By Zach Goins
Photo: Loch & Key
June 27, 2019
After a record low turnout just three years ago, attendance certainly wasn’t an issue at this year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. For the first time since 2013 the festival sold out and 80,000 people pitched their tents for a weekend on The Farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Bonnaroovians couldn’t have asked for better weather, as clear skies and mild temperatures provided a pleasant change of pace to the typically unrelenting heat.
This year’s massive turnout marks a major rebound for the festival, which can be credited in part to the star-studded lineup, including big ticket headliners like Phish, Childish Gambino and Post Malone. In an oversaturated festival market, a greater emphasis is being placed on the overall festival-going experience. Afterall, most of these events share a majority of the same acts. So what is it that helps Bonnaroo stand out?
Bonnaroo isn’t just a series of concerts like most festivals– it’s a four-day adventure in the Tennessee wilderness that also happens to include some great music. On The Farm, festival-goers live by the Bonnaroovian Code, which can be summed up into a single mantra: no negativity allowed. It may seem like a joke at first, but it’s something mostly everyone on The Farm truly lives by, at least for the weekend. From slapping hands with random strangers on High-Five Friday to dancing the night away with your new best friends during a non-stop rager at the Kalliope stage, the camaraderie at Bonnaroo is unmatched. It really does sound too good to be true until you actually experience it.
Here are our favorite moments from Bonnaroo 2019:
Childish Gambino was Bonnaroo’s first big-name performance this year, and “This Is America” was the biggest song of his set. To start the night, Gambino told the masses at the What Stage that he was going to take everyone to church and he certainly backed that up. Gambino is not just a rapper, he’s a performer. With a background in film, television and music, Donald Glover is one of the most versatile entertainers around, and his set at Bonnaroo put his skills on full display: he sang, danced and acted his way to a captivating performance that was both spiritual and visceral.
On Saturday evening, Hozier packed the field in front of the What Stage with fans lined up all the way back to Centeroo’s entrance trying to catch a glimpse. While “Take Me to Church” is certainly his best-known song, “From Eden” may be his greatest. As the sun set, thousands of sang and swayed along with the Irish rocker, creating a pretty remarkable view from the bleachers. Hozier also stopped by the media tent for a Q&A session to shed some light on his pre-concert rituals.
The pit area is a coveted spot to watch acts on Bonnaroo’s two main stages, and those lucky few who waited it out to be there for The Lumineers’ Sunday got a treat. Midway through the performance, the band set up on a pop-up stage amidst the fans for a couple of songs, including their mega-hit “Ho Hey.” As the beginning notes of “Ophelia” started to play, the rest of the band made their way back onto the main stage, but leadsinger Wesley Schultz decided to go ahead and perform from the pit.
The Lonely Island
The Lonely Island kicked off its first-ever tour with a hilarious late-night set at Bonnaroo on Saturday. Think less of a concert, more like an episode of Saturday Night Live. Between each song, the comedy trio performed a series of sketches as transitions, and even brought fellow SNL alum Chris Parnell on stage for a surprise appearance. After playing hits from their movie, their new Netflix special, and even Hamilton, everyone knew it was time for the grand finale: “I’m On a Boat.” T-Pain didn’t show up, but the crowd more than made up for his absence, collectively shouting the lyrics to the profanity-laden cult classic.
The sun went down at the perfect time for Odesza’s Saturday set on the What Stage. Known for their poppy electronic summer hits and signature laser light shows, the duo’s performance wouldn’t have been the same in the daylight. Instead, as the night cranked up, Odesza and a drumline performed as flames burst from the stage, fireworks shot off overhead and glowsticks flew through the air during the culmination of their set.
Little Simz has quickly cemented herself as one of the hottest up-and-coming rappers in the game. There’s a reason Kendrick Lamar has called the British rapper “the illest doing it right now.” On Saturday afternoon, she had the crowd at This Tent jumping, before bringing the tempo down for her melodic track “Selfish.” Little Simz flexed her lyrical muscles throughout the set, showing off her versatility by alternating between ridiculously fast bars, R&B-like vocals and hardcore ad-libs.
Brockhampton, who insists on calling themselves a boy band, brought energy and style to their 1 a.m. set, and they didn’t waste any time getting things started. They kicked things off with the aggressive hip-hop song “New Orleans,” and it set the tone for the rest of their performance. With each new verse of the song, another member of the group made a dramatic entrance donning shiny silver jumpsuits. From the slower vibes in songs like “Bleach,” to the funky, in-your-face sounds of the finale, “Boogie,” everything was on display at the Which Stage.