Along with open fields, tasty food, stand-up shows, shirtless guys (and girls), not-too-hidden narcotics, film screenings, porta potties, overpriced merchandise and so much more, the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival offered four days of enthralling performances from rock music's biggest names and most promising newcomers.
Like every year, the approximately 60 hours of live music over the course of four days (June 7-10) became an overload of can't-miss sets that music fans usually were forced to miss; The Shins, The Civil Wars, fun. and Young The Giants all played overlapping sets on Sunday night, for instance. Fortunately, three of the weekend's best performances came from the well-picked headliners -- Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Phish -- all of whom played without any conflicts on other stages. As each veteran rock group unfurled its own respective approach to Manchester's annual jamboree, the majority of the festival goers congregated in the far reaches of the field in front of the What Stage, twirling glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, making out with the person closest to them or simply mumbling along to every song they knew.
LIVE AT BONNAROO -- HIGHLIGHTS
Bonnaroo 2012 featured a slew of breakout performances from rising acts, universal sing-alongs and a special guest or two (thanks again, Questlove). But what was the cream of the crop at this year's festival? Check out Billboard.com's take on the 10 best performances at Bonnaroo:
10. Little Dragon (Friday in This Tent)
The Swedish indie rock group's Friday afternoon performance bestowed a fervent crowd with some muscular grooves -- it was nothing new for the band, whose underrated album "Ritual Union" was released last year, but the open setting and audience enthusiasm made each track pop. Singer Yukimi Nagano's tiny frame bounced across the stage for over an hour, and inspired some deeply awkward moves from the VIP section, which included Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka "McLovin" from the film "Superbad."
9. Red Hot Chili Peppers (Saturday on What Stage)
Coming off of their 2011 album "I'm With You" and a triumphant induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Chili Peppers were ever-reliable headliners on Saturday night, scattering their set with funky hits like "Can't Stop," "Dani California" and "Suck My Kiss" and appreciating the massive crowd at their feet. Almost as fun as watching RHCP's performance was watching its audience: a guy wrapped in Christmas lights, a cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber, inflatable flamingoes, a group of 4 friends with fake Anthony Kiedis mustaches, bubble blowing, joint rolling, a Burger King kids meal crown, and people dressed as robots, cows and penguins were all seen traipsing around the main Bonnaroo field on Saturday night.
The dubstep prince was given two hours to hold court in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and what resulted was one of the most joyful, visually arresting electronic shows in Bonnaroo's history. More impressive than the glowstick eruptions and zonked-out dance moves that Skrillex inspired was the musicianship of the performance; instead of simply grafting bass drops onto popular hits, the DJ turned his set into a viscous, highly detailed series of movements, all while going bonkers in a giant gray spaceship onstage. Whether it was his popular remix of Nero's "Promises" or a pumped-up version of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," Skrillex presented thousands of EDM fans on Saturday night with a singular voice, a reason why he has so quickly breached the mainstream.
LIVE AT BONNAROO -- HIGHLIGHTS
4. Ludacris (Friday in This Tent)
To watch a Ludacris concert in 2012 is to be reminded just how many amazing singles the Atlanta rapper has accrued over the past 12 years. Not many MCs could fill 90 minutes worth of stage time with hits as strong as "Stand Up," "Southern Hospitality," "Area Codes," "Rollout (My Business)," "Move," "Number One Spot," "What's Your Fantasy" and more, but Luda was able to turn his first Bonnaroo appearance into a block party. In front of one of the loudest crowds of the entire weekend, Ludacris did more than trot out the hits in order, though. The rapper acted as a master of ceremonies by inviting booty-shaking dancers onstage, taking his fans on a "world tour" of his international hit singles alongside Taio Cruz and Enrique Iglesias, and even let his DJ have an interlude to blast some Top 40 fare from Rihanna and LMFAO. What's our fantasy? A Bonnaroo rap performance this downright fun every year.
3. Kenny Rogers (Sunday in The Other Tent)
Forget about Lionel Richie's two-song cameo (okay, don't forget about it, because it was awesome). Even before his recent "Tuskegee" collaborator burst onstage, Kenny Rogers was owning the Sunday afternoon crowd with a sumptuous tour of his five-decade career. Rogers was a dynamic stage presence on classics like "Have A Little Faith in Me," "Sail Away" and of course "The Gambler," with huge swaths of the audience holding up their beers to toast the breathtaking set list and its creator. Richie's surprise appearance and performance of "All Night Long (All Night)" served as an exclamation point, but Roger's sentence was spellbinding on its own.
In the six years since their last Bonnaroo performance, Radiohead have released two albums that expanded their aesthetic over the course of 18 pristinely written rock songs. The band's Friday night headlining set this year pulled mostly from 2007's "In Rainbows" and last year's "The King of Limbs," but these were the same 20-year professionals that highlighted the 2006 fest, and their rapport was effortless as their material was fresh. Supported by a stage setup that boasted 12 flat-screen panels filming each band member from a fixed location, Radiohead were loose during their beloved selections ("Karma Police," "Everything In Its Right Place") and incredibly focused while presenting their "Limbs" tracks to a crowd that probably didn't want to hear too many "Limbs" tracks. Whether it was "Give Up The Ghost" or "Paranoid Android," Radiohead had correctly calibrated each song for maximum pleasure.
1. Superjam featuring Questlove and D'Angelo (Saturday in This Tent)
D'Angelo is back. Let that sink in for a second. His return was far from a foregone conclusion, of course, and when the R&B recluse touched the stage for a surprise performance during the Questlove-curated Superjam at Bonnaroo, those in attendance who were aware of his recent history realized just how rare a D'Angelo sighting had become. Sure, he was already booked for Essence Music Festival in July and Jay-Z's Made in America weekend in September, but D'Angelo's first U.S. show in over a decade was going to be a must-see exhibit.
But, incredibly, D'Angelo's Bonnaroo set was even more special than that. Backed by a band that included members of Parliament Funkadelic, The Time and The Roots, D's big return to the States was positioned as an ode to the soulful forefathers that had helped shape his career. Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Funkadelic were all covered, and the entire collective sounded terrific while chomping down on such legendary material. Saxophone solos split the night air, the multi-pronged percussion was never out of synch, and D'Angelo sounded like the rhythm-melding master that he once was -- and that he still might be. The band didn't touch D'Angelo's two timeless albums, but those will be performed as the singer continues on his comeback trail; the Superjam was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be replicated and always to be remembered fondly. "When they told me to curate the jam session... I was trying to figure out what magic I could make happen tonight," Questlove told the crowd prior to the performance. Magic was indeed made during the 90-minute performance, which easily served as the highlight of Bonnaroo 2012.
Honorable Mention: The Beach Boys, The Roots, The Avett Brothers, Bon Iver, fun., Danzig Legacy, Major Lazer, the Miami Heat