One of the most common questions first-timers at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival ask is, “So what’s up with that SuperJam thing?” For many, it turns out to be one of the most memorable moments of the festival. Pulling together a roster of artists from bands both playing the fest and some surprises, the Bonnaroo SuperJam has come in two forms over the years. Sometimes, it has been an opportunity for the artists to create and experiment. The 2011 Dr. John/Dan Auerbach version, featuring the Preservation Hall Brass Jazz Band and My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan on drums, was one such occasion. (Side note this was easily a top-10 all-time concert moment for this writer). In later years, it has become more of a cover show as the star-studded lineup takes turns belting out hits that everyone knows. Recently, the show played homage to the passing of Tom Petty and as a general tribute to artists who had passed in that year.
Perhaps due to the solemness that has come across the world over the last few years, the 2022 Bonnaroo SuperJam set out to throw a party. Serving as the host was none other than master producer and indie rock genius, Jack Antonoff. Titled “Jack Antonoff’s 1984,” there was much anticipation and setlist speculation leading into the set. With 1984 being the year of Antonoff’s birth, a quick look at the top songs from that year proves that he was born at a good time for music. Making the hype even stronger, Antonoff teased “special guests” while leading his band Bleachers on Friday night.
With a house band featuring members of Bleachers and viral sensation Blu DeTiger on bass, the evening started with the appropriately high-energy cover of Van Halen’s “Jump” performed by rising bedroom pop artist, Claud. Following the performance, Claud joined the house band, adding to its already big sound.
The first surprise of the night was the appearance of Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES. While Mayberry and her band were on the lineup, their show was scheduled to start less than 30 minutes after her SuperJam stopover, making her being part of the SuperJam setlist seem unlikely. Thankfully she made it work as she graced the stage with covers of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl.” Mayberry has a vocal range that just felt right on those songs and it would be hard to imagine anyone else at the fest owning them quite like she did.
The SuperJam continued with some newer faces on The Farm. Rick Mitarotonda took a break from jamming with Goose to strum and croon through a-ha’s “Take On Me,” which was followed by Joy Oladokun putting her bluesy spin on “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” a song originally sung by Phil Collins. Later in the set, more artists featured on the 2022 Bonnaroo lineup made their appearance including Japanese Breakfast on a bootleg-worthy cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons,” Blue DeTiger taking the vocals on Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and of course, Mr. Antonoff himself with his take on Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round.”
While it’s hard to pick “best” moments of any SuperJam, the crowd always saves its loudest roars of applause for those unexpected guests or huge collaborations. This year, Antonoff filled the middle of the show with those types of memories. First off was the unannounced appearance of Britt Daniel from the indie rock band Spoon, a band noticeably not on the Bonnaroo lineup. While it was already a treat watching two guitar masters like Antonoff and Daniel pairing up, the real highlight was Daniel’s cover of “The Killing Moon” from Echo & The Bunnymen—a karaoke and cover classic that unfortunately often gets mistreated. Thanks to Antonoff and Daniel’s guitar work, the skill of the house band, and Daniel’s ability to control the vocals, it was easily one of the best covers of the song we’ve heard.
Next up was a surprise appearance from Nashville’s Nicole Atkins. This wasn’t her first time guesting at the SuperJam, having made a stop at the show’s 2017 edition. For 2022, Atkins went with “What Difference Does It Make” by indie rock legends, The Smiths.
Hours before the SuperJam was set to start, there was a buzz around the festival because Carly Rae Jepsen had shared the Bonnaroo Instagram post about the SuperJam to her stories. So, while it may not have been a true surprise for everyone, her unscheduled arrival on the SuperJam stage was met with the largest roar from the crowd. Using her brief time on The Farm well, Jepsen led the audience in sing-along versions of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Keeping with recent SuperJam tradition, the set closed with Antonoff inviting all the artists back on stage for one huge closing collaboration. With Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast) and Antonoff taking the lead vocals and Jepsen, Mitarontonda, and Oladokun returning for backing vocals, the collective group finished the evening’s musical journey through the year 1984 with “Islands In The Stream,” a song made famous by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. As the crowd sang along to the familiar lyrics and swayed to the music from the all-star band, there was no doubt that the 2022 Bonnaroo SuperJam was going to be remembered for years to come.