Red Hot Chili Peppers photo by Dean Budnick
At Bonnaroo size doesn’t matter.
It’s the value of the performance that’s important. And on Saturday that could be found at the vast surroundings of the What Stage to the smaller Tents and the intimate lounges. The day burst with an abundance of musical riches from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ headlining set to the gut-wrenching soul of Charles Bradley on the same stage nine hours earlier, the ascendancy of actor Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino rapper persona from opening night buzzworthy act last year to playing on the Which Stage, the theatrical rock of Puscifer, LP showing she’s ready to graduate from the club-like atmosphere at Great Taste Lounge, Gary Clark Jr. offering a small taste of his blues rock at Sonic Stage and Dispatch making their Bonnaroo debut, while welcoming festival photographer Danny Clinch to the stage for “Bang Bang,” introducing him as a “Bonnaroo native.”
While Bonnaroo’s roots come from the jamband scene, the festival’s outlook has grown each year. The Red Hot Chili Peppers set provided a nod from the festival’s past without losing the band’s foothold in the present day. In various combinations, members Flea, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer along with touring percussionist Mauro Refosco improvised their way before returning to the next number on the setlist.
The two-hour set leaned heavily on material from recent albums – “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” “Factory of Faith,” “Californication,” “Monarchy of Roses,” “Look Around” – with several stops to older tracks – “Under the Bridge,” “Suck My Kiss” and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
Along with frontman Anthony Kiedis the band “owned” the grounds during its time onstage as befits an arena rock act. But they were also moved by the spirit of playing before 80,000 and made the experience a shared celebration.
“I feel peace and and love and goodness and kindness everywhere I walk here,” said Flea during one of the rare non-musical interludes between songs. He should know. He was taking in the scene and spoke about the performances he had witnessed, including Little Dragon, Santigold, Dumpstaphunk, Radiohead and Bad Brains.
Prior to the Punch Brothers set at Which Stage, Chris Thile commented on what makes Bonnaroo a success. “A good festival is all about a sense of community gathering together to celebrate the fact that music is one of the most amazing expressions of community that there is. Bonnaroo is particularly interesting in that the attendees consider themselves to be in such a part of the event. You feel less like you’re performing for people and more like you’re performing with people in a way that I find unique.”
After the final notes of the Chili Peppers faded the music went on long into the night. A trio of midnight shows made for a tough choice between theatrical rock pioneer Alice Cooper putting on a classic set that used puppetry and his infamous guillotine trick, Superjam curated by ?love of the Roots, and Spectrum Road, which features Jack Bruce, John Medeski, Vernon Reid and Cindy Blackman Santana played the Other Tent.
?uestlove explained his ideas behind this year’s Super Jam, putting the crowd in a “time machine” that landed just in time for Jimi Hendrix’s “(Have You Ever Been To) Electric Ladyland” and Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”
The lineup for Super Jam included fellow Roots members Cap’n Kirk (guitar) and Frank Knuckles (percussion) along with D’Angelo (vocals, keyboards), Kendra Foster (vocals), James Poyser (keyboards), Eric Leeds (saxophone), Jesse Johnson (guitar) and Pino Palladino (bass).
If that wasn’t enough the Which Stage was prepared for the Big DROP by electronic dance music artist Skrillex who sustained a two-hour set in front of those in need of some big beats and those ready to be initiated into his dance music world.
Earlier in the day, HR of Bad Brains looked and acted nowhere near the part of a hardcore hero. His bandmates kept the music’s mix of powerful, fast numbers with an occasional reggae cooldown. The latter style was necessary after a dust cloud erupted from the crowd moshing and bodysurfing. A pleased Flea of the Chili Peppers watched from the side of the stage.
Playing This Tent just like they did in 2008, Battles sounded like the gifted offspring of Kraftwerk and Tortoise that developed a personality of its own.
LP may be best known for her song, “Into the Wild,” in the Visa commercial but she showed that as a performer and songwriter at Great Taste Lounge that she has so much more to offer listeners.
A grateful Oberhofer played their final highly energetic and pop-laden Bonnaroo set at Sonic Stage. Their time here was given a figurative exclamation point when Brad Oberhofer leaped five feet in the air to close out the last number.
The Sonic Stage also hosted a very special event when the Dickinson brothers — Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) played as North Mississippi Allstars Duo. They were joined for the soulful set by a bassist and three backup singers.
The Roots dedicated their set to the Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys.
Over on the Which Stage, Blind Pilot has been one of the few bands to cover a Grateful Dead tune this weekend, delivering their take on “Friend of the Devil.”
Bonnaroo 2012 will come to a close today with plenty of options as always (including comedy, cinema, workshops and more). So head on out there and see your favorite band but keep your ears open and aim to check out something new, as well. The stage shouldn’t matter as you strive to pitch your own Bonnaroo perfect game, attain your own higher ground.