Lionel Richie’s resume is probably triple the length of any other act playing the 8:00 pm time slot during Bonnaroo’s 2014 lineup, and in a lot of cases, Richie is twice the age of those other artists. He’s the old guy in the room. He gets it, and he takes it with stride and grace. To the young folks, he’s been all but reduced to a meme, the leaned-back pose with the giant afro from the “You Are” single cover art. Somebody in the front row of Bonnaroo’s main stage crowd even came dressed as this version of Richie, which the singer acknowledged with a smirk.
But Lionel Richie's live set is no joke. “Welcome, we are going to cover everything!” he cried after he took the stage on Saturday night (June 14), throwing his admiral-style jacket open as if to say, Yes, it IS me you’re looking for.
“There are two groups [in this audience], make no mistake,” he continued, after opening the set with the classics “All Around The World” and “Penny Lover.” “Some of you were here from the beginning. … The other group, they say these words: my mama, my daddy, my brother, my sister played your records.”
Lionel Richie then took these two distinct groups through the highlights of his career. Transitioning between hits from his time with the Commodores to hits like “Endless Love,” where he encouraged the audience to sing Diana Ross’s part, Richie was flanked by characters onstage who couldn’t be more visually contrasting. The lead guitarist could easily pass for Bon Jovi’s stunt double, while the bass player rocked a golden short Mohawk. A bald man rocked an EWI (basically an electronic saxophone), a harmonica and a saxophone, depending on what the song called for. True to his style, Richie kept the stage design to a minimum.
“Two ways this next one is gonna go down. Either you’re gonna dance on the floor…..” he said, twice, repeating himself to get the crowd riled up for “Dancing on the Ceiling.” Richie then took the crowd through some song deconstructions, relating the circumstances through which the song came into existence. Richie brought the funk towards the end of his set, dropping the Commodores classic “Brick House” and transitioning into the Ohio Player’s “Fire” for a bit before returning to triumphantly end the track. "Brick House" also served as a suitable prelude to a song that Richie said “takes no language, no politics, no country” to appreciate: “Hello.”
“No idea what to expect when I came to Bonnaroo, but I’ll be back! We have been together for a very long time. Thank you all very very much for an amazing lifetime,” he bellowed earnestly to the crowd for performing “We Are The World” as the encore.