Bonnaroo Sunday. The homestretch. Sun-scorched and having fully exhausted both the pleasure center and the make-wordsy-writings portion of our brain, The Spin had the finishing line — what would turn out to be a marathon performance from Sir Elton John — in our sights. All we needed to do was drag our sore, tender asses from tent to tent for 12 more hours. As it turns out, most of the day's sets would match our own mood — somewhat languid and largely laid-back, but generally feelin' groovy — even if there was a killer, high-octane set from hometown heroes Those Darlins thrown into the mix.
Bonnaroo sometimes has a way of making noon feel like the ass crack of dawn — especially considering how easy Bonnaroo makes it to party until the ass crack of dawn. We grumbled to ourselves along our haggard, sunburned journey to see Road to Bonnaroo winners Kansas Bible Company at On Tap Lounge that it had better be damn well worth it. Oddly enough, seeing 11 dudes (roughly half of whom play horns) jamming out on trippy psychedelic rock mixed with ample doses of blue-eyed soul was enough to brighten our cloudy disposition on this painfully sunny afternoon — the sizable crowd that had gathered also seemed to agree.
With virtually any member prone to take the mic and deliver a silky smooth performance, KBC occasionally hushed into some sweet, poppy interludes to let their collective harmonies shine, only to burst back into a horn-heavy, reverb-drenched rock 'n' roll freakout. Also, the left-handed cigarette they lit onstage, passed between each other and then into the audience was an incredibly sweet gesture.
But if anyone can make us pay attention to a history lesson on the last day of Bonnaroo, it's The Carolina Chocolate Drops, who opened up the main stage under sunny skies at 12:30 p.m. The wide-ranging set included Hank Williams and Leadbelly, Scots-Gaelic dance music from people who settled in the Appalachians in the 1700s and the 19th century black string band tune "Snowden's Jig," which slyly segued into Blu Cantrell's early-Aughts R&B number "Hit 'Em Up Style." There were showcases for the jaw-dropping individual talents of everyone in the newly re-configured quartet; fiddler, singer and bandmistress Rhiannon Giddens is the only original member, now accompanied by multi-instrumentalists Hubby Jenkins and Rowan Corbett and cellist Malcolm Parson. Giddens' vocal on their Odetta-inspired version of "Water Boy" showed an incredible command of every emotion encapsulated in the song — frustration, hope, resolve, despair — and raised our hackles from 200 yards away.
Local champs Those Darlins opened The Other Stage on early Sunday afternoon with the sort of scorching cow punk that we've come to expect from Jessi, Nikki and Linwood. The Darlins have gone through some changes since the days when we saw them play in a cave with Charlie Louvin, but we knew we could count on a set that hits our sweet spot for sneering rock 'n' roll and forlorn country twang.
What we didn't expect was Those Darlins turning their gig into an unofficial Superjam, inviting up local buds to join them on a mixture of originals and covers through out their hour-long gig. Tristen and Adia Victoria, who joined the Darlins on our own Live in the Morgue sessions back in February, sat in on an impeccable cover of the Wall of Sound classic “Then He Kissed Me,” and Diarrhea Planeteers Emmett Miller, Evan Bird and Casey Weissbuch shredded their way through the menacing single “Night Jogger.” As beat as we were from the past three days of Bonnaroo, we couldn't help but get pumped up by the Darlins, especially as they ripped through “Red Light Love,” “Screws Get Loose” and, ultimately, an uptempo version of “That Man” which brought DP, Tristen and Adia Victoria back on stage to send us back out into the world right.
We’re no clairvoyants here at The Spin. We know we correctly predicted that A$AP Ferg would provide the most hype, most wildly entertaining set of the weekend, but we don’t think anyone could have anticipated all of the endless shenanigans that would ensue.
A$AP Ferg began his set by asking the audience if they were ready to get ratchet. With the crowd’s blessing, Ferg and newest A$AP Mob member and hypeman Marty Baller proceeded to turn the dial up to 11. Ferg played through a series of hits from his 2013 effort, Trap Lord, with the crowd only becoming more animated with each additional song. But exactly how far was the crowd willing to go with Ferg? When the rapper put out an open invitation for all the beautiful ladies to join him onstage, women from all over the audience crowd surfed to the front and enthusiastically danced and twerked onstage. When Ferg asked if there were any MCs in the crowd willing to hop up and freestyle, so many people nearly leaped out of their skin that Ferg allowed a couple fans to show their skills. But perhaps the most epic moment happened during Ferg’s performance of “Shabba Ranks": One fan got so turnt that he pulled a trashcan to the middle of the audience, climbed on top of it and proceeded to make it rain several hundred dollars in single bills on the audience. That’s the power of The Hood Pope.
