All photos (except those noted) by Chris Taylor for Festival Squad.
If you’re like me and go to Bonnaroo every year (or as often as possible), you’ve probably noticed a general pattern – each year, there are standouts. I’m not talking about the performance you knew you’d love, or even your favorite artist’s set. I’m talking about the ones that stand out for specific reasons. If Bonnaroo was a high school, the performing artists would be its senior class, and those standouts would be the seniors who earned Senior Superlatives.
In that spirit, I’ve compiled my list of Bonnaroo “Class of 2019” Senior Superlatives (plus some audience shout-outs, because Bonnaroovians are amazing).
Most Likely to Succeed: AJR
I’ve been following these guys since they released the Spongebob-sampling “I’m Ready” from their living room in 2013. Their sound has only matured and gotten better since, and they really showed it during their afternoon set on the Which Stage.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Which more crowded for a daytime set. There was a headliner-level crowd there, with the audience going all the way back to the Broo’ers Tent, and the AJR brothers (yes, they’re brothers) played right to it, inserting expert crowdwork (they took someone’s Luigi hat?!) and even a few covers – I’ve never seen so many people dancing to “The Office” theme song. Other standouts included the emotional, quiet “Dear Winter” and the educational take on their hit “Burn the House Down,” during which they walked the audience through how they lays down a track.
AJR has only gone up since “I’m Ready,” and I expect they’ll keep growing – they could be headliners next time they come to Roo.
Class Clown: The Lonely Island
I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting into with The Lonely Island’s set – they’d only given one live performance before (at last year’s Clusterfest), and this Bonnaroo show was kicking off their first tour ever. We all – and I really mean all, it was packed out – poured into the field in front of Which Stage for their 12:30 a.m. show and were immediately thrown into a hilarious (and confusing, for some) mix of music and comedy, with the group getting the party started with old hit “Jizz In My Pants.”
Their set definitely wasn’t for everyone – I saw multiple people leaving the crowd looking super confused (“what the f*ck is this”), but if you followed the group’s work on SNL, “Popstar,” and their new Netflix special, it was like being in on a huge inside joke and it was awesome.
Highlights included a surprise cameo by Chris Parnell (someone I never thought I’d see at Bonnaroo) for Andy Samberg’s breakout SNL digital short “Lazy Sunday,” a puppet version of Justin Timberlake coming out for “Dick In A Box,” and being up front while the entire crowd sang my personal favorite, “Jack Sparrow.” I can’t stress this enough – if you liked The Lonely Island on SNL, you will love this show. Not only was it hilarious, but the guys are extremely musically talented – Andy Samberg in particular had the stage presence of a “real” rapper.
Nicest: The Brandi Carlile audience
Never have I ever been so close to a stage, but had my space so well-respected. This What Stage afternoon set was criminally unattended – I was able to show up about five minutes before it started and essentially walk right up to the barrier – but even after the crowd grew, it seemed to only be filled with super nice people. Case in point: The guy next to me sneezed, and literally five people from all directions turned around to bless him. So wholesome!
While it seems that Brandi is still pretty underrated (she was the most-nominated female at the 2019 Grammys, why aren’t more people listening to her?!), it’s no surprise that she attracts this type of crowd. Her music is technically proficient and gorgeous, and she was extremely open with the audience (“I went out last night, so I’m feeling a little delicate”). She also addressed the current political climate in the U.S., talking about her wife and daughters and their right to exist as a family, before playing her emotional, sociopolitical hit, “The Joke.” Basically, Brandi seems just as nice and cool as everyone in the crowd for her show was.
Most Popular: Odesza
All day Saturday, EVERYONE was talking about Odesza’s upcoming What Stage set that night. I’m not just talking about the usual Other Stage- and Kalliope-dwellers, but literally everyone, from the older Phish fans to the Kacey Musgraves yee-haw crew – it seemed like all were happy to have Odesza taking over that night.
And rightly so! This was my first Odesza show, but it blew me away. The visuals, the precision, even the live instruments (a horn section and drumline!) they brought in – if I had to describe the set in one word, it would be “perfect.”
I was also really impressed by how real Catacombkid and BeachesBeaches were. Often, it seems like DJs and production groups are enigmas, not speaking much to the audience and creating mysterious personas for themselves – not so with the guys in Odesza. They seemed genuinely excited to be at Bonnaroo and appreciative of the massive crowd that was there for them and had no problem letting us know. It was really refreshing and awesome to see that these two hyper-talented producers were enjoying themselves as much as we were.
Most Athletic: The Roo Runners
Many attendees don’t even realize this, but each year, Bonnaroo holds a 5k on the Saturday morning of the festival. I’ve participated in it a few times, and even though I’m a relatively experienced runner, I’ve never found this one easy. Think about how you feel after two full days at a fest (plus one day of travel) – dirty, tired, maybe a little hungover. Now picture running three miles in the boiling Tennessee sun on top of that. That’s what people who participate in the Roo Run are doing while everyone else is sleeping in on the Saturday morning of Bonnaroo.
This race may be a little miserable while it’s happening (although the updated route through the woods this year immensely helped with the heat), but I don’t think I’ve ever felt better than I do afterward. There’s something super rewarding about getting that workout/detox in and knowing that you still have two full days of Roo left. If you’ve never done the Roo Run before, I highly recommend checking it out next year.
Most Mysterious: The Fate of Bonnaroo
On June 24 (one week after the fest wrapped), news broke that Live Nation was purchasing Bonnaroo co-founder Superfly Entertainment’s share of the fest. Live Nation had held a controlling interest since 2015, but had kept co-founders Superfly and AC Entertainment involved until now. Beginning in 2020, it sounds like Superfly may not be involved at all (this hasn’t been confirmed, but it sounds like there’s a good chance).
So what does this mean for Bonnaroo? Many worry that the festival, which started as an indie/jam band oasis, will become more corporate (a fear that began when Live Nation first got involved in 2015). However, it could also bring positives – we did get permanent bathrooms after the 2015 Live Nation purchase. If Live Nation keeps Superfly on in a limited role, which is a possibility, this could just mean more good change for the venue and the festival. I’m both excited and nervous to see what happens, but either way, I know I’ll be heading back to the Farm next year – the music and grounds are clearly a huge part of Roo, but what really makes it is the audience and the vibes that we bring.
Best Comeback: Cardi B performing most of her set in a bathrobe after ripping her jumpsuit
Best Karaoke: The Backstreet Boys singalong Lil Dicky initiated in the middle of his set
Best Cover(s): Everything during the GRiZ G.O.A.T. Superjam
Worst Twitter meltdown: Everyone waiting in line to get in on Wednesday night
Most Controversial: The Squarch. What is it? Is it permanent? Only time will tell.
Best Product Placement: Rael’s free tampons in the ladies rooms – AMAZING, this should be everywhere.
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