The 2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, another weekend of heat, porta-potties and hopefully great rock moments out in a field in Manchester, is afoot. And just like thousands of other music geeks, we’re ready to watch Kanye West make his epic return, Elton John lead the sing-alongs and Jack White combine with Lionel Richie for a unique Saturday night main stage experience.
Why have so many music fans braved thunderstorms and heat stroke to camp in the middle of nowhere every June since 2002? Easy. They’re hoping they’ll catch sets as cool, crazy, or downright fascinating (for better or worse) as these 10 memorable moments from Bonnaroo’s past.
10. 2006: Beck’s Got Two Turntables And A…. Puppet Video
At Bonnaroo ’06, Beck was no longer a loser, baby, he was a….. “creep. [He’s a] puppet. What the hell are these strings doing here?” Or so sang the hilarious marrionette dopplegangers for the shaggy-haired troubadour and his band that starred in the bizarre, truly funny video interlude of Beck’s set. He employed the video for his main stage slot right before Radiohead not only to give them a friendly ribbing, but to lampoon Bonnaroo’s jammy reputation in general, (“I smell hippies,” one puppet says). But really, why tell instead of just showing. Just watch it for yourself.
Video: Beck with strings attached.
9. 2004: Dave Matthews Gets Comfy
Hard to believe it took three years for fest organizers to put Dave Matthews on the lineup, but it wasn’t until the ’04 Bonnaroo that the king of friendly, musicianly jams made his debut. And much as you’d expect, Dave and ‘Roo went together like chocolate and peanut butter, or say, pachouli and hacky sack. Unsurprisingly, Matthews was back in Manchester, TN the next year with the whole Dave Matthews Band.
Video: Dave Matthews performs “Trouble”
8. 2008: My Morning Jacket Slides Under The Covers
Bonnaroo “house band” My Morning Jacket played its fifth ‘roo in 2008 and provided what many fans hold as the greatest Bonnaroo gig ever. Taking the stage at midnight on Friday, the group tore through a nearly four-hour, 35-song set that was studded with numerous covers (the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin,” James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” and Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” among them) and guest appearances (Metallica bassist Kirk Hammett, comedian Zach Galifianakis). By Saturday morning the show had achieved best-of status, due, in part, to the massive rainstorm that provided a backdrop during the majority of the set.
Video: MMJ covers Kook & The Gang’s “Get Down On It”
7. 2009: Wilco Plays Transcendent Americana At Sunset
This isn’t an obvious moment with an incendiary headliner wielding flashing lights from the main stage, but a subtle one: a great modern American rock band hitting one of its personal highs as the sun sets over a beautiful Saturday night in the heartland. The band’s multifaceted set captured all Wilco does well, from noisy, brutal jams to wounded, heartfelt balladry; soaring rock epics to twangy Woody Guthrie tunes. As a bonus, longtime indie hero Nels Cline finally crossed over to Rock Star status by wrenching out the incomparable solo of “Impossible Germany” to a crowded Tennessee field. And Jeff Tweedy recruited a cameraman to help strum his guitar.
Video: Wilco performs “Impossible Germany”
6. 2009: Bruce Brings Christmas To Town
By mid-2009, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were a runaway freight train, appearing at festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, delivering regular three-hour salvationfests in markets far and wide, deploying random covers on the spot and taking Stump The Band requests from the crowd, most of which were delivered via poster-board. So when it came to a scorching hot Saturday night in the middle of June on a farm in the un-GPS-able wilds of Tennessee, Bruce went, naturally, immediately to the person holding up the life-size poster of Santa Claus. “It’s too f—ing hot for Santa!” the Boss howled with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, before leading what will very likely go down as Bonnaroo’s best-ever caroling session.
Video: Bruce Springsteen and E Street play “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”
5. 2006: Radiohead Snubs “Honey,” rocks “In Rainbows”
A high-quality Radiohead performance won’t exactly make the Internet sit up and take note, but the band’s 2006 show went down quickly as one for the ages, if not the band’s finest fest hour ever. A 2.5-hour monster teeming with material from the then-unreleased “In Rainbows” but drawing equally from all corners of its catalog (except “Pablo Honey,” sorry, fans of 1993) it propelled the set by the group of gorgeously moody, underweight Brits past festival go-tos like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Phil Lesh.
Video: Radiohead performs “Videotape”
4. 2007: Police Reunited, No Brutality
The Police’s 2007 reunion was capped by this triumphant, hits-laden performance in front of 80,000 fans out to enjoy a plentiful serving of greatest hits and Sting in a tank top and 65-year-old Andy Summers killing it on the guitar. What the set lacked in surprises or extended jams it made up for in sheer volume of hits: “Message In A Bottle,” “Drive To Tears,” “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da,” and on and on. And no one got in a fight!
Video: The Police Perform “Message In A Bottle”
3. 2012: Late-night “Superjam” with ?uestlove and D’Angelo
In 2012, D’Angelo’s return was far from a foregone conclusion, and when the R&B recluse touched the stage for a surprise performance during the ?uestlove-curated Superjam at Bonnaroo (which featured a band that included members of Parliament Funkadelic, The Time and The Roots), those in attendance who were aware of his 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 a must-see exhibit.
Video: D’Angelo performs “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
2. 2013: Paul McCartney Puts The Kids To Shame
Anyone in the crowd at Paul McCartney’s 2013 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.
Video: Paul McCartney Plays ‘Eight Days A Week’
1. 2009: Phishsteen
Phish is the quintessential Bonnaroo band – the festival itself was originally modeled after the band’s many multi-day destination concerts – so its first official appearance, eight years in, was a pretty big deal. It was so big, in fact, that it required two nights: Friday’s first set delivered the familiar deliciousness (“Chalk Dust Torture,” “Down With Disease,” “Golgi Apparatus”) fans had missed during the band’s hiatus, but it was the group’s second, more esoteric headlining set, closing the festival on Sunday night, that proved the most memorable – largely thanks to co-headliner Bruce Springsteen, who hung around Sunday to catch sets by MGMT, Band of Horses and Neko Case and ended up joining Phish onstage for three songs: a riotous dueling-guitar take on “Mustang Sally” and Bruce nuggets “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days.”
Video: Phish and Springsteen perform “Mustang Sally”