites "Breezeblocks" and "Matilda."

On Friday, as hordes of music lovers continued to pile into the festival's campgrounds, some trekking to the main venue, Centeroo, for the first time, the Massachusetts-based Passion Pit took to the What Stage for a synth-infused, late afternoon set under the beaming Tennessee sun. Renowned hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan hyped fans at Which Stage as the sun set. Their crew joined them for an onstage party that included women on one side of the stage interpreting the lyrics to hits like "C.R.E.A.M." via sign language as they danced along with them.

Paul McCartney's What Stage show was on everyone's agenda Friday night, as there were no other performances overlapping his 9-11:30 p.m. timeslot. He performed a career-spanning setlist, heavily sprinkled with Beatles classics, including his show-opener "Eight Days a Week," and later in the set, "Hey Jude," which had the tens of thousands in the crowd chanting the lyrics along with him so loudly that their voices could be heard beyond the venue echoing through the campgrounds.

Friday's late-night lineup turned Centeroo into a raging field party with simultaneous electronic and DJ performances across three stages beginning at 1:30 a.m. Porter Robinson and Animal Collective played The Other Tent and This Tent, respectively, but many of the glowstick-adorned, drug-induced fest roamers were drawn to the exploding light and laser show and loudly wafting beats from Pretty Lights' Which Stage performance that went on until sunrise.

Saturday brought scorching sun and a heavier dose of Tennessee humidity, and campers awoke from their hot tents for a day chock-full of diverse acts. Among them, Brooklyn-based Dirty Projectors played a This Tent set comprised mostly of melodic gems from last summer's release, Swing Lo Magellan and 2009's poppier Bitte Orca.

In a rare U.S. appearance, Icelandic avant-garde songstress Björk graced What Stage wearing a shimmering, spiked headdress resembling a sprouting, diamond-like crystal. Backed by an energetic, metallic-robed choir, she beautifully crooned through selections from her discography, including earlier hits "Hunter" and "Pagan Poetry," as well as many beat-heavy, emotionally charged songs from her newest release, Biophilia. Björk, whose face was obscured through the sparkling mask, remained mysterious, speaking rarely and demurely. As the sun went down, she said, "Tennessee! It's getting darker," complete with her signature R rolls. Captivating images appeared on large screens during each song. For "Hidden Place": a time-lapse video of starfish devouring carrion in the sea.

Saturday night, Weird Al Yankovic performed an entertaining set consisting of several fast-paced medleys, with some songs, like "Smells Like Nirvana," getting the full-on in-costume treatment. Between songs, during costume changes, clips of mock interviews from the series Al TV were shown. R. Kelly closed the Which Stage with a set of R&B hits, and droves of inflatable white doves were released into the night sky as he performed "I Believe I Can Fly."

On Sunday, up-and-coming Brooklyn-based indie pop group Lucius played an intimate set on one of the venue's smaller stages where new acts were featured. The 30-minute Sonic Stage performance included a handful of tracks from their soon-to-be-released debut album, including the doo-wop reminiscent "Turn it Around" and the more soulful "Genevieve," in which the two front-women, dressed in matching outfits, harmonized perfectly while banging on drums and wood blocks.

During the What Stage performance from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Macklemore singled out a fan saying, "There's one gentleman in the crowd who is impressing the shit out of me. It's 88 degrees out here, and he's wearing a fur fucking coat." He had the fan crowd-surf what he dubbed the "Tennessee bobcat" coat to the stage, and he donned it during his breakout hit "Thrift Shop" before having it crowd-surfed back to its rightful owner.

Another successful weekend on the farm came to a close Sunday night with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pumping out several classics before ending the whole shebang with "American Girl."

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