MANCHESTER, Tenn. – A wide range of Nashville standouts – Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and the legendary John Prine – took the stages Saturday for Day 3 at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
For the last few months – as festival season has set in – an undeniable wave has been building around Musgraves. Things have escalated quickly since her third album, “Golden Hour,” brought in fans from well outside the country world, and won the Grammy Awards for album of the year.
But at Bonnaroo – a festival that has welcomed her with open arms for the last six years – it’s safe to say the adoration reached a new level.
As she emerged to the strains of “Slow Burn,” the pandemonium spread through the field in front of Bonnaroo’s second-largest stage, where Musgraves was greeted like a modern icon.
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“Our yee-haw queen!” one fan hollered. Nearby, another stood on their friend’s shoulders to wave the sign she’d made – a photocopy of Musgraves’ much-memed expression when she heard she had won the Grammys’ top prize.
“In Tennessee, the sun’s going down,” she sang on “Slow Burn,” and those words could never be taken more literally in concert than at that moment.
“I don’t think that this could get any more beautiful,” Musgraves told the audience. “You guys, you look amazing tonight. Welcome to ‘Golden Hour’ at Golden Hour. I’m not lying at all when I say that Bonnaroo is my absolute (expletive) favorite place to play. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long, knowing that you guys are gonna (expletive) bring it.”
It’s been a slightly rocky week for Morris.
On Tuesday, the country star announced she’d done a photo shoot with Playboy – and ended up having to fire back at the many fans who disapproved.
“You can put me in your little box, but I just want to live and love,” she wrote.
Well, Morris couldn’t find a more accepting audience than the one that greeted her at Bonnaroo.
“I love this festival so much,” she told them.
“I’ve been here a few times, but it’s been a few years. So I feel like I’m coming home. I just love how happy everyone is when they’re at this festival. No judging. It’s like, ‘Be you, and go see your favorite artists.’ I get to be a fan at these things, too. … Who saw (Childish) Gambino last night? That was just next level. Otherworldly.”
But on Saturday afternoon, it was her turn to inspire others on Bonnaroo’s biggest stage. As she opened with “Girl,” the anthemic title track of her new album, more than one female fan raised their phones in the air to beam their friends in via FaceTime.
“Girl, don’t you hang your head low,” she and her band belted in stacked harmony.
“Don’t you lose your halo / Everyone’s gonna be OK.”
Morris and her band kicked off her latest tour in March, and just took on Nashville’s Nissan Stadium last week during CMA Music Fest. With a few solid months under their belt, Morris and Co. displayed a headliner level of confidence and precision, tearing through hits and highlights from “Girl” and her 2016 debut, “Hero.”
She’s among the most assured singers Bonnaroo will see all weekend, with vocal runs and high notes coursing through “All My Favorite People,” “‘80s Mercedes,” “The Feels,” “The Bones” and “RSVP.”
Brandi Carlile and Hozier
Bonnaroo’s better with friends, right?
“Take Me to Church” Irish songwriter Hozier greeted onlookers to his evening set on the What Stage with his sticky, soulful vocals.
And, of course, he wasn’t alone.
Describing her as wielding a “powerful” and “beautiful” voice, Hozier welcomed Carlile, Nashville’s own Americana storyteller, to the stage for a surprise collaboration.
The pair offered a duet of 2014’s “Work Song,” with Hozier taking the first verse and Carlile earning a rousing cheer as she took the second.
“By the end of the day, this stage will have 50 percent of The Highwomen,” Hozier said, a nod to the anticipated country supergroup featuring Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby. Morris played the main stage earlier in the afternoon.
Hozier delivered a blues-y roots revue Saturday night at the sold-out festival, a set that included the riveting 2019 Mavis Staples collaboration “Nina Cried Power,” a subtle tribute to Pride Month with the crooning 2014 number “Someone New” and a swaying singalong with “From Eden.”
“If you happen to know this next song we’re going to play don’t be afraid to let us hear you,” Hozier said, prefacing “From Eden.”
His audience happily obliged.
The crowd that gathered for Prine may not have been the youngest or largest seen at Bonnaroo.
