Half party and half concert, SuperJam is always one of the most anticipated events on the Bonnaroo lineup. The 2017 version carried even higher expectations as it was curated by the iconic Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Billed as The Soul Shakedown, the Superjam pulls together an eclectic range of talent from across the festival’s many artists. The current version of the show features the many artists taking on covers of some of the biggest hits within the year’s theme. The fans love to see the artists stepping out of their comfort zone and, more importantly, just having a bit of fun.
To get everybody on their feet, the show started with the Preservation Jazz Band laying down a high energy performance of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” Following the command of the song, much of the crowd started dancing as beach balls tumbled overhead.
The excitement continued as Jon Batiste joined the Preservation Jazz Band to lead the crowd in a clap-along of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”; those of you familiar with Batiste as the bandleader for Late Night With Stephen Colbert are already aware of his piano chops. Following his performance, he remained on stage the rest of the night adding some keys to the band.
Usually known for beat heavy electropop, Detroit’s Flint Eastwood put her own touches on James Brown’s classic “Get Up Offa That Thing.” Sliding and twisting across the stage, she made sure that everyone was joining in.
Always unique and attention-grabbing, Boyfriend brought her rap cabaret flare to the SuperJam stage. While known for her speed rhyming, Boyfriend slowed it down (well, slow for her) and applied extra soul on Rick James’s “Superfreak.”
While he usually sticks to the twang of alt-country and Americana, Rayland Baxter certainly has the guitar skills to tackle Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Including a wailing solo, Baxter did fine work with my favorite Prince offering, and added extra guitar punch from Nick Bockrath and vocal backing from Nicole Atkins, Katie Schecter, and the band Joseph.
With a legend of funk and original member of the Meters, George Porter Jr., on the stage it was only fitting to have him add the Hand Clapping song as his contribution to the showcase. Pushing the Preservation Hall guys with grooving bass, the tent felt as sticky as New Orleans.
Adding a bit of soulful rap, Christian rapper Lecrae took on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It.” With the Preservation Hall Jazz Band adding horns, sax, and a live drumbeat, it was a glorious flashback.
Earlier in the day, Lukas Nelson had talked about his excitement of teaming up with Americana star Margo Price to perform an Al Green song for the SuperJam. Nelson went from one fiery guitar solo to the next while Price’s soulful voice completed the jamming performance.
After supporting Rayland Baxter earlier in the evening, Nashville singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins returned to the stage to make her mark on the The Soul Shakedown. Choosing Irma Thomas’s “Time on My Side,” she turned the tent into a swaying, bluesy night club.
Also returning to the stage after an earlier supporting roll, Joseph added TLC’s slow jam “Waterfalls” to the mix. Having already wowed Bonnaroo earlier in the day with their own folk sound, the group slowed it down and showed us their soulful side.
Making sure to include some modern funk in the Soul Shakedown, Jason Huber from the band Cherub lit up the stage with Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic.” The Nashville native was clearly having a blast at his local festival.
As a vocal force, Tank and the Bangas were the perfect fit to add “Keep the Same old Feeling” by the Crusaders. With the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s backing, this was easily one of the most dynamic performances of the Superjam.
Dubbed “The Mayor of Bonnaroo” due to his numerous planned and surprise appearances at the festival in recent years, there were high anticipations for Chance the Rapper’s Superjam Appearance. Rising to the challenge, Chance started his appearance with a funky version of Snoop and Dre’s “Ain’t Nothing But a G Thang.” He then brought most of the Superjam performers back for a blockbuster performance of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” which worked the crowd into a singalong, dance frenzy.
With so much diversity, talent, and feel-good vibes, it’s easy to see why SuperJam is a yearly feature at Bonnaroo. I am already looking forward to what surprises will appear on next year’s lineup.
[This brilliant Bonnaroo coverage was provided by Eo8’s own dynamic duo, George and Sammi Maifair.]