Best Of Bonnaroo: 11 Great Pop Moments In The Festival’s History

Carl Williott | June 7, 2012 5:30 am

This weekend marks the 11th iteration of Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. At the inaugural fest in 2002, it was a jam-band paradise, heavy on the noodling but light on the zeitgeist. Each year, though, it has expanded in size and scope, and this year’s lineup is the biggest and arguably the most eclectic yet. Featuring everyone from Bon Iver to Skrillex to Das Racist, Bonnaroo clearly has its finger on the pulse of pop music. So ahead of Bonnaroo’s 11th running, here are 11 great pop moments in the festival’s history, in no particular order.

2010: Jay-Z Opens The Door For Hip-Hop Kanye West‘s disastrous 2008 Bonnaroo performance was a big blow for a genre trying to break into the festival game. Enter Jay-Z in 2010, who turned out one of his most memorable performances to save hip-hop from a mud-less, glowstick-less, hippie-less future. It was so good Stevie Wonder and Jack White stayed to watch.

2009: Beastie Boys Play Their Last Live Show Beastie Boys‘ career-spanning set ended up being the trio’s final performance, though nobody knew it at the time. (One month later, “MCAAdam Yauch was diagnosed with cancer and the group canceled their remaining shows.) Perhaps because they were embracing the jam-band spirit, the Beasties did the majority of their Bonnaroo set with their instruments in hand. But that doesn’t mean the MC skills were secondary — in fact, they even brought Nas up to debut “Too Many Rappers”, which ended up on 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.

2010: Kings of Leon Come Home How did a critically acclaimed Southern “rawk” band become one of the biggest bands in the world? With “Sex on Fire,” mainly. And before releasing the tepid Come Around Sundown, Kings of Leon hit their zenith when they returned to their home state as Bonnaroo headliners, and it felt like all of Tennessee was singing along with them on set-closer “Use Somebody.”

2008: M.I.A. “Retires” The mercurial bird-flipper told the crowd a few times it was her last show and said “thanks for coming to my last gig” as she exited the stage. Of course, this would end up being one of the many times that M.I.A. was full of s***, but you gotta respect her commitment to getting the fans amped up about the show. Thankfully, you can really only effectively play the “onstage retirement” card once.

2008: Tiesto Brings The Future Sound Back in 2008, the masses had never heard about things like “dubstep” and “EDM.” But by then, Dutch DJ Tiesto had already been nominated for a Grammy and was filling arenas overseas. And so he tore up Bonnaroo, giving Americans a taste of the sweaty neon sound that would soon dominate our shores. Not to mention he brought up indie sweethearts Tegan and Sara for his remix of their song “Back In Your Head.”

2011: Mumford And Sons Mine The Past Bonnaroo started out as a folk-heavy fest, and last year Mumford and Sons brought it back to its roots. Like, way back. A year prior, the British foursome played to a small Manchester crowd, but this time around their passionate live performances had gained worldwide acclaim. So they reached the Bonnaroo big-time, with a crowd that reportedly outdrew Lil Wayne‘s show. Who knew a banjo, a piano and a few foot stomps could be so compelling?

2009: Janelle Monae Reps For R&B R&B is one of the few genres yet to explode at Bonnaroo — but maybe that’s just because Janelle Monae dwarfs all the competition. In 2009 she brought her cyborg concept album to life in one of the festival’s liveliest sets. She’s like if you crossed Nicki Minaj with Bruno Mars and actual Mars, and she proved that a charismatic performer can turn any genre into a dance party.

2007: QuestLove Summons The Superfriends The Roots‘ drummer Questlove, jam band circuit veteran Ben Harper, and living Led Zeppelin legend John Paul Jones could’ve coasted on their collective reputations for 2007’s Superjam. But they tore through 90+ minutes of extended Zep jams, with Harper shredding on the lap steel, Questlove showing why he’s one of the best drummers alive and JPJ anchoring it all with his low-end grooves. It was an organic representation of what Bonnaroo has come to mean: all music for all people.

2010: Chromeo Makes Daryl Hall’s Dreams Come True We’d have a hard time coming up with a better old/new pairing than this. The slick ’80s pop of Hall & Oates is the perfect complement to the glossy goofball groove of Chromeo. While they alternated between Chromeo cuts and H&O classics like “I Can’t Go For That” and “Private Eyes,” the crowd got a lesson on pop music’s lineage.

2009: Girl Talk Talks That Talk Gregg Gillis a/k/a Girl Talk was at the height of his powers in 2009, which is evident when you realize he got the exhausted ‘roo masses dancing their faces off past 4 a.m. His manic sampling trickery served as both a caffeine injection to the soul and a literal representation of Bonnaroo’s amalgamation of tastes and trends.

2011: Hip-hop Reigns… Finally! In 2010 Jay-Z blew the door open for rappers at Bonnaroo, and the following year hip-hop took over the festival. Lil Wayne headlined Friday night, Eminem Saturday night, and in between Big Boi, Wiz Khalifa and Childish Gambino all showed that hip-hop and festivals go together like beats and rhymes.

What are your fondest memories of Bonnaroo in years past? Share them in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.