Sunday at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was already upon us. After a year’s anticipation, the preparation, the packing (and unpacking) of camping supplies, the three prior days of music, and all of the new friends and memories made in such a short time, Sunday always has a bittersweet feeling. You know that there is still a whole day to go, but you can already sense your impending return to reality. But for now, it’s still all about the music.
Whether you want to call his music Americana, roots rock, or Alt-County, Parker Millsap always kicks it up a notch at a music festival. Taking a page from Sturgill Simpson’s Saturday show, Millsap kept the setup to a minimum and let the music do the talking on Bonnaroo’s main What Stage. While his music may have had a ripple of twang and a splash of grassy fiddle, it was Millsap’s rocking electric guitar that brought a renewed energy to the crowd. Millsap is part of the new breed of classic country-influenced Americana artists and he’s a prime example of why there’s such a growing interest in that genre.
It’s always a challenge to define Americana Music. So many influences come together that no description ever feels complete. The confluence of styles was on full display as I stepped away from the country-rock side of the genre by Parker Millsap and into the blue-soul-folk sounds of Chastity Brown over on the Who Stage. She valiantly fought through the waves of distorted electronic beats coming from a neighboring stage, with her vintage sound and modern spirit. Paying homage to her musical inspirations and her home state of Minnesota, Brown took the creative route and dedicated a song to the late Prince, instead of simply covering one of his works. Between her candid conversations with the crowd and her storytelling lyrics, Brown shared an intimate side of her as an artist.
When I moved to Nashville a few years back, I was surprised by the diverse musical ecosystem that went far beyond the city’s famed country music scene. It was only a few weeks after my move that I caught *repeat repeat playing at a local venue. Billing a “surf rock candy” sound that I frequently describe as the White Stripes meets Weezer, I became a fast fan of the group. Over the last year, the band has expanded on their style to include more mature indie rock ballad numbers that have a slicker quality than their earlier raw rock works. Fronted by singer/guitar-wielding madman Jared Corder and sun-dripped harmonies from his wife Kristyn Corder, the band had somehow saved enough energy to storm the Who Stage with one of the most explosive shows of the weekend. Keeping their milder numbers on the backburner, the band blazed through a rock set more scorching than the June heat. By the time the band did slow it down to close the set with their tender hit single “Girlfriend,” it simply made the sprawling crowd wish there was time for a few more songs.
In 2014, there was a buzz about how you had to hear this new soul singer that had a voice reminiscent of James Brown. The secret may be out about the big, soulful vocals of Paul Janeway, lead singer of St. Paul & The Broken Bones. However, that just makes their festival sets more of a can’t miss experience as the band’s following has grown and their concerts have become more like a non-spiritual tent revival. As smartly dressed as ever, Janeway strutted and crooned through a setlist mixed with old favorites and several cuts from the band’s new album. It may be a few years older now, but the crowd still cheered with excitement at the first few notes of “Call Me,” before singing along to every word. St. Paul & The Broken Bones is one of those bands that just seems to belong on The Farm.
With the Which Stage air filled with a smoky haze and an impressive number of giant beach balls, we found the Moon Taxi set just starting, but could tell the crowd had been partying for some time in anticipation. For having grown from indie-alternative playlist darlings to be a big stage, high lineup placement act in a short time, the band was remarkably comfortable in the spotlight. Featuring a light show bright enough to pierce the early-evening sunlight, a sound big enough to boldly fill the Which Stage field, and a stage presence dynamic enough to keep the sprawling crowd’s attention, the band seemed in every way like a headliner had been put on the wrong stage. As I listened to their synth-backed, addictive guitar riffs, I realized that everyone was loving Moon Taxi’s set because the band has a sound firmly anchored with all the hallmarks of the modern indie-rock-pop genres but was able to play it in a way other bands only try to do.
After making a detour to catch the Grand Ole Opry’s debut performance at Bonnaroo (make sure to check out our recap of that show too!) it was time to savor the final band and moments of the 2018 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Making my way into the What Stage field, I found that The Killers had decided to be frustratingly punctual and had started their set with their mega-hit “Mr. Brightside.” Based on the collective murmur of disappointment from all the late arrivals who didn’t expect to miss the band’s biggest hit, I could tell it was going to take a stellar show to keep the crowd amped. Although the Killers had surprisingly never been to The Farm before, they had clearly known the challenges of the Sunday headlining spot, telling the weary audience they were going to do their best to keep up the energy. With “Mr. Brightside” gone, it was a chance to remember how many hits the band has had and how many of the songs you know when not distracted by the obvious choice. With a scorching version of “Somebody Told Me,” and a well-placed cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” the band managed a solid connection with the crowd, spurring the most active audience I have seen at a Sunday night headliner set in years.
With the music over, I made my way back to the campsite to jumpstart my car to head home, filled with the flood of emotions that comes with the end of each Bonnaroo. A feeling of joy for the new memories, sadness that it was time to go back to the real world, a hint of excitement for the air conditioning awaiting me there, and an already building anticipation for the months of lineup guessing and sleuthing that lay ahead, waiting for the 2019 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.