Boiling down the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival to 10 great performances is always a fool’s errand — how can hundreds of shows and four days of memorable moments be whittled into just a handful of sets? The 2013 edition of the annual Manchester, Tenn. summit showcased a remarkable breadth of musical genres, from down-home country to gangster rap to face-melting electronica to African rhythms and everything in between. And for the most part, the thousands in attendance were immensely entertained, whether visiting the thrift shop with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, soaking in some bluegrass with Ed Helms or enjoying the chilled-out jams of Jack Johnson in the wake of Mumford & Sons’ unfortunate cancellation.
Still, these 10 performances represent the moments in which our breath was taken away, our minds were blown, and our bodies were convulsing to the beat without abandon. From the superstars to the super-unknowns, check out Billboard’s 10 favorite performances from the 2013 Bonnaroo festival:
10. Action Bronson – He was far from the biggest rapper on the bill (well, at least in terms of commercial clout), but Action Bronson handled his Sunday afternoon set like he was born to perform at Bonnaroo. The Queens MC/part-time gourmet chef was so at ease that he ventured offstage to get up close and personal with the crowd, eventually wandering outside the stage parameters altogether. But not all who wander are lost. Bronson reminded all of his chops as a rapper, repeatedly freestyling whenever he tired of a beat, and tearing through samples of his many memorable mixtape cuts of the past few years.
9. Amadou & Mariam – From Mali to Tennessee, the music of Amadou & Mariam resonates in a way that is both primal and completely full of joy. The blind couple’s Friday afternoon performance at Bonnaroo was not as crowded as concurrent sets but offered an extremely sumptuous mix of world beats, slicing guitar work and vocal chants that were immediately arresting despite never being in English. Of the dozens of performances at Bonnaroo 2013, Amadou & Mariam may very well have provoked the single most enthusiastic crowd reaction at the end of their set.
Bonnaroo 2013 Video
8. Kacey Musgraves – Despite being saddled with an unforgiving “Sunday at noon” set that only drew fans which had adequately recovered from the late-night mayhem of Saturday, Kacey Musgraves rewarded those who got up and baked in the sun for her sake. The blossoming country star may still be a newcomer, but her understanding of stagecraft — with a set list that nimbly mixed well-introduced originals (apparently, Musgraves’ grandmother call “It Is What It Is” her “slut song”) with covers like Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” and Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which she wrote — makes her future seem incredibly bright. “Merry Go ‘Round” was great, but “Follow Your Arrow” was even better, replete with audience participation and pro-marijuana lyrics that the Bonnaroo audience lapped up.
7. David Byrne & St. Vincent – While technically touring in support of their 2012 collaborative album “Love This Giant,” David Byrne & St. Vincent got their biggest cheers whenever they played hits from their respective catalogs. Byrne in particular whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he announced that he, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and their eight-person band had learned Talking Heads classic “Wild, Wild Life” five days prior just for the Bonnaroo performance. That number, and other highlights like the Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” and “Road To Nowhere” as well as St. Vincent’s sinister “Cruel” and orchestral “The Party,” made the show a quirky, danceable delight.
6. The xx
By captivating the Which Stage crowd Friday night, the xx proved their live show had grown from sleepy minimalism to a dazzlingly sensual experience. Guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim got most of the attention with their tightly-woven interplay and subtle choreography, but DJ/producer Jamie Smith deserves plenty of credit for his spellbinding beats, which pushed the music to worlds unexplored on the band’s albums. Performing with a starry, after-midnight backdrop, their light show went to work adding an additional sense of wonder.
5. Killer Mike – Playing an after-midnight Thursday show, veteran MC Killer Mike was a reminder of all things “real” in hip-hop. He railed against hypemen and the Reagan administration, praised his fans for their support of his 2012 album “R.A.P. Music,” and promoted an upcoming free album (titled “Run the Jewels,” due June 26) with like-minded realness master El-P. Whether it was with newer bangers like “Big Beast” or old school Outkast joints like “The Whole World,” Mike kept the ‘Roo crowd in the palm of his very capable hand. To summarize the night, he ended saying, “If Jesus came today where the hell you think he’d be? Getting high at Bonnaroo with me.”
4. Tom Petty – With four days of music coming to a close, it all came down to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. A massive, sprawling crowd that almost seemed to stretch across the entire festival ground witnessed a great American rock ‘n roll band do its thing, with plenty of familiar sing-along choruses, chiming Rickenbacker jangle, and jubilant outro solos. Petty’s set stretched over two hours and included plenty of unexpected deep cuts and covers, but ended the way it ought to. “We’re gonna leave you where it all started,” said the Rock ‘and Roll Hall of Famer, before strumming the familiar opening lines of his breakout 1976 hit “American Girl.”
3. R. Kelly
An R. Kelly show is always going to be an unforgettable experience, but the R&B maestro’s Bonnaroo set should basically be viewed as folklore at this point. Opening with “Ignition (Remix)” was a risky move, but between “I’m a Flirt (Remix),” “Feelin’ On Yo Booty,” “Step In the Name of Love,” a remix of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights,” a tiny bit of “Bump ‘n Grind” and an epic “I Believe I Can Fly” (with inflatable doves released into the night sky, for good measure), Kellz kept the crowd toot-tooting and beep-beeping for 90 minutes. “If music has inspired you to do better, make some noise,” Kelly commanded at one point. We all made noise.
2. Bjork – Iceland’s reigning pop princess kept most of her hits at home when she toured in support of “Biophilia” in 2012. But for her latest leg and first Bonnaroo performance, Bjork pulled out all the stops – including two highlights from 2001’s “Vespertine” (“Hidden Place” and “Pagan Poetry”), four cuts from 1997’s “Homogenic” (“Hunter,” “Joga,” “Bachelorette” and the piercing “Pluto”) and a surprise selection from 1993’s “Debut” (“One Day”), all sung with a choir of cute young Icelandic hipsters. It was all merely an appetizer, however, for the utterly grave-rattling finale of “Declare Independence” and an encore performance of “Nattura” that ended the set on a powerful, unforgettable coda.
1. Paul McCartney– Anyone in the crowd at Paul McCartney’s Friday night headlining set left feeling like they’d seen one of the best shows of their lives. And rightfully so — the epic, nearly three-hour performance spanned the entirety of Macca’s extensive catalog, including rare performances of “Lovely Rita” and “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” Beatles classics like “All My Loving,” “Paperback Writer,” “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude,” and a pyro-packed “Live And Let Die” with a fireworks show to ensure that this would be a show for the ages.