Friday’s sunrise at the 2022 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival brought a blend of anticipation and oppressive heat. The message of the day: stay hydrated. Even with temperatures reaching points that made experienced Bonnaroovians look for shade, it couldn’t keep the folks on The Farm from having a great time.
With temperatures reaching the 90’s by noon, there were only two ways to go with the music: soft and slow, or packing enough energy to power through. Over at That Tent, the Memphis based Southern Avenue was ready to lift us above the soaring temps with their up-tempo blues and soul inspired jams. Featuring several songs from their recent album, Be the Love You Want, highlights included the funky “Move Into the Light” and retro-sounding “Push Now.”
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Keeping the rock and soul vibes going strong, we headed over to the Which Stage to bask in the simmering vocal glow of Nashville’s Maggie Rose. Starting off the day on the festival’s second largest stage can be challenging, but Rose’s reputation brought the early risers out to her set, while her vocal prowess and keen stage presence drew in new admirers from across the grounds. Spread through the set was the emotion packed trio of songs that made her last album, Have a Seat so special—“What Are We Fighting For,” “For Your Consideration,” and “Saint.” Rose has a gift for creating songs that exude feeling and, when performed live, draw the audience into their world. Her Bonnaroo set proved once again that you haven’t truly listened to Maggie Rose until you’ve heard her live.
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Bonnaroo is all about going into shows with one set of expectations and coming out with a whole new perspective about an artist. Heading to our first act of the weekend on the festival’s main performance platform, the What Stage, we were most familiar with the laid-back playlist friendly “A-O-K” by Tai Verdes. Walking in, we were expecting a hazy, chill in the sun vibe. Walking out, we were left amazed at the range and intensity Verdes brought to the stage. With a full band in support—including a mini-horn section with a trumpet and saxophone—Verdes brought a full dose of energy to his hits like “DRUGS” and “sheluvme” as he worked the crowd over the full expanse of the massive What Stage. Most memorable, the crowd singalong on his viral hit “Stuck in the Middle” was easily one of the loudest of the weekend.
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Across the festival’s Centeroo grounds at That Tent, Nashville’s Briston Maroney was just embarking on another set that would throw our expectations out the window. An artist who has been on our radar, but we had unfortunately missed seeing live before, Maroney is known for his emotion-filled indie songs with laid back guitar melodies. For Bonnaroo, Maroney came out ready to put the rock back in indie rock with a set filled with electric guitar jams. He tore through hits like “Small Talk” and “Under My Skin.” We were taken back in time to the glory days of alt-rock with a cover of “Today” by The Smashing Pumpkins. True indie rock vibes returned to The Farm in full force thanks to Maroney’s grand progression on his live version of “Freakin’ Out On the Interstate,” starting with his bare, heartfelt lyrics and building to its scorching guitar solo.
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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
One of the lasting memories from the 2017 festival was sitting back on a blanket and listening to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. This year we were lucky enough to catch a spot on the rail for a performance that lived up to all our expectations. Whether it’s their lengthy experience as top performers, a natural chemistry between the two of them, or a combination of those factors, Plant and Krauss are always magical on stage together. From the stage scenery, to their wardrobes, to the songs that they included in the setlist, everything was delightfully retro. Covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” “The Battle of Evermore,” along with the cover of Page & Plant’s “Please Read the Letter” were highlights thanks to Plant’s folk-rock take on his original works being paired with Krauss’s haunting vocal support. Throwback hits like “The Price of Love” and “Gone Gone Gone” by the Everly Brothers kept the set lively. In true legendary performance form, they saved the best for last as Krauss took to the fiddle to support Plant on a memorable version of Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” a song originally by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy.
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The War on Drugs
A series of rain outs, schedule conflicts, and of course the big shut down of 2020 had led to several missed chances to check out Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs. We were seriously starting to wonder if we would ever get to see this band live. With the sun setting behind us, The War on Drugs filled the Which Stage field with a heavy dose of indie-meets-heartland rock. The show brought layers of retro influences into the modern world as arcing guitar solos and deep, yet relatable lyrics, reminded us of times when indie rock made up the bulk of our festival lineups. Highlights of the show stretched across the band’s catalogue ranging from “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the title track from their most recent album, to classics like “Red Eyes.”
