As with every year, the final day of the 2022 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was upon us much too quickly. While there was still an amazing slate of music on our schedule, that little pang of sadness crept in as we realized it was almost over. However, there’s always too much to do on The Farm to dwell on it for long. With a quick bowl of cereal and a cup of black coffee to refresh the body, we were back on our way for a Sunday filled with live music.
Our day started early with a stop at That Tent to watch Nashville’s Sierra Ferrell. Having covered Ferrell several times for our Americana blog, Mother Church Pew, we already knew about her gift for songwriting, as well as her ability to capture the attention of any audience. Combining Appalachian Folk, traditional country, and noir-Americana sounds, Ferrell’s songs and performances feel timeless. Coming off the 2021 release of her debut album Long Time Coming on Rounder Records, it was a pleasant surprise to find That Tent full of folks who were familiar with her work and ready for a good time. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by fiddle, standup bass, and drums, Ferrell’s emotive vocals had the crowd clapping along with faster-paced works like “Silver Dollar,” and fan-favorite, “Rosemary.” The band’s gentle strumming and Ferrell’s classic crooning on “West Virginia Waltz” inspired swaying and slow dancing in the audience. You could feel chills go down spines as Ferrell closed with a high-energy run through her hit “Jeremiah,” once again reminding us all why you need to catch her show any time that you can.
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Covering a lot of ground in a short time, we made our way across the entire festival grounds to the Who Tent just as L.A.’s Wax Owls were hitting their stride. Having caught our attention in 2020 with their single, “Set it Free,” we were excited to finally see the group live. It’s always more fun to watch a band when you know that the group is having fun too—and there was no doubt Wax Owls was living in the moment. The band’s sound melds influences like The Lumineers, Bon Iver, and Mumford and Sons, but adds in twists of more rocking indie. It’s a sound that feels familiar and comfortable yet feels like it’s still their own. The group used their time on The Farm well, covering a quick but full setlist that allowed the crowd plenty of opportunities to nod along to their oft-anthemic songs. Notably, the band held the attention of their audience, keeping the crowd filled, many staying beginning to end, even with so many other options at the fest. This is one of those bands that we expect to see back at Bonnaroo in years to come and on bigger stages.
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All Them Witches
Bonnaroo has a track record of booking rising acts from nearby Music City. For years, Nashville rock music fans had pushed on the socials and in surveys hoping that local psych-rockers All Them Witches would make the lineup. As the band has grown and matured in its sound, it has caught the attention of the East of 8th blog dating back to their 2017 release of Sleeping Through The War, and more recently their stellar psychedelic-metal-rock album, Nothing As The Ideal. The hope of ATW playing on The Farm was supposed to come true in 2020, only to be dashed by the cancellation of all live events that year. Fortunately, the band remained on the lineup in 2022 for the festival’s return—and the crowd showed up ready to rock. The band featured prolonged guitar solos as well as some good old fashioned rock jamming, which made the ground shake even with the smaller sound system of That Stage. Trying to squeeze as many songs as possible into a festival-sized set time, the band moved with lightning pace from opener, “Funeral For A Drunken Bird,” all the way through to closer, “Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters.” They used the time well, covering material both old and new, with the biggest cheers from the crowd erupting as they hit, “When God Comes Back,” just prior to the closing number. For long-time fans of the band the concert was the reward we were hoping for; for the band, you could tell it was a special experience playing the “hometown” festival.
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If you’re an active festival goer, there’s always going to be a few bands on every lineup that you’ve already seen that year. Nashville’s COIN deserves credit for making so many fest lineups in 2022, and even more credit for drawing so many repeat customers to their shows. The band flirts on the edge of being too poppy for indie rock and too indie rock for pop—a sound that allows them to draw in a wide range of musical fans. Despite the scorching temps in the What field, the band maintained their reputation for having plenty of stage energy, especially frontman Chase Lawrence, who paced the length of the fest’s main stage, engaging the crowd. The set included numerous sing-along opportunities stretching from opener, “Chapstick,” to “Brad Pitt,” to a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!.” Of course, the audience roared the loudest on their viral hit and set-closer, “Talk Too Much.”
