Saturday at Bonnaroo 2019: The Lonely Island, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Jim James Shine

With Odesza and Post Malone holding court at Bonnaroo’s main stage all night, Saturday at Bonnaroo 2019 was all about looking for gems off the beaten path – that is, if EDM and Post’s brand of hip-hop aren’t your thing.

That Tent was the place to be, with Unknown Mortal Orchestra offering their addictive, funky, inexplicable brand of music as the day heated up just enough to feel like Roo. They were followed by Shovels & Rope, a duo more suited to intimate environs, but Michael and Cary Ann found an enthusiastic audience and put together a great set of gothic-tinged Americana that swayed gracefully between rootsy and experimental moments.

The great John Prine was up next, and he captivated a surprisingly large crowd with his inimitable storytelling style and guest appearances from Brandi Carlile on “Summer’s End” and a bunch of his family members on “When I Get To Heaven”. Prine is a national treasure and a rapidly dying breed of artist, which did not go unappreciated by the gathered throng. They roared with approval at every song and each bit of banter offered by the 72-year-old living legend.

My Morning Jacket is one of the acts most associated with Bonnaroo, so it was no surprise to see a big turnout for frontman Jim James’ set at This Tent. Nary a moment of the set was wasted as James and his band tore into a set of high-energy tunes from his solo repertoire as darkness fell on the farm. As Odesza and Post Malone attracted the scantily clad, totem-toting summer breakers, Kacey Musgraves encored with a cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?”. Then The National and their blase frontman Matt Berninger offered an odd, foggy, off-kilter show at Which Stage that didn’t exactly mesh with the Saturday night atmosphere.

Fortunately, just a short walk away, one of the great surprises of the weekend was happening at the tiny Who Stage. Nashville’s Republican Hair traffic in upbeat, clever, danceable rock that is just plain fun, and they found a willing crowd to engage with. Their sense of humor and enthusiasm come across in vivid colors via songs like “Whatever Blows Your Hair Back” and “Miss Prince”, a smirking tribute to the Purple One that had everyone smiling.

As the main field emptied post-Malone, late night shows began cranking up. The Lonely Island drew the largest crowd, and it was a fun set, even though it basically played like a collection of viral videos. The production was quite impressive, with over-the-top lighting design and video clips galore on a huge screen. Andy Samberg and company did bring out Chris Parnell for “Lazy Sunday”, and obliged the crowd with all the songs they know and love – “Jizz in My Pants”, “”Like A Boss”, “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)”, and “Dick in a Box”, which was mashed together with “Motherlover” and “3 Way” near the end of the set.

On a completely different note, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead offered a much-needed counterpoint to the pervasive rumble and glitz that dominated the majority of the day. The bass from the Other Stage never stops, but neither does the Dead, and the atmosphere around That Tent was decidedly more mellow than the farm had seen all weekend. Russo and his band just have so much fun playing the music, and it is reflected in the quality of their work and the audience. They kept things cooking late into the night, opening with “Reuben and Cherise” and barely stopping for the entire set.

“St. Stephen” got joyously weird with tempos twisting around psychedelic expressions from guitarists Tommy Hamilton and Scott Metzger, and the “Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower” suite was evocative of a time when this style of music dominated the festival landscape. Bonnaroo’s current countenance may glimmer with the sparkle and sweat of dance music, but if you poke around there’s still some musical heart to be found.


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