Chance the Rapper with Knox Fortune (Photo: FilmMagic)
As every Bonnaroovian knows, The Farm is a bastion of sunshine and blue skies. And Saturday was no different. Throughout the day, temperatures reached upwards of 90 degrees, and everyone found one way or another to stay cool at Bonnaroo 2018.
By the early afternoon, rumors were swirling around the festival grounds that Chance the Rapper had returned for his fifth consecutive Bonnaroo. Despite only appearing on the lineup in 2014 and 2017, in recent years, the performer has always managed to end up onstage for a surprise performance. Fans wearing Chance t-shirts and recognizable “3” hats hoped he would manifest at some point this year, and by 3 p.m. they had gotten their wish. Chance joined Knox Fortune at This Tent to perform the song “All Night” off his smash LP Coloring Book and was sighted multiple times throughout the day, including an appearance in the crowd dancing along to Anderson .Paak.
And while that Chance sit-in was arguably the hottest musical moment of the day, some more aquatically-inclined Bonnaroovians still managed to cool down in the fest’s water fountains and misting tents as well as the Big Ass Waterslide in Centeroo. Meanwhile, other attendees embraced the heat, starting their day with vinyasa flow yoga at the Solar Stage or even running a full 5K.
The Sixth First Annual Roo Run kicked off at 9 a.m., and in typical Bonnaroo style it was anything but ordinary. Ultra-marathoner Charlie Engle was on hand to give runners some last minute tips and spectators whooped it up for their fellow festival-goers dressed in everything from sensible athletic gear to ballerina tutus. One participant was even spotted juggling while he jogged along the 3.1 mile route.
Los Angeles-based R&B upstart Davie was the first act to perform on Saturday, getting the crowd moving at the Who Stage with his five piece band. (If Davie looked familiar, you may have noticed him from a recent commercial, sipping bourbon with Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey.)
Some savvy fans sought refuge from the heat in Bonnaroo’s shaded stages, heading to This Tent to take in the rootsy offerings of The War & Treaty or enjoying the antics of Reggie Watts in That Tent. Bridging the gap between music and comedy, Watts utilized his rainbow of pedals, loopers and mics to create improvised, beatboxed tunes. After playing a few songs and working through a couple of technical issues, the Bonnaroo veteran gave a shout out to Friday night performers The Foxies and Paramore. “I’m just looking for real musicianship that inspires kids,” he told the crowd.
A little later at This Tent, Australian psych-rockers POND took the stage to a sweaty yet eager audience. Interestingly, POND were one of the few acts who enjoyed the heat on Saturday. Since Bonnaroo was the last show of their U.S. tour, the band will soon return to their home of Western Australia, which is currently in the middle of winter. “I know it’s hot but we’re going to savor this,” founding guitarist Shiny Joe Ryan laughed. However, near the end of their set, the climbing temperature seemed to get to frontman and former Tame Impala guitarist Nick Allbrook. He stripped off his shirt, but still managed to do his Mick Jagger-inspired moves throughout. The band even referenced the weather with their 2009 track ”Don’t Look at The Sun or You’ll Go Blind.”
As the afternoon became early evening, a number of female performers projected a message of unity and empowerment from the Bonnaroo stage. First, 16-year-old Billie Eilish made her Bonnaroo debut at the Which Stage. The singer played for a thrilled collection of teens and twenty-somethings, many of whom see themselves in Eilish and were willing to wait over an hour for her to perform. The singer, flanked by her brother and songwriting partner Finneas O’Connell, played her track “Lovely” for the third time ever, and gave a shout out to Friday performer Khalid, who is featured on the studio version. Eilish was followed by the legendary Mavis Staples, creating a multi-generational arc of women taking centerstage at Bonnaroo 2018.
Mavis Staples (Photo by John Patrick Gatta)
This year marks Staples’ third Bonnaroo appearance (she previously graced the festival’s roster in 2011 and 2016), and in addition to a cover of “Slippery People” by Talking Heads, she recounted her time as an activist in the civil rights era, marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. In a particularly emotional moment, she sang the anthemic “Freedom Highway,” a number written by her father, gospel icon Pops Staples, about the need for persistence in the face of oppression. At several points, Staples could be seen with tears in her eyes.
Later, folk duo First Aid Kit took a moment to educate and motivate their fans in the midst of the #metoo movement, pushing the collection of men and women at This Tent to amplify the voices of victims and call out sexist behavior.
As always, love was a major theme at this year’s Bonnaroo. You could hear it at Nile Rodgers’ rocking set on the What Stage—when he kicked off a medley of hits with Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”—and you could see it at Anderson .Paak’s performance at 8:45 p.m. when the bandleader and his Free Nationals band helped a fan propose to his girlfriend before launching into his lovelorn track “Put Me Thru.” (For those wondering, she said yes!)
Anderson .Paak (Photo by Alec Gowan)
Meanwhile, for those looking to wind down a bit, Bon Iver played an introspective set at the Which Stage, infusing five live trombonists into recent fare like “22 Over Soon” as well as older tunes like 2009’s “Bloodbank.” He closed with a humbling version of “33 ‘GOD’” off his 2016 LP 22, A Million.
On the other hand, Old Crow Medicine Show gave the festival a healthy serving of twang and state pride, playing a batch of original material that ended with a double dose of Tennessee state song “Rocky Top” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”
Eminem (Photo by Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic)
Speaking of spirits in the sky, Eminem’s headlining performance gave Bonnaroo 2018 its first batch of fireworks. The Detroit rapper nodded to the festival’s classic rock roots with “Sing For The Moment” which samples Aerosmith’s “Dream On” as well as “Bezerk” which borrows the guitar riff from Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.” Eminem also played throwback hits like “Stan,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me” and even dug into his newest album, this year’s Revival. He closed with a rowdy version of “Lose Yourself,” accompanied by fireworks blasting overhead.
Slowly, Saturday night became Sunday morning, and a triple threat of late-night offerings hit the festival, with jamtronica stalwarts/five-time Bonnaroo performers STS9 going deep at This Tent, progressive house producer Kaskade closing out The Other and Bon Iver taking a second go at the Which Stage. The second Bon Iver set was perhaps the most creatively ambitious performance of the entire weekend. Justin Vernon created an impromptu Superjam, welcoming members of Francis and the Lights and Sylvan Esso as well as his friend Naeem Juwan a.k.a. Spank Rock to the stage. Oftentimes, Vernon’s sonic meditations were punctuated by a fleet of dancers wearing t-shirts with the single word “people” screenprinted on them. The entire performance was emotional yet cathartic, best exemplified by a short yet rousing speech by Parkland survivor and student activist Aalayah Eastmond, who is working with Team Enough and the Brady Campaign to enact gun reform. “The youth vote is powerful,” she said, eliciting monumental cheers from the crowd. Vernon closed his set early with a version of “Friends,” surrounded by all of his special guests for the evening.
From Mavis Staples’ storied legacy, to Bon Iver’s bold vision to Chance the Rapper’s devotion to the Bonnaroo family at large, Saturday night was a case study in how this particular festival continues to make its own rules.
And perhaps no better words encapsulate Bonnaroo’s renegade spirit more than those of the legendary Mavis Staples: “We’ve come this evening to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration, and some positive vibrations. I wanna leave you with enough to last you for maybe the next six months. Wouldn’t that be good? We got it! We’re gonna give it to you! Are you ready?”
So as we enter Bonnaroo’s final day, we ask you, dear reader, are you ready?