Sturgill Simpson brings country-rock glory to Bonnaroo’s What Stage Friday night


Photo by Hudson McNeese / MTSU Seigenthaler News Service

Story by Hayden Goodridge / MTSU Seigenthaler News Service 

As the sun set on Bonnaroo’s second night of music festivities, Sturgill Simpson and company took the large What Stage with a modest demeanor, picking up their instruments without a word as the growing audience eagerly cheered them on. The stage was illuminated only by standard white overhead lights, and the towering display screen behind the four-piece remained black.

But as Simpson launched into the first song of the set, “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog),” it was clear that no flashy displays or lights would be needed. The band’s music spoke for itself.

During the course of Simpson’s performance, the frontman shredded on his numerous Telecaster guitars while being backed by Miles Miller, clad in his cowboy hat on drums, Chuck Bartels on bass guitar and Bobby Emmett playing a vintage organ attached to a rotating speaker cabinet. While the small group only took up a small portion of the stage, the flamboyant scope of their country-rock sound felt immense.

Much of Simpson’s set consisted of songs from his latest album, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” with highlights coming from the energetic jams of “Keep It Between The Lines” and “Brace for Impact (Live A Little). On both tracks, the standard structure transitioned into extended guitar jams, with Simpson covering both rhythm and lead guitar parts as he wildly traversed the neck of his guitar.

The songs from “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” also contain a prevalent theme of maturation, with the album written from the perspective of a father informing his son on the ways of the world.

However, Saturday’s show marked a milestone in maturity for Simpson, as he celebrated his 40th birthday at the festival. After hearing the crowd chant “Happy Birthday” to him, he excitedly reminded everyone of the hilarity of ushering in the second half of his life in such a fashion.

“My midlife crisis is f—ing dope!”

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