Sunday at Bonnaroo is always a day of exodus, but fewer people took the opportunity to leave early this year. With two of the festival’s main draws stacked together on Sunday night, it was a busier than usual day at the farm. It was an eventful one, too, as country music royalty graced the stage during Brandi Carlile’s mid-afternoon set on the main stage.
Tanya Tucker, or “Mother Tucker” as Carlile so affectionately referred to her, joined in on “The Wheels of Laredo”, which is the first single from an upcoming album the pair are working on together. Tucker came onstage bearing gifts: shots of her own branded tequila. The Carlile faithful would have all joined in for a toast if they could have. The audience ooohed and ahhhed at Carlile’s every acknowledgment and shrieked at the start of every song.
As the temperature rose to a somewhat normal Bonnaroo level for the first time all weekend, Walk The Moon challenged attendees to keep giving more energy after four days of walking, dancing, camping, and traveling. They enthusiastically tore through all of their finest original tunes and topped it off with a nice take on Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”.
Back on the main stage, The Lumineers held court from a stage setup that resembled a pulpit, an arching, ornate wooden structure that housed the drums and other equipment. They can be a little sleepy at times, but that worked out well, as about 30% of the audience seemed to be splayed out on blankets and inflatables. The band offered a few songs from their upcoming album, including “Life in the City” and “Leader of the Landslide”.
Suddenly, Bonnaroo 2019 was almost over and the last two acts of the weekend were ready to send their fans home happy. Regardless of the worth of Cardi B’s music, attitude, and personal history, one thing is for sure – people love her. Her set at Which Stage drew the largest crowd I’ve seen there since Mumford and Sons first appearance at the festival. The photo pit was jammed, the VIP pit queue was chaos, and mayhem reigned in general as people tried to get close to the stage.
There’s nothing complex about her music, and maybe that’s what people like about her. The subject matter ranges from money (“Money”), clout (“Clout”), sex (too many to name), and being badass (“Backin’ it Up”). Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio watched from the wings as Cardi stalked the stage, flaunting her ample assets in a skin-tight sequined outfit. That is, until she ripped it while twerking and proceeded to finish the set in a bathrobe. She proved surprisingly amicable for someone who one would expect to have a standoffish, diva stage presence.
Anastasio made it clear how excited he was for Bonnaroo in the days leading up to the festival, and he made sure that the band took no prisoners in closing the whole event down. Perhaps spurred on by the stage antics of Cardi, Childish Gambino, and others, Anastasio was extra animated and mobile on this night. There were no breaks or ballads in this show, no dreamy noodling or cool-down songs. It’s not often I’m at a loss for words when it comes to a Phish show, but it’s a good thing that the band offered a free webcast for their legions of fans, because this show nearly defied description.
After the intensity of Friday’s show, it seemed impossible that Phish could raise the energy level even more. But they did, and the result was one of the most memorable experiences that a new fan could imagine or that any devoted fan could ask for. Song selection, flawless playing, appropriate lyrical references, and indescribable lighting combined for a truly legendary performance. If Friday had some extra special sauce, then this show had an entire condiment bar. Nothing was left to chance, as every song possessed a unique fervor.
The first set moved along at a breakneck pace, with opener “Set Your Soul Free” proving to be the calmest moment. “Blaze On” was full of emotion, with Anastasio accentuating the lyrics about “dancing in the fields” and “brighter than a full moon”. “Reba” proved a standout version with a brief but perfectly executed jam section, and “Sand” threatened to spin out of control, with Anastasio pouring his entire being into the final solo, apparently trying to tear a hole in the fabric of the universe. “Wolfman’s Brother”, another nod to the full moon, howled with joy and playful instrumental interplay before “Cavern” closed out the set with another festival-centric lyrical reference: “Whatever you do, take care of your shoes”.
A set-opening “Mike’s Song” is almost always a harbinger of good things to come, and the band formed a solid hour of jaw-dropping creativity in its wake. “Mike’s” was downright dirty, with Trey trying to play the most snarling stuff possible. One thing that probably didn’t come across on the webcast was the sheer enormity of the lighting setup, stage, and sound. It was so gloriously loud as to consume one’s entire body with the sheer force of the sound.
For the first time ever, “Fluffhead” followed “Mike’s Song”, and this version was flawless. It’s always amazing to see the band pull off their trickiest songs with no slip-ups, and this “Fluffhead” delivered in every way, affording another huge crescendo for the audience to go berserk. “Twist” has always been one of the band’s favorite exploratory vehicles, and this one threatened to resolve itself fairly quickly before they took it back out for another spin (or twist, if you will). And what a ride it was, the jam accelerating to a fever pitch before finding the exuberant chords of “Weekapaug Groove”.
As quickly as they found “Weekapaug”, they happened upon “No Men In No Man’s Land”, which shares a similar style of jam. Trey could barely contain himself to sing the song as energy exploded between the audience and band. Moving briefly back into “Weekapaug”, the “woos” surfaced and all of sudden “Twist” completed an incredible sandwich that showcased the best of this band at the peak of their communicative abilities.
Every time it seemed as if the show had peaked, the band dug deep and produced another shining moment, such as the raging “Fuego” > “Ghost” that followed the jaw-dropping segment described above. The upbeat “Ghost” jam eventually found a happy place for Trey to start “Bathtub Gin”, and the revelers were all too happy to think about taking a bath after 4 days on the farm. “Gin” moved into a familiar space, but also found a few unique stops along the way before ultimately resolving into the main theme and bringing the set to a magnificent finale.
The band then took the shortest encore break I can remember, quickly returning to the stage to take one more swing at tearing the entire place down with a rollicking, roaring “Wilson” and a maniacal, noisy take on the consummate closer “First Tube”. This is a show that must be heard to be appreciated, and we’re all lucky that the band made it possible, as there was no official Bonnaroo stream this year.
This is the last year that the original organizers of Bonnaroo will be involved in the event, and it would be a shame if it changed even more from their original vision. Much has been said about the current direction and worth of the festival, but the bottom line is that it inspires the best in the artists and always leaves indelible marks on those who attend. Here’s hoping for many more happy ‘roos.