Review and Photos: Bonnaroo 2012

For those whose religion is music, the church doors were open this past weekend as North America’s most hellacious music outing Bonnaroo scorched the famous farm grounds in Tennessee for its 11th consecutive year.

The Bonnaroo cliches: Flaming weather, too many sweaty bros., no shade, too much music – Bonnaroo said “suck it” to all of that this year.

[All Photos by Kevin Fuller]

When people think of Bonnaroo, they think of hot, hot heat. Face-melting, soul-crushing laser to the face heat. Yet this year was the breeziest Bonnaroo yet. Rhys Darby, playing the role of fictional festival director during one of the opening press conferences, joked he had brought down the weather from Alaska. The cool weather was a game changer.

The stages are usually filled with so much music, there’s almost always conflicts. So fans typically miss shows they really want to see. Festival coordinators seemed to have the schedule on lock down for the most part, not leaving fans with too many bad decisions to make.

For so many years, Bonnaroo has served as a springboard for dozens of up and coming bands to launch onto the bigger stage both literally and figuratively. This year there was no springboard. There was a bazooka doused in gasoline and lit on fire with a flame thrower.

Two words. White Denim.

When one thinks of a breakout performance at Bonnaroo, it’s hard to rival 2008’s My Morning Jacket set. Thursday’s White Denim show not only will be served up on a silver platter with My Morning Jacket’s soul-filled masterpiece, it will indeed be the main course.

With so many fans crowding The Other Tent to secure their spot for Alabama Shakes, Austin’s White Denim took full advantage of the hungry congregation. They’ve got the chops. There are so many explanations of what White Denim is. Phish meets The Black Keys. Grateful Dead meets The Strokes. They’re all wrong. It’s only a matter of time before they are only compared to themselves — White Denim.

The band walked out on stage and punched their audience in the mouth. The audience responded. So it begins.

With such a powerful start to the festival, music seemed to just keep rolling along. Friday’s highlights included a soulful set from newcomer Michael Kiwanuka, while Tune-Yards provided the coffee shortly after and Dawes provided the sing alongs.

It was only a matter of time before the heavyweights arrived. They lurked backstage. Everyone was talking about the Radiohead set. The Brits blew through rarities and crunched the crowd’s face with staples like Paranoid Android. Pure awe.

The foundation of Saturday has always been its late night sets. While Punch Brothers and The Roots absolutely demolished the stages they stood on, the crowds didn’t come out of the woods till Grammy award-winning brain eraser Skrillex took the stage — in a space ship. That happened. As soul crushing as the drops were from Skrillex, GZA owned the night, playing a jaw-dropping set with Grupo Fantasmo.

Sunday’s ibuprofen proved to be the contrast of the happy happy, joy joy, everyone enjoy your lollipops, legendary harmonies of The Beach Boys on the mainstage with the haunting falsetto of Justin Vernon and Bon Iver. A strange contrast for what was to come.

Phish’s late night set on Sunday seemed to be a concert in itself. With throngs of fans only appearing on the lawn for two sets the entire weekend, Phish played an energetic but standard set. There was nothing standard about who joined Vermont’s favorite noodlers. Phish took a gamble by inviting Kenny Rogers—yes thee Kenny Rogers—to the stage. Hippies love everything. So just like when the Boss joined the foursome in 2009, Wooks were singing along with Rogers and the band as they stumbled through The Gambler.

Comfortable? Yes. Breakout bands? Rain? You bet. Bonnaroo served up exactly what its customers empty their bank accounts for and what a sane person wouldn’t give five minutes of patience to: the gnarliest music festival in the world.

Here’s a full gallery of Kevin’s shots from Bonnaroo 2012…

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4 Responses

  1. Man, you didn’t mention Tune Yards or Blind Pilot, two of the most amazing shows at the festival. Red Hot Chili Peppers rocked also

  2. Man I live in NY and since like the 3rd roo I was like meh too hot, too rainy too costly, too comercial (Which I still agree with bc last night my gf was watcching teen mom and there was a long mtv commercial from mtv about the garneier frutis tent???? Where you could get your hair washed?) Any ways I would love to go to roo especially when phish does it. I would love to see all those bands in a long weekend. My honest question is it worth the dough $.

  3. How could you not mention fitz and the tantrums? Their set was mindblowing and undoubtably gave White Denim a run for their money.

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