Bonnaroo 2017 has come to a close and the 16th annual festival was nothing short of spectacular. Now that it’s over, Nashville Noise contributor (and talented music writer) Blake Ells is reminiscing over some of the best things he saw at Bonnaroo 2017.
The crowdsurfing kid that refused to go down.
White Reaper is a rock ‘n roll band from Louisville. In a lineup filled with EDM acts, they were a refreshing change of pace. That earned them an energetic mosh pit and an impressive crowdsurfer.
While surfing, he got a little too close to security. He turned to the crowd and demanded they turn him around so security would’t drag him over the barrier. It worked and security got a good laugh out of it. There has never been cooler security than the security at Bonnaroo.
Tucker Beathard rocked on.
It was fairly early on Sunday afternoon when 22-year-old Tucker Beathard came to the Who Stage, one of the smallest stages on the festival site. Beathard’s 45-minute set was buried against sets by festival heavyweights Umphrey’s McGee, the weekend’s comedy headliner Hannibal Burress and Mandolin Orange. Despite that, a crowd of approximately 200 got quite a treat.
Beathard’s a songwriter borne of a Nashville songwriter. His dad, Casey, has a resume that includes “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” by Kenny Chesney, “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls” by George Strait and “The Outsiders” by Eric Church. So when he says he’s from Nashville, he’s actually from Nashville.
His set wasn’t southern rock and it wasn’t the current standard on country radio, nor was it Americana. It was rock and roll with a twang. It was a group of kids that grew up on alternative rock, but grew up to write what they knew. His guitarist sported an MGMT t-shirt while playing a cigar box guitar.
Beathard can be the face of what country needs to become to attract a younger audience that, regardless of upbringing, can’t relate to a world without internet. Maybe he is the act to emerge from this year’s Who Stage lineup. Last year, that was Maren Morris.
Or maybe that’s Waker.
Waker calls Nashville home, and really, there’s no other way to describe “home” for the band. None of them grew up in the same state.
Waker is quickly making a name for themselves around Nashville. They’re a jam band with hooks, and they never get too far lost in the jam. I can’t help but compare them to O.A.R.
Waker doesn’t sound like anything else happening in Nashville, but maybe that’s Nashville in 2017. To describe them simply: they’re fun.
Kids came back to Bonnaroo.
I’m 34 and this year, for the first time at Bonnaroo, I felt old. Maybe that’s because I am old. Or maybe it’s because Bonnaroo is gradually reinventing itself to attract teens again. They turned the Other Tent into “The Other,” a main stage dedicated exclusively to EDM acts. They focused on making the campground experience something that was an around the clock party. They threw all of their big dollars at one act that would attract old guys like myself and stacked the rest of it with DJs.
This festival was never intended to attract me in 2017. It’s always been about teens. And after an incredibly disappointing 2016, it found a way to quickly regroup. Coincidentally, the county and Live Nation are currently negotiating plans for how Great Stage Park will be moving forward, possibly adding more shows throughout the year on the site.
The reinvention of Aaron Lee Tasjan.
Aaron Lee Tasjan rocks. He has long been an East Nashville staple that writes quirky songs; a younger Todd Snider, if you will. But now he’s turned the guitars up and he’s found some hooks and he has new direction. And this one is great, too.
He still remembers where he started, though. He closed the set with a cover of Snider’s “Hey Pretty Boy.”
One of my favorite things this weekend was wearing Preds gear on site and hearing “GO PREDS!” all day long. That started on Thursday, before I arrived. Several hundred gathered at the Which Stage for a screening of game five. The festival, which has traditionally shown the NBA Finals in the Cinema Tent, had Preds fever. And when news of the tragic game six loss broke, it was met with collective groans.
The Soul Shakedown: A Bonnaroo SuperJam
Just let Ben Jaffe be the musical director for SuperJam every year and don’t stress over it.
His Preservation Jazz Hall Band was the centerpiece of the annual late night SuperJam. He was surrounded by Chance the Rapper, Jon Batiste, Sam Cohen, George Porter Jr., Lecrae, Margo Price, Joseph, Rayland Baxter, Jason Huber of Cherub, Tank and the Bangas, Lukas Nelson, Nicole Atkins, Boyfriend and Flint Eastwood.
That sounds bizarre and impossible. It doesn’t sound like it can possibly work — Chance the Rapper and Margo Price? Why?
The former covered “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” by Dr. Dre and “Hey Ya!” by Oukast, botching the refrain on “Hey Ya!” by singing, “What’s cooler than being ice cold?” and recovering by answering, “The answer is nothing.” And the latter slayed a cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” with Lukas Nelson. Rayland Baxter added a cover of “Little Red Corvette” by Prince and Joseph added a version of “Waterfalls” by TLC.
It was the best SuperJam since John Oates led it in 2013. It’s one of the few remaining things that truly carries on the spirit of the original Bonnaroo, and this version was a perfect marriage of what made the festival great and the direction that the festival is heading.