Why have so many music fans braved thunderstorms and heat stroke to camp in Manchester, Tenn., ever June since 2002? Easy. They're hoping they'll catch sets as cool, crazy or downright fascinating (for better or worse) as these 15 unforgettable moments. As Bonnaroo 2015 kicks off, check out the best of the fest's past.
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Sam Smith had yet to release his debut album or reach complete ubiquity when he played Bonnaroo’s The Other Tent in the afternoon in 2014, but his rendition of the still-rising “Stay With Me” proved to be a massive sing-along, while slower versions of Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La” also delighted the curious crowd.
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Big Gigantic & Skrillex
Skrillex concocted a lineup of musicians for his one-of-a-kind Superjam that included Big Gigantic, Thundercat and Zedd occasionally playing drums, with guest after guest touching down for a mind-blowing array of music, including Janelle Monae doing "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," Mystikal making a surprise appearance and the Doors' Robby Krieger tearing through "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" with Cage The Elephant's Matt Shultz on vocals.
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When Mumford & Sons bowed out of a Bonnaroo headlining set due to bassist Ted Dwane’s undergoing surgery for a blood clot on the surface of his brain, Jack Johnson stepped in and pulled together a cohesive headlining set with less than 48 hours of preparation. He even wrote a song, titled “Bonnaroo,” the morning of the performance in honor of the unique situation: "I had a late night gig with ALO... but then the phone rang, and things got strange/My low pro[file] was about to change."
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Lionel Richie & Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was a dynamic stage presence on classics like "Have A Little Faith in Me," "Sail Away" and of course "The Gambler” during his Sunday afternoon set in 2012 -- but then Lionel Richie came out for a two-song cameo, which included “All Night Long (All Night),” and the house was subsequently brought down.
D'Angelo's first U.S. show in over a decade was always going to be a must-see affair, but his surprise performance during Questlove’s Superjam was even more special than that. Backed by a band that included members of Parliament-Funkadelic, The Time and The Roots and performing covers of Led Zeppelin and Beatles songs, D's big return to the States was positioned as an ode to the soulful forefathers that had helped shape his career.
Jay Z’s 2010 headlining set included shout-outs to Stevie Wonder and Jack White, both in attendance, as well as the steady stream of career-spanning hits that make Hov a must-see live act. Fresh off of the success of “Empire State of Mind,” Jay brought New York rap to the fields of Tennessee and kept the crowd in a chokehold for hours.
Bruce Springsteen & Phish
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 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 headlining set, closing the festival on Sunday night, that proved the most memorable — largely thanks to co-headliner Bruce Springsteen, who hung around Sunday and ended up joining Phish onstage for three songs.
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The Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys’ performance at Bonnaroo in 2009 proved to be the trio’s last-ever, as Adam Yauch revealed that he was suffering from cancer later that summer, and passed away in May 2012. The Beasties’ final set was a great one, though, as nearly three decades of hits were unfurled to get the gigantic crowd jumping.
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My Morning Jacket
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).
Kanye West showed up very late to his Bonnaroo performance in 2008 -- as in, two hours late, at 4:45 a.m. -- and arrived onstage to a chorus of boos. After the sun came up, West took to the Web to address the debacle, blaming logistical complications and Pearl Jam’s overlong set that preceded his own. There was no love lost between Bonnaroo and West, but the rapper made a triumphant return to the festival to headline in 2014.
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Sting & The Police
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. What the set lacked in surprises or extended jams it made up for in sheer volume of hits: "Message In A Bottle," "Driven to Tears," "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," and other classics.
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John Paul Jones, Ben Harper & Questlove
One of the first can’t-miss Superjams, the 2007 edition of the artist mash-up featured Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones tearing through some of his classic band’s legendary tracks with the help of Ben Harper and Roots drummer Questlove. “Immigrant Song,” “When The Levee Breaks” and “Good Times, Bad Times” resulted in one great time that year.
Radiohead’s 2006 show went down quickly as one for the ages, if not the band's finest fest hour ever. A 150-minute monster drawing equally from all corners of the group’s catalog, Thom Yorke and co. ruled the weekend -- except for fans of “Creep,” which the band dutifully neglected to play.
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 marionette dopplegangers for the shaggy-haired troubadour and his band that starred in the bizarre, truly funny video interlude of Beck's set.
Amazingly, it took three years for jam band extraordinaire Dave Matthews to make the Bonnaroo lineup, but when he arrived, he put on one of the most legendary performances in the festival’s early run -- and as a solo artist to boot. Unsurprisingly, Matthews was back in Manchester, Tenn., the next year with the whole Dave Matthews Band.