If 2018 was the year that Bonnaroo first fully embraced pop music, then 2019 was the first year that it introduced itself as fully inclusive to the LGBTQ community. Last year’s lineup was stacked with pop and EDM acts like Dua Lipa, Kaskade, Bassnectar, Anderson .Paak and Playboi Carti. This 2019 installment was heavily laden with LGBTQ performers and many of their allies: Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, Solange, Maren Morris and Caroline Rose just to name a few. During his set on Saturday evening, 72-year-old Nashville legend John Prine welcomed Carlile to the stage to assist on a version of his own “Summer’s End.”
This year’s festival also hosted its first ever Pride Parade. The parade gathered in the campground area and worked its way into Centeroo, concluding at approximately 7 PM on Saturday, as Kacey Musgraves was performing “Golden Hour” during the golden hour.
The campground experience remained integral to the shape of what organizers think the festival is becoming and Plaza 3 again hosted Brooklyn nightclub House of Yes. There, a Dirty Circus party took place that featured “jaw-dropping circus acts” and a drag show. It all worked beautifully within The Bonnaroovian Code of radiating positivity. And the weather couldn’t have been more cooperative.
Here are the top five things that I saw onstage on Friday and Saturday:
1. Solange [Friday, Which Stage]
The younger Knowles sister was backed by a full horn section that perfectly complemented her band. She had a team of androgynous dancers marching up and down on a stairwell leading to a platform at the back of the stage. Solange’s Friday night set looked like a David Byrne set. It was an over-the-top production for which music functioned mostly as a soundtrack.
2. The Lonely Island [Saturday, Which Stage]
It absolutely did not occur to me that 24-year-olds would have been freshmen in high school when The Lonely Island were at their most popular. Thus, it didn’t occur to me just how crowded the Which Stage would be at 12:30 AM as Saturday night bled into Sunday morning. The Lonely Island only relied on one guest, which was expected, in Chris Parnell. He joined for his verses of one of the comedy trio’s earliest viral hits, “Lazy Sunday.” A puppet stood in for Justin Timberlake’s three songs, which were cut to a medley of titles mostly unfit for print.
What The Lonely Island did best was fill space. Costume changes were an inevitability and the trio managed to divide their time on stage so that another could prepare; otherwise, the gaps were filled with pre-recorded sketches. There wasn’t a second wasted in front of a crowd largely comprised of a generation known for short attention spans. By the ending of “I’m on a Boat,” Akiva Shaffer almost broke character. The shock of playing a collection of silly songs to an audience so large — likely the largest live audience The Lonely Island has ever seen — made him crack a smile that nearly turned into full-blown laughter.
3. Kacey Musgraves [Saturday, Which Stage]
Musgraves leaned heavily on her Grammy-winning Golden Hour tracklist, but she also included a cover of “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips. She performed “Golden Hour” as the sun set and she finished her set with a team of drag queens dancing to her “High Horse.” It was one of those moments that felt especially profound — just 40-minutes from the city that cast her aside then grasped to embrace her when her work was recognized by The Recording Academy. When she accepted that award, she spoke about what “her version of country music was.” On Saturday, she left no doubt that it was for everyone.
4. Childish Gambino [Friday, What Stage]
Donald Glover has suggested that he would retire from touring but he keeps finding his way onto festival lineups. He’s even premiering new material on those shows. So maybe he’s not? He first appeared at the end of the pit, halfway to the soundboard, on a riser with lights shining upward and a dark stage behind him. The 35-year-old then asked the crowd to refrain from taking photos and videos and to live in the moment. He accepted a joint thrown onstage from the crowd, placing it behind his ear for most of the set. By the conclusion of his set, which began winding down with “This is America,” he seemed rightfully exhausted. By that time, he had turned most of the heavy lifting over to a backing track and the audience. But he earned that shortness of breath. Few performers all weekend threw as much of themselves into their performance as did Childish Gambino.
5. John Prine [Saturday, That Tent]
Prine brought out his latest Oh Boy Records signee, Kelsey Waldon, and he brought out Carlile (who stayed busy all weekend, also teaming up for a duet with Hozier). But the moment most will remember from Prine’s performance is the ending when he sat down his guitar and danced a jig. He isn’t just here to move Nashville and Tennessee forward, he was also here to let you know that he isn’t slowing down anytime soon.