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While the term “high-energy” may be used a little too often on this blog, there’s simply no better way to describe Northern California’s Stephen Sanchez. Earlier this year, we had caught the tail end of Sanchez opening for Katelyn Tarver in Nashville. His performance back then made us take a note to make sure to see his full show as soon as we could. Strutting, jamming, and rocking across the full Who Stage area, it almost seemed a crime to confine such a dynamic stage presence to such a small space. However, it’s not just Sanchez’s persona that will quickly make you a fan. His tender-meets-intense vocal delivery on, “Hey Girl,” and his viral sensation, “Until I Found You,” pleased the folks who came to the Who Stage just to see him, and quickly hooked the uninitiated.
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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Going into the festival, we admittedly questioned how well a bluesy-country-Americana act like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats would fit in the middle of the day at Bonnaroo. This was not a slight against the band. Instead, having already seen Rateliff and company before, the initial thought was this is a band built for a club or a concert hall like the Ryman. What we found was an act that came ready to take full advantage of the massive What stage and the large audience sprawled out in front of it. The band, which is always large, somehow seemed larger, filling the afternoon with guitar, horns, organ, and a booming drumbeat. And then there was Rateliff himself, who took on a larger personality than we’ve seen in his shows at smaller venues, rocking his guitar and belting out hits with ferocity. Helping him along was a crowd that was well-versed in Rateliff’s works and ready to sing and dance along to a set that had a little extra funk injected into the songs. Festival sets are notoriously short and often leaving you wanting more. However, this was even more so with Rateliff on The Farm, as the full crowd stayed for the entire set instead of darting out early to get to the next show. As it neared its end and we were given, “I Need Never Get Old,” “S.O.B.,” and “Love Don’t,” and it truly felt like the band could have held the audience’s attention for double the time provided.
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Back at the Who Stage, it was time to get our first listen to rising R&B artist, Saleka. Admittedly, the press release noting that Saleka is the daughter of producer M. Night Shyamalan was the first thing that caught our interest doing the prep work for this year’s festival. However, it was the artist’s vocals that made us add her to our schedule. The set was filled with chilled R&B that was presented with a force that kept your attention. Saleka’s vocals drew the crowd in on songs like, “Séance,” and her soundtrack hit, “Remain.” Notably, Saleka’s voice powered through some technical issues with the provided sound system that could have ruined many performances. She definitely left the audience ready to follow her career as it grows.
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Like “high energy,” another phrase that may get thrown around too often on the pages of this music blog is “legendary artist.” However, with fourteen Grammy awards and an Academy Award under his belt, renowned jazz artist Herbie Hancock sure fits the bill. He even had to let us know that the set would include some medleys because there wouldn’t be enough time to cover all the hits he wanted to play. With a stellar band in support, he shared stories about his stylistic evolution throughout his career as he played hits like, “Cantaloupe Island,” and, “Actual Proof.” The crowd soaked in every second of the way too short set time, experiencing a master musician who was completely in his element.
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In prior years, some people used the Sunday headliner set as a chance to cut out early and beat the traffic. Not so for 2022. Stevie Nicks, another artist more than worthy of being called a legend, bucked that trend by drawing what was easily recognizable as the largest crowd of the weekend. Nicks broke new ground by being Bonnaroo’s first female headliner in its 20-year history. The audience wasn’t just there to casually watch the show; they were ready to sing and dance to the artist’s decade-spanning list of hits. Most of the field sang along as Nicks performed, “Dreams,” early in the set and, “Landslide,” near the middle mark. However, the biggest singalongs were still to come as the crowd roared along to, “Edge of Seventeen” and, “Rhiannon,” the latter being part of an epic encore also featuring covers of Tom Petty’s, “Free Fallin’” and Led Zeppelin’s, “Rock and Roll.”
The walk back to the campsite each year after the final headliner is always full of mixed emotions. No one is ever ready to go home; we always want just one more set, just one more song. But inevitably, the exhaustion sets in, helping your mind come to peace with leaving this magical place we call The Farm. There are never any goodbyes with your friends, your neighbors, or in our case, fellow journalists, and photographers. It’s, “See you next year.”
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Learn More About The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on its website and check out updates for 2023!
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