Bonnaroo 2016: More to Sunday than meets the Dead


People pack up their tents and prepare to leave Bonnaroo 2016. (MTSU Sidelines/John Partipilo)

Photo by John Partipilo / The Tennessean

MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Sturdy fans had plenty from which to choose beyond headlining Dead & Company on the closing Sunday of the 15th annual Bonnaroo Music Festival, from a bluegrass supergroup to experimental rockers to old-school funk and soul.

Bluegrass SuperJam stays steadfast

Imagine having to compete with Sunday’s Dead & Company’s headlining set at Bonnaroo. Actor-musician Ed Helms and his fourth annual The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam were up to the task.

Before Helms joined Watkins Family Hour’s Sara and Sean Watkins to kick off the show at the That Tent, the banjo player took a few moments to honor the Orlando victims of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history earlier in the day.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now, a lot of heartbreak,” Helms said before dedicating the first song, an 1897 hymn titled “No, Never Alone,” to Orlando and the rest of the country. “To all our friends in Florida, we want to send our love and our support to the LGBT community, the whole state of Florida and the country.”

With a somber note still hanging in the air, revered bluegrass mandolin player and band leader Sam Bush jumped into Crystal Gayle’s “Wrong Road Again,” followed by a Bill Monroe tune and Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues.” Other artists on the bill included country singer Lee Ann Womack, singer-songwriter Amanda Shires, bluegrassers Steep Canyon Rangers, Secret Sisters, and a performance of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Langhorne Slim.

From Sara Watkins’ take on Bob Dylan’s “From A Buick 6” to Womack’s version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” to Shires’ and Helms’ duet of John Prine’s tongue-in-cheek “In Spite of Ourselves,” the show never skipped a beat. And the night wouldn’t be complete without Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard tunes, too.

To cap off this year’s Bluegrass SuperJam, all the artists returned for a cover of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run,” the last song performed on That Tent until Bonnaroo returns next June.

— Dylan Skye Aycock, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service,@dylskye

Ween delights longtime fans

Sunday night at the Which Stage, experimental rockers Ween delivered a performance of unusual tunes to an audience packed with casual listeners and die-hard fans alike.

The band is fronted by Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, two childhood friends who assume stage personas of Gene and Dean Ween. The band reunited last year after four years apart and is no stranger to playing Bonnaroo.

With zero flash, the band simply walked onstage, tuned their instruments and powered up their amplifiers. Following a short, but profane, introduction from Gene Ween, the band kicked into their first song, “Transdermal Celebration.”

The band’s set sounded more like 12 songs by different artists than a set played by an experimental rock band with a cult-like following. Ween seamlessly transitioned from sections of falsetto singing over jovial keyboards to heavy metal style-breakdowns, as if capable of doing so on command.

The victorious track “Buckingham Green” served as a call to arms for Ween fans as they chanted the lyrics and threw their fists into the air. Ween’s set included fan favorites “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” and the band’s closing song, “The Mollusk.”

They kept listeners engaged even after the festival’s main headliner, Dead and Company, took its place onstage elsewhere.

“Things come full circle,” said Gene Ween, appreciatively referencing how the band was getting to play before the Dead.

— Evan Dunne, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service, Twitter: @RippedDanger

Third Eye Blind makes fiery ‘Roo debut

Third Eye Blind delivered an emotional and fan-centric performance to close down The Other Tent on Sunday, a concert that finally added Bonnaroo to the growing list of venues the San Francisco band has played over its 13 years together.

While playing their 2000 hit “Never Let You Go,” lead singer Stephan Jenkins took a moment to rev up the crowd by saying, “I want us to feel fierce and alive together.” He went on to encourage everyone to turn to someone they didn’t know and spread positive vibes to one another.

The band revealed mid-set that they had not rehearsed for this show, instead deciding to throw out a setlist and sequence the show as they went along.

Prompted by a fan’s request, Third Eye Blind reached into its older catalog, specifically the 1997 song “Motorcycle Drive By” off their self-titled debut album. The song incorporated signature rock elements such as guitar and drum solos, mic stand twirls, and even a crowd surfing dive by Jenkins.

In light of early Sunday morning’s mass shootings in Orlando, Jenkins dedicated the song “Jumper” to everyone in Orlando, a tragedy he was particularly passionate about. Earlier at an afternoon news conference, he angrily called out legislators for being lax on gun restrictions, and he encouraged people to take action, saying, “The idea that we have no capacity as a people to address gun violence is ludicrous.”

