Saturday at Bonnaroo 2022 began bright and early with so many activities that it was nearly impossible for festival goes to absorb much of what was happening around them. Even before the music began early in the day, there were yoga lessons, marathons, workshops, group gatherings, and parades all about the campgrounds. By the time New Zealand pop singer Benee appeared on the giant Which stage just after 2 pm, a large crowd had already gathered in Centeroo. The young performer pranced about the massive stage with a beaming smile all through her set. With style firmly in R&B territory, the singer was backed by a solid rock band with a blend of E.D.M. dance music. The early crowd responded with dance-infused energy.
Singer-songwriter Teddy Swims was the first to perform on the main What stage. The YouTube star from Georgia garnered a large, eager crowd, despite having to endure a sweltering mid-day summer sun. The animated singer fronted a talented band blending R&B, country, and soulful rock into a satisfying soup of contemporary pop. Across the festival grounds, African rhythms could be heard on the other main stage.
The Which stage featured a performance by veteran African singer Femi Kuti and his larger-than-life band, The Positive Force. Femi is the son of legendary Nigerian singer Fela Kuti and heir to their Afrobeat sound. Femi brought his upbeat dance-infused music to the afternoon crowd at Bonnaroo, infusing it with plenty of positive social messages. The set included songs like “You Can’t Fight Corruption With Corruption” from their latest album, Stop the Hate. While Kuti explained that the song addressed politics in Nigeria, it was clear that the message could be applied to social conditions across the globe, including in the U.S. Femi, a multi-talented musician and singer, shared the stage with one of his sons, Mádé Kuti. The pair engaged in a saxophone duel to close out the set.
Meanwhile, over in This tent, Ashe (A.K.A.) Ashley Rae Wilson, a 29-year-old singer-songwriter from San Jose, California, brought her fresh new tour to the Bonnaroo crowd. The set featured her first album and material from her latest upcoming release, Rae. But it was her hit single “The Moral of the Story” from a Netflix movie that garnered an enormous response from the eager crowd. The ever-beaming Electro-pop singer played a spirited and energetic set backed by a talented band.
As the summer sun began to hang low in the sky, festival-goers flooded back into Centeroo from the campgrounds and pressed against multiple stages for a variety of music. Hip Hop fans swarmed the main What stage for 21 Savage. Another large crowd gathered at the Which stage in anticipation of a set by Scottish electro-pop band Chvrches. Los Angeles Indy rockers Mt. Joy had sweat-drenched fans filling That tent. Over on the Other stage, E.D.M. fans were massing for a set by DJ Lucii. Another Tik Tok star, Charlotte Sands, had young fans packed into the Who stage. At the same time as all of these performers were on stage, the multi-talented Jack Antonoff was leading the Superjam. The super jam is one of Bonnaroo’s most special gatherings, bringing together performers from many different musical genres. This year’s jam featured music from 1984, the year Antonoff was born. (More about the Superjam in a separate review coming soon.)
After the sun finally set, a welcome cool breeze blew in with the twilight and Centeroo exploded into a sea of light and multimedia. A giant crowd had gathered at the main What stage for a much-anticipated set by Billy Strings and his magnificent band of pickers. The Grammy award-winning guitarist from Michigan has made the Bluegrass genre relevant for a younger generation with his genre-bending picking style. Despite his youthful appearance, the boyish-looking 29-year-old has been a professional musician for over a decade. The undulating crowd responded emphatically to the dance-inducing set. In a moment underlying the sheer variety of musical genres embraced at Bonnaroo, Strings acknowledged his performance coming just before headliners heavy metal band Tool. Strings shouted at the end of the set: “We’re near time, and I don’t dare go over. Wouldn’t want Maynard to skull-fuck me or Danny Carey to beat on me with that dildo drumstick thing.”
Tool fans never know what to expect from their venerated group in concert. In particular, the performance by the band's mystical lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, always seems unpredictable. The sometimes-reclusive performer has been known to stand in the darkened shadows at the back of the stage for an entire show for various reasons. So, it was an exciting surprise to the massive crowd at the What stage when the late-night set by Tool began, and Maynard emerged into the light almost immediately. The charismatic singer led the band with an animated persona making frequent eye contact with bandmates and the audience. The sometimes-reticent singer even bantered a bit with the audience quipping, “We’ve been through a lot. Today, we deserve a break." Thundering bassist Justin Chancellor played organ eviscerating rhythms while guitarist Adam Jones tore through a litany of wailing riffs. Iconic drummer Danny Carey played thundering percussions throughout the set, which seemed much longer than the nine songs played. Elated fans headbanged and cheered as the band played some of their favorite tunes like “Opiate,” a tune from their 1992 debut E.P., “Pushit,” “Pneuma," and “Invincible.
The midnight hour came and went as many E.D.M. fans were just starting their evening enjoying a late-night set on the Which stage with Australian D.J. Flume. The D.J. emerged bathed in white light shrouded in dense fog. The well-known E.D.M. artist started with light dance-pop tracks and eventually turned up the bass-heavy tunes to the delight of the headbangers in front of the crowd.
Wacky French American electronic music artist Marc Rebillet was attempting a unique start to his 1 am set at This tent which ended as an amusing failure. Starting at the mushroom fountain, the performer clad only in his underwear was attempting a special live-on-the-scene broadcast to the video screens on This tent stage and a Hulu Livestream audience. However, technical difficulties forced him to call off the idea, and he and a Livestream cameraman pushed their way through the back of the audience, waiting for him to take the stage. The resulting chaos caught the audience by surprise and led to comical confusion. After making his way to the stage with his keyboard and laptop under his arm, he begged the audience for a bathrobe, and miraculously one was passed to him. Then Rebillet began a one-person band electronic show of myriad musical loops. “You thought this was a concert, with fun and music and shit?” he quipped, looping variations of the question until he’d turned it into his first song. During the set, the comical musician would periodically dive into the crowd retrieving treasures like bras, totems, and even a blow-up doll. It wasn’t so much a concert as a performance art piece, and the gathering of avid fans loved it.
This night's nod to late-night jam music went to veteran jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong with a 2 am set in That tent. The 12-song set list kept jam fans dancing into the first light of the summer dawn. As always, the band of talented musicians included random covers in the set, and on this night, featured Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” In addition, the band threw in the kitchen sink on the extended jam of the well-known tune, including slices of “Heartbreaker” and “Moby Dick” and even a bit of Slipknot. The band even offered a cover of Daft Punk’s “One More Time” before ending with a sing-along of “Auld Lang Syne.”