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Friday night on The Farm brought us the first of two chances to get to see the musical wizardry of Jack Antonoff through his indie rock project, Bleachers. As he strolled the stage, led the audience in singalongs, and just enjoyed his time on stage, it was clear that no one else at Bonnaroo could fire up a crowd quite like Antonoff. Between songs, he shared stories and basked in his Bonnaroo experiences, telling the crowd how he has been to The Farm as a member of three different bands, with the appearances stretching all the way back to performing with Steel Band in 2005. The crowd fed off his energy and rarely slowed down enough from dancing and rocking along with a setlist that spanned the group’s works from new songs like “91” to classics like “Rollercoaster” and “Don’t Take The Money.”
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A lot of surprise rippled across social media when the rumors started coming out that Bonnaroo had booked The Chicks. However, as people had time to reflect, the booking was one straight out of an old-school Bonnaroo playbook: an act with a ton of material everyone knows, something that’s not on every festival’s lineup, and a group that’s not afraid to take a stand on the issues. From their opener “Sin Wagon” to the closer “Goodbye Earl,” the result was the loudest and rowdiest, set-wide singalong of the weekend. At a festival with a tradition of supporting causes, they made sure to include their social justice work, “March March.” While the setlist featured a number of tracks from their recent album, Gaslighter, they made sure to cover plenty of their classics that fill the air in Nashville’s karaoke clubs, including “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces,” as well as a crowd favorite with their cover of “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks.
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One of the hardest bands to describe to someone unfamiliar with them has to be L.A.’s Lord Huron. You start out saying that they’re western—but not country. They’re folk and rock, but not folk rock. This melding of influences has helped them become one of the most easily identifiable acts you’ll hear and allowed them to create music that captures the attention of a wide swath of music lovers. Without making it a “concept show,” the band embraced their western noir persona and crafted a career-spanning playlist that was woven together so well it felt like the twelve songs, stretching across four albums, were created to be played together. While fans appreciated hearing their biggest hits like “The Night We Met” and “Ends of The Earth” performed live, the biggest crowd reaction came as lead singer Ben Schneider donned the now tour-famous skull mask for “The World Ender,” sending the entire field into a frenzy.
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King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
The later it gets on The Farm, the weirder (in a good way) and more fun Bonnaroo becomes. Across their vast catalogue of music, few embrace the good kind of weird more than King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Easily one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, the crowd at That Tent was thick and raucous well before the soundchecks were even completed. Starting with the insanity of “Robot Stop,” and rocking out on a flute with the trippy deep cut, “Hot Water,” it was immediately clear that this King Gizz set was going to be a memorable one—even for people fortunate enough to have caught the band live before. As the band worked through a setlist that of course included favorites like “Magenta Mountain,” “The Dripping Tap,” and “Work This Time,” we were treated to possibly the loudest guitar blasts and wildest crowd of this year…and many others.
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Bonnaroo has a long tradition of bringing in both rising jam and indie rock bands. Arguably, no band has been more on the rise over the last year than Norwalk, Connecticut’s Goose. Blending indie rock and jam vibes, they were this year’s heroes tasked with keeping this tradition alive. With a 1 AM set time, the band had its work cut out for it to keep the late night crowd going. Living up to their own description as an indie-groove band, they worked in enough melty jams to keep the bulk of the audience dancing, while weaving in enough indie rock energy to keep the rest of the weary Bonnaroovians nodding along. While the setlist was loaded with many of the songs everyone knows including “Arcadia” and “Slow Ready,” the band also worked in a cover of Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue.”
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Although there was plenty of entertainment options still available—most notably the electronic music playground of the Other Stage—it was time for us to put a wrap on our second day of the 2022 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. After all, we were going to need our rest if we were going to catch all the acts coming up the next day, including the much-anticipated return of Tool to The Farm.