Third Eye Blind closed with their best-known song, “Semi-Charmed Life,” and left their fans wanting more.

— Tanner Dedmon, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service,@TannerDedmon

Death Cab remains indie darling

As the warmup for headlining Dead & Company on the massive What Stage Sunday, veteran indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie made a long-awaited return to The Farm and subsequently played one of the stellar shows of the weekend.

The band, which began as a solo project of frontman Ben Gibbard — also the ringleader of indie rock sensation The Postal Service — found fame in 2003 with the release of “Transatlanticism” and has since released five more albums in acquiring a significant fan base.

Sunday’s performance was a nice display of the band’s prime-era catalog, its influence on indie rock, and the new direction in which it has been heading.

The set included tracks from the 2015’s release “Kintsugi,” interspersed with past favorites such as  “Crooked Teeth,” “Black Sun,” “Soul Meets Body,” “You Are a Tourist” and a particularly emotion-filled “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

For one of Death Cab’s many highlights, Gibbard prefaced a song with, “We weren’t going to play this song tonight,” and explained that Chance the Rapper — who was all over Bonnaroo during the weekend — had given them a request.

The group then began playing “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” complete with a sing-along from the adoring crowd.

— Olivia Ladd, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service,Twitter:@LivSlaton

Kurt Vile captivates despite heat

Despite the grueling heat of the day and the minimal shade at the stage, a large crowd amassed as singer-songwriter Kurt Vile & The Violators delivered his Southern-tinged, melancholy songs at the Which Stage Sunday.

Vile stuck primarily to his sixth album, 2015’s “b’lieve i’m going down…,” which combines folk lyricism and Southern rock instrumentation. Highlights included the Appalachian/Western-inspired “I’m an Outlaw” (which saw Vile trade out his guitar for a banjo) and the single “Pretty Pimpin’,” an, introspective cut that sees Vile questioning existence and change with lyrics such as, “I woke up this morning, and didn’t recognize the man in the mirror.”

Despite its serious lyricism, the song’s melodic, driving structure helped it receive the warmest reception of the hour-long set, along with a few fan-favorites from the Pennsylvania native’s breakthrough records, 2011’s “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and 2013’s “Wakin on a Pretty Daze.”

The fans who stuck it out through the set were treated with the back-to-back delivery of the poetic, acoustic “Wild Imagination” and the fuzzy rocker  “Freak Train,” perfectly rounding out the acclaimed singer-songwriter’s catalog.

— John Connor Coulston, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service,Twitter:@jccoulston

Charles Bradley brings old-school funk

Amid a vibrant weekend kaleidoscope of synth pop bands, flower crowns and Bob Saget masks, 68-year-old Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires opened the What Stage on a sweltering Sunday afternoon and proceeded to school millennial Bonnaroovians on what soul and funk really sound like.

Doubtlessly gaining new fans in the process, Bradley’s old-school brand of funk gave everyone something to groove to.

After the Extraordinaires vamped Bradley to the stage, he opened with “Up in Flames”, a timely and appropriate song about a world going up in flames.

Clad in sparkly shoes and vest, the singer commanded the crowd with a timeless swagger. Numerous shouts of affection prompted him to form the heart hands sign after several songs.

After short jazz-filled break mid-set, Bradley re-emerged after an outfit change, eventually ending with the title track “Changes” from his latest album.

— Sara Snoddy, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service, Twitter:@sara_snoddy

Sara Watkins soothes crowd

Festivalgoers battling the heat and the noise found refuge during the relaxed set of Americana artist Sara Watkins under the That Tent Sunday afternoon.

Amid a string of beautiful arrangements, Watkins played fan favorite “Long Hot Summer Days,” a tune fitting with the Tennessee heat.

Native to Southern California and founding member of Nickel Creek, Watkins has an unwavering fondness of bluegrass, taking time out of her performance to fondly recall her experiences traveling cross country to attend bluegrass festivals with her family.

“I’m so happy to be back here at Bonnaroo,” said the soft-spoken Watkins, whose next album “Young in All the Wrong Ways” is slated for July release.

— Brinley Hineman, MTSU Seigenthaler News Service, Twitter:@_briiindle

This article was published in cooperation with the Seigenthaler News Service. To see the version of this article that ran in The Tennessean, click here.

To see our full archive of Bonnaroo coverage, click here.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Olivia Ladd email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more updates, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter/Instagram at @Sidelines_Life.

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