Lots of country, no western
Radiohead - Bonnaroo 2012

In dear old Dixie, there are two types of music. Country. And Western. “Hell yeah,” the Country Music Association might say, contiguously taking over Nashville for its own festival, and dwarfing Bonnaroo, held only 60 miles away on a 700 acre country farm. Now into its 11th year, Bonnaroo embraces a considerably wider range of genres than the Stetson-fest, from hip hop, to dance, funk and soul.

Alabama Shakes topped the pre-main fare, with a spirited blend of rock and soul, Two Door Cinema Club cheered the sweaty throngs, with crowd favourite, ‘Something Good Can Work’, The Joy Formidable blazed out their trademark wall of sound, led by rock heroine Ritzy Bryan, whilst New York’s FUN led a rowdy, energetic set, full of forlorn verses and perky choruses, culminating in the climatic, ubiquitous hit, ‘We Are Young’.

On the main stages the Avett brothers, Bonnaroo mainstays, led gleeful sing alongs, with ‘I and Love and You’, Santigold sailed through hits from their 2008 debut, inviting audience members on stage to create that MTV-Spring-Break feel. Bon Iver transfixed the hushed Sunday crowds with the meticulous arrangements of ‘For Emma’, whilst The Shins power-twee quintet delivered a good-natured set, including ‘Australia’, to later day dwindling masses.

Their first appearance at Bonnaroo, six years ago, marked the transition of the festival from twee hippy folk gathering to grand festival mainstay, and returning to the Farm on Friday, Radiohead opened with the staccato guitar riffs of ‘Bloom’, in front of a two-story wall of geometric lights made from recycled bottles. His voice occasionally cracking, Yorke eschewed his usual mopey demeanor, adopting a jovial mood, joking with the crowd and dedicating new song ‘Supercollider’ to Jack White. The 90 minute set focused on recent albums ‘In Rainbows’ and ‘King of Limbs’, but included classics like ‘Everything in the Right Place’, ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Kid A’, and culminated in encore’s ‘Giving Up the Ghost’, ‘Reckoner’, and the epic ‘Paranoid Android’.

This year’s Bonnaroo, was actually a front for one big love in, artists paying homage to fellow artists, past and present, vis-a-vis cover songs and shout outs. Thom Yorke gave a shout out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and unveiled a Tibetan tribute flag in honour of the late Adam Yauch. Major Lazer dropped the Beastie Boy’s ‘Intergalactic’, Skrillrex mixed in ‘Sabotage’. Dirty Guv’nahs rolled out ‘Hey Jude’, Phish belted out Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock and Roll’, The Roots vamped out Kool and the Gang’s, ‘Jungle Boogie’, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers funked up Stevie Wonder’s, ‘Higher Ground’, before an obligatory Bonnaroo shout out to Radiohead.

On Saturday the Red Hot Chill Peppers gave the sort of lesson in energetic longevity that might be expected of recent Hall of Famers. A rock and funk fused set was packed full of hits, including ‘Give it Away’, ‘Scar Tissue’, and introspective lighter in the air moments ‘Under the Bridge’, were followed by ‘Higher Ground’, ‘Californication’ and ‘By the Way’. Flea was a shoo in for the Happiest-Bassist-At-Bonnaroo-Award, jamming between songs, effusively thanking the crowds for their support and throwing out the aforementioned obligatory Bonnaroo shout outs.

Early morning drizzle and weary final day crowds were proof enough of secret liquor stashes, but did nothing to dampen the mood as The Beach Boys rummaged through a treasure trove of their complex, intricate, multi-layered pop hits, including ‘Surfer Girl’, ‘Barbara Ann’ and ‘Kokomo’. Mike Love was de facto front man, but each member took a share of lead vocals, as the crowds sleepily patted beach balls around. ‘Sloop John B’, was followed seamlessly by ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’, ‘God Only Knows’ and finally ‘Good Vibrations’. Light rain fell throughout the medley, but transfixed by the closest thing in these parts to musical royalty - outside of Dolly or Garth - few of the spellbound crowd actually seemed to notice.

Words by Simon Owen
Photo by Natasha Morris

Click here for a photo gallery of the festival.

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