Best of Bonnaroo 2015: Get High-Fived With Positivity!

Beware of Bonnaroovians. They are a rare mix of fun-loving hippies and music-making maniacs, and while in their natural habitat of Bonnaroo, they are dangerously gregarious. This year was my first time at Bonnaroo, and oh my goodness, what an experience! Never before have I ever been a part of such a positive and musical community. I had heard that the motto for this year’s Roo was “radiate positivity,” but I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I encountered my first high-five line at the festival. The crowd at each and every show was loud and friendly (the only moshing I encountered during the week was at Slayer’s set, but really, how could you not mosh to Slayer?), and when there was no music, the pack of 70,000 Bonnaroovians would make their own by clapping and breaking out into song. But of course, everyone was happy (naturally and artificially). How could you not be when the week’s lineup consisted of performances from Mumford & Sons, Deadmau5, Earth Wind & Fire, AWOLNATION, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Tove Lo, Tears For Fears, Catfish & The Bottlemen, Chris Hardwick, Rhiannon Giddens, Bleachers, and so many others? Here are my top eleven moments from Bonnaroo 2015, but trust me, you will just have to come with me to The Farm next year for the full Bonnaroo experience.

  1. Philly bands ROCKED at Bonnaroo!

The Districts were the first band to hit the stage on Friday afternoon, and Bonnaroo definitely showed Philly some love! The audience was packed with sweaty bodies that had crawled all the way from the comfort of their tents into the oppressive Tennessee sun during peak burning hours. I was hesitant to brave the heat for the Philadelphia-based group, but the sunburn was well worth it because these guys rocked! The War On Drugs performed the next day, competing with Hozier’s time slot, but still drawing a great crowd and putting on an awesome show!

  1. Superjam! / D’Angelo

10. SuperJamThe SuperJam is a Bonnaroo tradition where multiple musicians collaborate on stage to create a performance that is nothing short of epic. This year’s jam was throwback themed, and it featured Chance the Rapper, Jack Antonoff (Bleachers), Rob Trujillo (Metallica), Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy), among many others. And as an added bonus, the jam was introduced by Zach Galifianakis! People (myself included) waited for hours at the stage in order to obtain a better view of the spectacle, but waiting in a crowd of Bonnaroovians is never boring. Multiple slow claps started, culminating in cheering and clapping for no other reason than to celebrate the fact that we were all there, waiting to throw it back SuperJam style. And while the SuperJam’s crowd was singing “We Are The World,” the audience at the neighboring stage was getting ready for Saturday’s headliner, D’Angelo and the Vanguard. I swung by the last part of D’Angelo’s set after the SuperJam, and what an incredible end to the day! His funky, full band style was perfect for the 2am crowd, and despite the competition of the SuperJam, D’Angelo pulled a huge audience.

  1. Kendrick Lamar

I wasn’t too familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s music prior to attending the festival, but after seeing the line for the pit that had formed hours in advance of his show, I knew that I had to check out the his set. Fans spilled out from the stage for what seemed like miles, and although we were situated in the very back of the mob, all of my surrounding Bonnaroovians were incredibly excited for the concert. And after Kendrick began to rap, I understood why. His energy radiated all across Roo, and his vocals bumped through the speakers so effortlessly that it was impossible not to dance like you’ll “Never Catch Me.”

  1. Guster

Guster was another band to which I didn’t have a lot of previous exposure, but I ended up at the right place at the right time, and as it happened, Guster was the right band for me. From their hand drums to their synthesizers, Guster has a sound that can be described as both cool and cute at the same time. The band even invited a group of first-time Bonnaroo attendees up on stage with them to feel the warmth of the cheering crowd and experience the festival at its finest. In other words, Guster is adorable.

  1. Reggie Watts

7. Reggie Watts

Always a fan favorite, Reggie Watts absolutely killed it at Bonnaroo this year. I had been looking forward to seeing Watts live ever since I bought my ticket to Roo, and based on the hour long line in which I sat on Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t the only one. Watts blew everyone in the Comedy Theater away with his looping vocals and witty (although occasionally unintelligible) lyrics. People began charging the stage, and by the end of his set, there was a pit of people dancing up front, which I’m pretty sure is a first for a comedy show.

  1. Florence and the Machine

6. Florence and the Machine

If there was ever a match made in hippie heaven, it was Florence and the Machine and Bonnaroo. Florence Welch ran barefoot onto the main stage on Sunday, dressed in all white and adorned with a smile. She sang with power, danced like a flower child, and ran through the audience with security guards in pursuit attempting to stop the adoring fans from pulling her too far into the crowd (don’t worry about any judgment she received from the festival’s security, she promptly shook it out). Florence embodied the positivity and camaraderie that Bonnaroo promotes by earnestly performing each and every lyric of her songs and demonstrating her passion for her fans. She even invited one girl from the audience on stage for a hug after reading her homemade sign. Florence truly showed us “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” Bonnaroo can be.