It’s safe to say Arctic Monkeys have finally broken America. The Brit Poppers' Bonnaroo debut drew one of the biggest What Stage crowds of the entire festival, on a Sunday, during the highest temperatures all weekend. “This song goes out to Sir Elton John,” frontman Alex Turner said before strumming the opening chords to the dreamy, Wembley-ready “No. 1 Party Anthem,” one of nine songs off the band’s acclaimed fifth studio album AM. But it was the bouncy Brit-Pop dittie “Fluorescent Adolescent” from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare that gave the set its biggest party moment. After whipping crowd surfers and fist pumpers as far as the eye could see into a frenzy, closing with ravenous rocker “R U Mine?” Turner, his pompadour still intact, and his band coolly strolled offstage amid echoing chants for “one more song.”
Shortly thereafter at That Tent, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, aka Shovels and Rope, brought us a fine set of that rock 'n' roll music from down by the tracks, just over to the country side. They called up the spirit of Buddy Holly, with some raucous take-no-shit performances that called for earplugs, and others where we just closed our eyes and drifted on the sweet harmonies. "Pinned," one of a couple of cuts they played from their forthcoming LP Swimmin' Time, showed both sides of the band admirably, and seems a sure-fire hit.
Way on over at The Other Tent, Washed Out's central member Ernest Greene was shouting out his Southern roots to a sizable crowd despite the fact that, he said, it was their first Bonnaroo appearance. One of the few acts from the Aughts chillwave boom to demonstrate true staying power, WO provided a sea of foaming synth whitecaps and rich bass lines for a swaying, languid Sunday crowd. That still wasn't enough to cool off one young lady near us, who passed out from what appeared to be heat exhaustion and had to be carried out of the crowd by security personnel. It was an extremely low-energy set, but Greene & Co.'s fans seemed to neither want nor expect high energy. They want and expect some chilled-out, midtempo synth pop — especially "Feel It All Round," best known as Portlandia's opening theme song — and that's precisely what they got.
By the time Broken Bells appeared on Which Stage, the shenanigans of the past three days had finally caught up with us. We were dead tired and fantasizing about taking a real shower, and there wasn't a whole hell of a lot that James Mercer and Danger Mouse could've done to break us out of our trance. Which is fine, because Broken Bells don't rock particularly hard, and all we wanted was to hunker down in some shade and cool it with the rest of the festival zombies. Maybe if Danger Mouse brought out MF Doom to do some Danger Doom songs, we would've been on our feet. But somehow, we don't think that any of the folks grooving to the Shins Lite stylings of Broken Bells would agree with our assessment in the slightest.
And speaking of zoned-out dazes, things were only compounded when stoner-rap party boy Wiz Khalifa took the very same stage 45 minutes after the Bells' set. Clad in Kurt Cobain's sunglasses and our granny's gardening hat, Wiz lit up a joint onstage, asking repeatedly if the crowd was joining him in having a blaze and inquiring as to the quality of everyone's marijuana. Much like it was when we caught it back at Bonnaroo 2011, Khalifa's set sounded good, but it was low-energy and comically overstuffed with talk of weed, songs about weed, people around us offering us weed (not that we're complaining). The 26-year-old has found his niche (i.e., the Cheech and Chong of popular hip-hop), and even if that was enough to keep the Which Stage crowd brain-baked and locked in place, The Spin didn't hang around for set-closer and 2011 chart-topper "Black and Yellow."
As ever, Bonnaroo saw its fair share of "brothers" bands this weekend, but for our money, we know just which brothers took the cake. The Avett Brothers’ 7 o'clock performance launched with an electrified version of an older track, “Colorshow,” and went on to sample widely from their earlier work. Although it certainly could have been, this wasn’t a set built to sell albums — the Avetts, determined to do the main stage justice in the last What Stage performance before Elton would come along to knock everyone's socks off, gave a bona fide festival show, delivering favorite after a favorite to an ecstatic crowd whose energy was surpassed only by the band. By the time the Avetts finished, half the pit was in tears, and the other half was cheering for encore that time constraints couldn’t permit.
But that wasn't our last dose of the Avetts. The second annual after-supper pickin' party, amiably emceed by screen personality, bluegrass booster and Bluegrass Situation Superjam ringmaster Ed Helms, was packed with contemporary talent, running the gamut from more traditional fare like standout all-female string band Della Mae to more pop-oriented participants like Lake Street Dive and The Lone Bellow. The set kept building and building. Dynamite stripped-down sing-alongs on "Islands in the Stream" and "Angel From Montgomery" were our personal favorites of the night and set a high bar for excitement, only to be notched up by superstar Dierks Bentley's return to his deep-rooted love for bluegrass on "Rovin' Gambler" and Bill Monroe's "Nine Pound Hammer." When Helms announced surprise guests the Avetts, the crowd lost it; the Avetts responded with a sweet take on fiddle standard "Be Kind to a Man When He's Down" that used every ounce of their harmony singing skill. We figured Helms and Lake Street Dive's extraordinary singer Rachael Price were being pretty straightforward as they led an all-hands-on-deck rendition of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" to close the set.