Jay-Z ran the farm in Manchester, Tenn. last night running through a blazing 90-minute set on the main stage of Bonnaroo, redeeming Kanye West‘s 2008 sunrise special and hip-hop’s checkered festival past.
Jay’s set, though devoid of the cameos rumored to be on deck – namely those by Beyonce and Lady Gaga, who was reportedly on site – was a full-band, guns-blazing guided tour of his 11 No. 1 records, one that basically paused only for brief water breaks in the warm Southern evening and to issue happy birthday to a festivalgoer named Maggie (whose next birthday will be really lame by comparison).
It was a good day for the main What Stage all around: Stevie Wonder was typically masterful in a two-hour set that shimmered with soul and found the singer resplendent in legendary cuts like “Superstition,” “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and a call-and-response version of “Don’t You Worry About a Thing” in which Wonder led the crowd line by line. Wonder closed with a full choir and percussion section performing the title cut from his most recent record, “A Time to Love.”
But as usual, Saturday was an embarrassment of riches and humidity; a most welcome thundershower arrived during the Avett Brothers’ afternoon set, but otherwise the phrase “hottest ever” could be heard regularly from people attempting in vain to remain hydrated.
The Avett Brothers‘ third Bonnaroo appearance found the group on a roll, basking in the universal love showered upon its 2009 release “I And Love And You” and subsequent tours. They rperformed twice, first at an early private show for 100 some-odd people with their hair blown back, and then a lovely afternoon set at the Which Stage that was heavy on material from last year’s sterling album. “This is the first time we’ve felt really comfortable at Bonnaroo,” Scott Avett said backstage after the band’s lovely performance, which was adorned with the the world’s most welcome rain shower. Scott said the process of bringing “I And Love And You” tracks involve “learning” the instruments on stage (“We’re not a practicing band,” he said with a chuckle) but added that the vulnerability that comes with such a predicament may be one of the things that connects them so directly with their fans.
John Prine proved the perfect sunset musician, regaling fans with “Spanish Pipedream” and “Souvenirs,” as Kris Kristofferson looked on from besides the stage, whistling his approval. Kristofferson ended up joining Prine for a take of “Paradise,” from the latter’s 1971 debut.
Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff has absolutely no business at 62 sounding as good as he does; he kicked, danced and shimmied across the main What Stage with the kind of infectious glee that likely comes from living in Jamaica, maintaining a spiritual and positive outlook and just being Jimmy Cliff. Of the many highlights: “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” a soaring cover of “Wild World” and the set-closing “Bongo Man.”
Weezer reclaimed the Which Stage for scorching pop rock with a set that hit all the marks, including a particularly carbonated “Buddy Holly.” Frontman Rivers Cuomo put his best rock face forward and even sang his best Lady Gaga impersonation during a late-set cover of MGMT’s “Kids.”
Norah Jones‘ last Bonnaroo was the first Bonnaroo, but she’s come some miles in the intervening years, and charmed the Which Stage with material from her most recent record, “The Fall,” including “Chasing Pirates.”