  1. Hozier

From Eden” to “…Church,” Hozier had the crowd following his every move on a musical pilgrimage. As soon as he began the intro of “Like Real People Do,” everyone was cheering and singing, completely forgetting the discomfort caused by baking in direct sunlight that had been bothering them before the show. I found it fun to watch Hozier switch guitars between each song (I counted six unique guitars, with ten different switches) because each instrument was simply striking, either due to its color or its style. But the general consensus was that Hozier’s cover of “Problem” by Ariana Grande was the best part of the show. He performed the cover just for fun, or as he said on stage, “Just for funsies.”

  1. Twenty One Pilots

4. Twent One Pilots

One of the most entertaining bands at Bonnaroo this year was Twenty One Pilots. Their set had a great mix of songs from both Vessel and Blurryface, and their transitions made the show flow smoothly from danceable grooves to powerful sing-alongs (everyone went nuts when they started “House of Gold” and segued straight into “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV”). Their sound has shifted towards a reggae vibe (as is made evident by their newest album), and their set even featured a cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” which transitioned nicely into their song “Ride.” But despite the sound change, their live show remains the same. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun both made their way into the audience; they flipped and jumped off of Joseph’s piano; Joseph climbed the spotlight’s scaffolding; and they ended the show with their notorious drum duet while crowd surfing. The only ones “Stressed Out” at this show were the security guards in charge of protecting these guys from the raging audience.

  1. Gary Clark Jr.

I first saw Gary Clark Jr. a few years ago at an acoustic show. He played the guitar with his hands and the drums with his feet, and his vocals were so soulful that I immediately went home and bought his album. I came to Bonnaroo with high expectations for his electric set, and oh man, I was not disappointed. His guitar solos cut through the entirety of Centeroo, and his vocals drew everyone in. Always classy, Gary Clark Jr. unassumingly walked on stage by himself to start the set with a slower jam, but by the time he played his cover of “Bright Lights,” the crowd was going crazy.

  1. Ben Folds

2. Ben Folds

Ben Folds was the artist I was most excited to see upon arriving at Bonnaroo. He is one of my main musical influences, and I couldn’t wait to sing and dance with him and all of the other Bonnaroovians. I had no idea what to expect from yMusic (his collaborators and band at Roo), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are an extremely talented sextet. With their help, my favorite Ben Folds songs were transformed into rocking orchestral jams that were unlike anything I had ever heard before. The set started with new music that the musicians had been creating together, but by the end of the show, everyone was screaming the musical interlude to “Army” and belting out the ah’s of “Not The Same.” Folds was as humorous as ever, heckling the woman who was performing the songs in sign language and calling songs out of order, effectively flustering the other musicians on stage. After he left his piano, the enormous crowd began the longest “ONE MORE SONG!” chant in which I have ever participated. I screamed along with my fellow Bonnaroovians, wanting just a few more minutes of Ben Folds and yMusic, and I booed with them when we realized that unfortunately no artist is allowed to perform an encore at the festival (Ben Folds took us so high during the performance, it was hard for everyone to accept the fact that we had finally “Landed”).

  1. Billy Joel

And of course, Bonnaroo’s headliner was the one and only Billy Joel! I made it into the pit for the performance, and I knew that it was going to be an incredible crowd as soon as the woman behind me turned and said, “Alright, here we go!” just before Billy Joel took the stage. He started the set with “My Life,” followed by “Pressure,” and then continued rocking through the night with all of his hits, including “Movin’ Out,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “The River of Dreams,” “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” “Piano Man,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” “Big Shot,” “You May Be Right,” and finally, “Only The Good Die Young.” What was refreshing about Billy Joel’s set was that there were no gimmicks. It was a straight-ahead, no-frills rock show, and it relied on the pure musicianship of the artists on stage to entertain to the audience. And oh, Billy Joel can still entertain! His piano solos left everybody screaming for more, and his stage presence out-shined most of the festival’s other performers’ as he strutted across the stage, twirling and throwing his mic stand. Perhaps only the good die young, but only the great can rock like this!

Pic for just before the last paragraph

On the drive back to Philly, I ran into at least three cars packed with Bonnaroovians at each gas station, and the festival continued. From the high-fives to the beat-drops, I couldn’t have imaged a better place to experience live music, and the community I encountered was alight all week with the glow of optimism. So beware of Bonnaroovians. They could be anywhere in the country, and if you don’t watch out, they might high-five you with positivity!

What were your favorite Bonnaroo 2015 moments? Will you be a Bonnaroovian next year? Tell us in the comments below!

2 Comments

  1. Lauren S

    June 21, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    That’s it, I’m definitely going to Bonnaroo next year!

  2. Pingback: My Morning Jacket at The Tower Theater: My First Time Was the Best - Rock On Philly

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