Friday, June 8th was the first full day of Bonnaroo 2018. While hardcore EDM fans were just beginning to take a nap in the hot morning sunshine, early bird music fans were waking up to a full day of activities. Centeroo exploded with life expanding massively with the opening of the main stage area.
Everywhere, festival goers seemed to be enjoying their experiences and approaching the festival in the spirit that the promoters have always envisioned with Bonnaroo. A sort of Woodstock vibe permeated the crowd, with most in some sort of sexy or comical festival ware. Beaming smiles and enthusiastic high fives seemed to be the order of the day. Most festival goers seemed to be prepared for the warmer temperatures and developed all manner for keeping cool. The Centeroo fountain was ground zero for those wanting to spend the day wet and wild. Copious amounts of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic were readily available across the festival site, with little waiting compared to past years. In fact, there were so many food and beverage options across the festival grounds this year it was hard to make a choice what to eat and drink.
The music choices were also too numerous even for an ADD generation with track shoes to fully engage in. Muse was the first of the three headline acts to appear at the festival on this day. The trio played a well-received set of rock with an eye-popping multimedia presentation. The band offers up a modern version of the power rock trio, in the grand tradition of Cream or The Police. The group employed a multitude of guitars and electronic instruments, that featured several with their own built-in LED light displays. But while many music fans enjoyed the bands set, many thousands more opted to swarm the other main stage waiting for the midnight set by hardcore EDM artist Bassnectar. Thousands of Bass heads stood infant of the massive bass amps, to headbang like music fans at a hardcore metal festival. In fact, the headline acts at Bonnaroo are almost becoming irrelevant to the experience as a whole. While in past years Bonnaroo always tried to get at least one legacy act that was not touring, for a unique extended set, the headline acts in recent years are the same playing multiple summer festivals. The explosion of new festivals has led to the simple reality that no one offers up an exclusive set anymore and the headline acts at Bonnaroo end up just playing another replicated set, which seems increasingly perfunctory in today's corporate music world.
In fact, the only set that lasted over two hours at this year's Roo was the one that makes the festival so unique and continues to keep it relevant as a groundbreaking live music event. That would be the Superjam. The late-night extravaganza was one of the most excellent jams in the festival's history. “The Great Wide Open” billed as a tribute to the music of Tom Petty was curated by the drummer of My Morning Jacket, Patrick Hallahan and guitarist Craig Pfunder from the band VHS or Beta. The core band also included Wilco guitarist Pat Sansone, MMJ bassist Tom Blankenship, Mark Heideger of Vandaveer, Daniel Creamer of The Texas Gentlemen and The Watson Twins on backing vocals. A revolving door of guest singers and musicians, including some special surprises then took the stage to perform their favorite Tom Petty songs. Paramore’s Hayley Williams sang an animated version of "Into the Great Wide Open,” to get things rolling. A beaming Sheryl Crow, who had early played the main stage set that included a duet with a poster pulled from the crowd with Tom Petty on it, tore through a guitar-drenched version of "American Girl.” Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who was a surprise guest, offered a reiteration of Stevie Nicks' and Petty's roles on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around.” Rayland Baxter joined his father, pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, to cover "Here Comes My Girl.” Soul singer Jalen N’Gonda reinterpreted “You Got Lucky" into a beautiful genuinely soulful rendition.
One of the most exciting moments of the evening came when Matt Shultz appeared with his lead guitarist from Cage The Elephant, Nick Bockrath in tow. The band featuring four guitarists played a searing ear-piercing version of “Breakdown,” while Shultz pranced about the stage, jumped on amplifiers and launched into the crow. Shultz has become a regular fixture in the super jam having appeared several times. Several years ago, he eerily channeled Jim Morrison during a cover of The Doors, in a super jam featuring a guitar jam with Robbie Krieger and a guitar-wielding Skrillex. Vanessa Carlton, another surprise guest, sang “Learning to Fly.” The Wild Feathers played “I Won’t Back Down.” Lead singer of The Revivalists, David Shaw, sang “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” He was joined by guitarist Audrey Freed, and music photographer Danny Clinch on harmonica, to augment the core band.
There were so many other guests, music journalists covering the event were unable to keep track of all the songs they played. Just some of the other performers included Sameer Gadhia, lead singer of Young The Giant, Frenship, Moon Taxi, Langhorne Slim, Japanese Breakfast, Durand Jones, Larkin Poe and others. After finishing a two-hour set, most of the evening's performers flooded the stage for a two-set encore of Traveling Wilburys songs. It was indeed a once in a lifetime performance for the lucky late-night music fans crammed into the venue.
Earlier in the day, there was a plethora of great music across the festival featuring multiple genres of pop music. Sheryl Crow’s Mainstage set seemed to surprise even her with the fervor of the young audience. Crow exclaimed, “These songs were written before you were born how do you know the words?” This in response to the crowd singing along to her biggest hits en masse. Paramore also turned in a set that wowed the mainstage crowd. Hayley Williams looking a bit like one of the replicants in the original Blade Runner movie danced maniacally across the massive stage and launched into the group on several occasions. Manchester Orchestra played a particularly intense rock set in the midday sun. Sturgill Simpson played a birthday set in the early evening on the MainStage featuring his incredible guitar skills. The Revivalists played a riveting set as usual led by the animated Shaw. R&B singer Khalid played an excellent evening set full of great dance moves amidst a multimedia extravaganza.
For EDM fans The Other stage offered up an all day and night lineup of top DJs that kept young dance fans torn from staying at the stage or exploring other dance music sets. Bassnectar offered up the midnight set that was was the highlight of the festival for many young EDM fans on the Wish stage and Chromeo offered up their own brand of EDM in a late-night set at That Tent during the Superjam. It was a great day of music and a home run for festival promoters on day 2 of Bonnaroo 2018.