Weeks ahead of time, I had eagerly awaited my Friday schedule at the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. With the day containing a mix of rising artists I had somehow missed throughout the winter concert season, as well as a few artists that I could not wait to see again, I had assembled the most music-filled day I was going to have at the 2018 fest. All that anticipation didn’t even include the legendary Bonnaroo SuperJam! which was moved from its traditional Saturday night slot into Friday for 2018.
At a music festival with a lineup heavily populated by electronic artists, I had somehow managed to put together a schedule with a healthy dose of Americana and rock-influenced country artists. Ready to get the day started, our first stop was to find out if Kentucky folkicana artist Tyler Childers lived up to the hype that surrounds his name in the Nashville area. Featuring a guitar, fiddle, and a two-step beat, Childers filled the early afternoon air with a classic country music sound that was transported to modern times through his contemporary approach to lyrical songwriting. While his gentle rhythms had heads nodding along for the entire set, the more upbeat “I Swear (To God)” had the sweat-soaked crowd clapping and stomping.
“High energy” does not begin to describe the musical parlor acrobatics of Philadelphia rockers Low Cut Connie; whether standing on a bar stool, piano bench, or his piano named Shondra, frontman Adam Weiner was constantly on the move and keeping the crowd engaged at the Who Stage. The theatrics of the set probably would not have been enough to keep the sizable crowd in place with the sun beating down heavily, but with the band’s impressive musical chops in the mix, no one wanted to leave the rock and roll party. Throwing sweaty caution to the wind, fans even pushed in closer to embrace Weiner when he jumped off the stage to sing a song from inside the crowd.
It was already the middle of the day on Friday and I still had not made my way to a show at the festival’s main stage. With a legend whose list of hits stretches back to my teenage years taking the stage, it was time to get to the What Stage for Sheryl Crow. Putting together a greatest hits-style setlist, Crow turned the field into a giant singalong with classics including “If It Makes You Happy,” “Soak Up The Sun,” and “All I Wanna Do,” while causing only the briefest age-related personal crisis in me by pointing out that most of the songs were older than the average Bonnaroo attendee. Making sure to keep the younger crowd’s attention, Crow added a rocking edge to many of the songs.
Unfortunately, with the star power of Sheryl Crow looming large on the What Stage, I found Georgia rockers Walden playing for a criminally undersized crowd. Fortunately, everyone that made it to the New Music Lounge was ready for the alternative rock party. With hands raised overhead, new fans clapped while the band’s traveling faithful sung along. It wasn’t long before the New Music Lounge had filled in with those passing by, drawn in by the band’s anthemic guitar riffs, contemplative lyrics sung with power-ballad clarity, and an up-tempo beat. Walden is one of those bands you discover at Bonnaroo and then expect to see appearing on bigger stages in the years to come.
One of the most talked about tours of 2017 into 2018 was the semi-reunion of Paramore. Having missed several sold-out opportunities to catch up with the band in clubs, I was excited to find them on this year’s Bonnaroo lineup. Well before the scheduled set time, the What Stage’s pit was crushed full of the band’s rabid faithful with the field filling in deeply behind it. As show time approached, a chant of the band’s name rose out of the pit creating a literal roar of anticipation for the show. Taking over the stage with a whirlwind of dance and frequent crowd interaction, Hayley Williams managed to whip the crowd into an even more urgent frenzy as she worked through a mix of the band’s newer and classic offerings.
Going into their set at Bonnaroo, I knew the sum total of one Revivalists song. By the end of their hour-long set, I left a true fan of the band. Knowing only their song “Wish I Knew You” (an infectious song that you can’t help but like), I viewed the band as being on the poppy side of Americana rock. In concert, the Revivalists leaned more towards a straight rock sound with a little bit of folk and blues influence. Sporting a ton of energy, a familial stage presence, and a concerted effort to engage the entire Which Stage crowd—both from the stage and right down in the audience—the Revivalists put on a show that had people dancing, clapping, and nodding to their dynamic sound.
Where most artists bulk up their Bonnaroo shows with extra lights, added musicians, and dramatic effects, you can always count on Sturgill Simpson to focus on the music. The most stripped-down stage setup at the fest consisted of Simpson (wearing the perfect t-shirt for the occasion) and his three band members on a starkly empty stage. Bathed only in standard white lighting, it was clear to see how he has become the gold standard in retro cool country music. Proving that the genre is not all about tailgates and forced rap verses, Simpson threw down a rock gauntlet that today’s pop country artists would be scared to touch. While his hit and semi-psychedelic song “Turtles All the Way Down” was the most recognized work of the evening for the festival crowd, Simpson focused on several extended country-rock jam sessions filled with wailing guitar, driving drums, and the howl of pedal steel. Simpson’s show brought some of the more memorable crowd moments as people coming in early for the evening’s headliner Muse were quickly enamored by the jamming sounds. Circles of revelers filled the field dancing like they were at a Phish or Widespread Panic concert while listening to an artist that is traditionally closer in sound to Waylon and Merle.
Some, including myself, have wondered why Bonnaroo waited until 2018 to have Muse as a headliner. However, with the festival now sporting an entire stage dedicated to electronic artists and more rock bands featuring electro synth effects, the British rockers were the right fit at the right time. With explosive guitar solos, dazzling light and graphics, and plenty of high-energy songs in their repertoire, the band kept the sun-weary crowd jolted awake. I noted the infectious nature of the band’s energy as the crowds from other stages rushed forward to be closer to the stage with one speedy fan summing up the throng’s excitement proclaiming, “This is Muse buddy, you better move faster,” as he whipped by. The highlight of the set was the encore that combined a dramatic and stage-glowing presentation of “Take A Bow,” followed by roaring versions of the band’s fiery electric guitar-fueled hits “Uprising” and “Knights of Cydonia,” which managed to leave the crowd even more amped than before the concert started. That was fortunate because Bonnaroo rarely rests, and we were on our way to the annual SuperJam! that has become an iconic part of the festival’s experience. Make sure to check out our upcoming feature on the 2018 SuperJam! at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival to see what happens when Bonnaroo goes late-night.
[Stay tuned for more reviews and recaps from Bonnaroo 2018 brought to you by Eo8’s own dynamic duo George and Sammi Maifair. Missed our Day 1 highlights? Check them out here.]