Trying to boil down three days and four nights of relentless music, comedy, distant bass thumping, a unrelenting jerk of a sun that made you sort of wish you had never been born, heat-based insomnia, unstable baked-mud terrain, fried foods in paper trays, sympathy-inducing sunburns and displeasing olfactory combinations into an Internet-friendly list is an absolutely impossible job; a team of a dozen working the festival at all times would be inadequate. But nonetheless, our small but intrepid team fearlessly managed to put together Billboard’s Best Moments of Bonnaroo 2010, in no particular order, and issued with the caveat that when these moments were happening, dozens more were happening elsewhere, but we were probably in the press area, where we found a little air-conditioned spot.
2. Jay-Z Runs This Farm
Aided by an impressive skyline-shaped video-screen background and a sprawling band featuring a horn section and a handful of percussionists – and aided by the way he started on time and stuff – Jay-Z transformed a bunch of exhausted kids in a field into bouncing, hand-and-lighter-waving Brooklynites, or at least the muddy Tennessee version thereof. Jay’s 90-minute set never ever let up, ever, missed no hits and paused only for Jigga to bring to the stage a girl named Maggie, who had pretty much the best “Happy Birthday” of her life. (The only downside: no guests, though rumors of a Coachella-esque Beyonce appearance persisted all day Saturday.) “Bonnaroo is my second home,” Jay assured the boisterous throng once their hair stopped burning, and then it was “On to the Next One” with authority.
3. Daryl Hall and Chromeo
The fest’s most unlikely cross-generational pair produced one of Friday’s most memorable performances, ably drawing a festive crowd despite going on opposite the Black Keys and the Flaming Lips (maybe the fest’s most difficult decision). But this was an absolutely joyous throwback throwdown – no one had a better time at Bonnaroo than Hall, P-Thugg and Dave 1. The set alternated between Chromeo tunes and Hall & Oates chestnuts. Pick a highlight: the mass hand-clapping through “Private Eyes,” the turning of “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” into an extensive jammy workout befitting Bonnaroo, or the barnstorming encore of “You Make My Dreams.”
4. Stevie Wonder Delivers
Looking regal in white and sounding even more regal fronting a 13-piece band, Wonder’s late-in-starting but long-on-gloriousness set was a a soul clinic heavy on the classic and light on his late era. The best part: A mid-set run through “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” into “Higher Ground” into “Don’t You Worry About A Thing,” plus Wonder leading the crowd line-by-line in “Living for the City.” His effects-heavy “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was no slouch either. (And he even threw it to his successor: Stevie closed by announcing, “I’ll be watching Jay-Z too.”)
5. The National Brings It Home
Buzz band the National validated the hype and then some with an incendiary Which Stage performance as the sun began to set on Friday. The mood-shifting sextet led sweaty sing-alongs to torch songs like “Fake Empire” but reached an emotional peak during “Terrible Love,” as shouting, sweat-drenched frontman Matt Berninger crowd-surfed and punished the stage with his mic stand.
6. Nas & Damian Marley
After blazing through most of the material from their new “Distant Relatives” album (as well as scores of older solo hits), Nas and Marley seemingly brought things to a proper close with the thought-provoking and head-nodding “Africa Must Wake Up.” But things weren’t quite done yet. “Any Bob Marley fans in the house?” the legend’s youngest son asked the crowd. Yeah, just a couple. The crack band proceeded to recreate “Could You Be Loved” to a raucous reception.
7. The Avett Brothers
Toward the end of a fire-breathing set of Carolina roots music and heartfelt Americana, rain began to fall – finally – on the crowd at the Avett Brothers show at the Which Stage on Saturday. In the late-afternoon of a scorchingly hot day, the drizzle was a welcome, cooling reprieve which the Avetts promptly celebrated with “Salina,” whose evocative imagery about life on the road in America climaxes in a refrain of “the rain it fell / the story went on.”
8. Zac Brown Band & Phoenix Rise
At twilight on Sunday, with the 2010 festival winding down and only Dave Matthews left on deck, who should be rocking the main stages into the gloaming but the Zac Brown Band on the What Stage and Phoenix on the Which. Last year, these groups played Thursday and Friday, respectively, and after huge years, both rocketed into choice prime-time slots.
9. Dave Matthews Band
After a main-set-closing medley of “Time Bomb” and the well-aged “Two Step,” Matthews emerged alone for an encore, half-apologizing to the audience for the downer before picking his way through a spot-on take on Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done.” But then the band dove headlong into a typically exceptional workout on “All Along the Watchtower,” which featured enough Carter Beauford and Tim Reynolds deliciousness to serve as the 2010 festival’s last song. In doing so, DMB (like Phish before them) demonstrated the Bonnaroo headliner’s creed: Sometimes, at the end of a long day or three, the people just want a good cover song.
10. The Elder Statesmen
We’re just saying: Jimmy Cliff = 62. John Fogerty = 65. Stevie Wonder = 60. John Prine =63. Kris Kristofferson = 73. In case your parents are giving you crap for going to a hippie rock fest full of smelly kids.
A. Great Moments We Didn’t Necessarily See All Of Because This Place Is Really Big
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers close with a bluegrass version of “King Tut.” Old Crow Medicine Show joins Mumford and Sons and compels the crowd to take over “Wagon Wheel;” later they join John Prine for a gorgeous “Angel From Montgomery.” The Flaming Lips cover “Dark Side of the Moon” in dark, twisted fashion (pausing to let Wayne Coyne advocate the legalization of marijuana, which one could have forgiven observers for believing had happened already), but the group’s pre-break main set is a burner in its own right. DMB’s Stefan Lessard jumps on stage for the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” – if you were in the pit during the Murphys’ set, you have earned our endless awe and admiration (fans sent the Murphys offstage with chants of “Let’s go, Celtics!” Michael Franti and Spearhead debut new tracks from “The Sound of Sunshine” in the fest’s most upbeat set. Kid Cudi makes his 2 a.m. set despite being arrested in New York City earlier in the day; he appears with B.O.B., who are one of two bands to cover MGMT’s “Kids” (the other: Weezer). Kings of Leon dial up the Pixies “Where Is My Mind?” during their Friday night headline set.
B. Ween Gets Weird,Sunday
In a festival dominated by high-profile hip-hop, reggae, rock and country artists, Ween happily grabbed at the party-jam-band mantle with a funky, hard-rocking set that ran the gamut of the band’s extensive and diverse repertoire. The spacey intro to b-side “Did You See Me?” was a more apt re-imagining of classic Pink Floyd than the Flaming Lips’ Friday take on “Dark Side of the Moon.”
C. Best Member Of Gwar We Sawt
Oh, the options are many. but it was probably that one we saw riding a golf cart.