But it could easily be the rowdiest.
Passionate chants of “John Prine! John Prine!” awaited the newly-inducted Songwriters Hall of Fame member as he walked onto the That Tent stage, flashing a coy grin and wearing his familiar black button-down.
And his rabid following wouldn’t leave unfulfilled. Prine delivered a 15-song set of what he’s unquestionably profound at: Singing heartfelt stories with a sly wit and unabashed honesty.
“Everybody doing all right?” Prine asked with a mild rasp (as if he didn’t already know the answer).
The 72-year-old pulled heavily from his latest studio album, 2018’s Grammy Award-nominated “The Tree of Forgiveness.” He asked for help with a can of pork and beans during album opener “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door.” He sent the spine tinging with eerie, Southern Gothic-tinged “Caravan of Fools.”
And he didn’t walk off stage without spinning through the shimmering and lighthearted “… Forgiveness” album closer, “When I Get to Heaven.”
Prine didn’t tackle Bonnaroo alone, either. He invited Kelsey Waldon, the first signing in 15 years to Prine’s own Oh Boy Records, for a duet on fan favorite knee-slapper “In Spite of Ourselves.”
“This is for anybody that’s thinking about getting married,” Prine, introducing the track, said. “Remember, it’s easier to get rid of a tattoo.”
As if the playful back-and-forth between Prine and Waldon wasn’t enough of a treat, he followed that moment with inviting Carlile to the stage, her second appearance of the evening.
The pair offered a dreamy duet of 2018’s “Summer’s End.”
The tenured Ohio rock band entered the Which Stage to a pulsing black-and-white light show, with which the band kicked off its 75-minute show with 2019’s “You Had Your Soul With You.”
The group followed with 2019’s “Rylan” and 2013’s “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” Frontman Matthew Donald Berninger waded into the crowd, lamenting at the red, blues and – eventually green – lights illuminating the trees surrounding the stage.
“Oh, they’re green now,” Berninger said. “That’s nice.”
The Lonely Island
Bonnaroo … on a boat!
Nearly a decade and a half since comedy outfit The Lonely Island seeped into the cultural zeitgeist as a recurring “Saturday Night Live” musical shtick, the group –consisting of SNL alums Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – took to The Farm for a rousing hour-plus comedic performance.
The early Sunday show on the Which Stage offered one of the first looks into the group’s hotly-anticipated summer tour, the first in Lonely Island history.
“Thank you everybody for joining us post-Post Malone,” Samberg jested, earning a chuckle. “Thank you! I said post before Post. It’s very cool.”
Opening with the uber-meta “We’re On Stage,” the Island’s 20-or-so songs came with costume changes (“The Creep”), props from music video canon (“Shy Ronnie”) and hilariously smooth skits. For example, Samberg’s character in “Ras Trent” gets promoted, seamlessly launching “Like A Boss.”
The group didn’t cut corners on its comedic bangers (especially the ones inappropriate for publication), busting out “I Just Had Sex,” “Yolo,” “We Like Sportz” and Jack Sparrow,” complete with a digital Michael Bolton cameo.
Oh! And “I’m On a Boat,” duh. It wouldn’t be a Lonely Island show without the song that went viral before “going viral” was culturally commonplace.
“NOTICE: This set will feature a loud bang sound effect that might be startling to some patrons.”
That message stayed on the video screens in front of Bonnaroo’s main stage long before modern rap superstar Post Malone appeared – out of the thickest cloud of fog imaginable – to pandemonium.
The warning was a smart move, considering the blunder at last year’s festival. In 2018, Eminem’s headlining set included some menacing pyrotechnics that sounded similar to gunshots, which sent many attendees ducking for cover.
And that heads up wasn’t the only thing Malone got right where Marshall Mathers went wrong.
First of all, he uniquely speaks to this audience – as always, predominately in their late teens and early 20s. He’s been releasing music for roughly four years, which is about as long as this crowd has gone to concerts.
They filled out the field in front of What Stage with a turnout that, frankly, put Phish’s Friday night turnout to shame.
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