When you get offered a free trip to Bonnaroo, you take it. End of story.
About two weeks before the festival’s 18th year kicked off, I got a text from my editor at CLTure asking me if I wanted to be our official media correspondent on-site at The Farm. If college taught me anything, it’s that you never say no to free – especially not when it’s a legendary music festival.
So, with a tent and a camera, I headed into the middle of nowhere Tennessee for four days of nonstop music and sunshine.
Here are the best acts I saw.
1. Childish Gambino
When Gambino rose out of the middle of the crowd on a podium and told the crowd he was taking us to church tonight, he wasn’t lying. Gambino’s set at Bonnaroo wasn’t just a concert, it was a visceral experience.
2. Bishop Briggs
Heading into the festival I was a big fan of the British rocker, but after seeing her live, I might now consider myself obsessed. Bishop Briggs brought an unmatched level of energy to This Tent, along with raw and honest emotion for her entire performance. She seemed as overwhelmed by the fans’ love as we were by her talent.
When a 6 p.m. performer draws a greater crowd to the main stage than either of the festival headliners’ three sets, you might want to reconsider your lineup. Hozier had the grounds in front of What Stage were overflowing with people, stretching all the way back to the Bonnaroo Arch. Plus, getting to see him up close and personal for a Q&A definitely didn’t hurt his ranking here.
4. Post Malone
He may not have the prestige of Childish Gambino, but he certainly had the hype. Whereas the Gambino crowd was in awe, simply taking it all in, the Posty crowd was ready to throw down with him, and the rapper fed off the energy at What Stage.
5. The Lonely Island
Naturally, the comedy trio’s performance felt more like an episode of “Saturday Night Live” than a concert, as the group used a series of sketches to transition between their songs. The band kicked off their first-ever tour with a hilarious set on The Farm featuring hits from their albums, their movie, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” and their latest Netflix special, “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience.” And remember, if you want to fuck me, I’ll be waiting by the ice machine in Plaza 2. Bad bitches only. Thank you, god bless.
6. The Lumineers
Late Sunday afternoon we made the decision to wait in line to be in the pit for The Lumineers’ set, and boy, was it a good call. Yeah, other acts walked by the pit, but what other artists came into the pit? After playing a few songs on a pop-up stage in the middle of the crowd, the rest of the band returned to the stage, but lead singer Wesley Schultz took his time during “Ophelia” and squeezed his way through the crowd in the pit. It was awesome.
7. Little Simz
I’d never heard of this British rapper before the festival, but I was told she was a must-see, and that was absolutely true. She had a ton of energy, a huge smile and ridiculously fast bars. It’s no wonder Kendrick Lamar has called her one of “the illest doing it right now.”
8. Brandi Carlile
Carlile was another one I wasn’t super familiar with pre-Bonnaroo, but after doing a bit of homework I knew I needed to check her out. Conveniently, Carlile was performing on What Stage while we waited in line for The Lumineers’ pit, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone. I just wish I could have had a better view to take in the full performance and not just hear her from afar.
9. The Avett Brothers
The folk rockers drew the festival’s first huge crowd on Friday, and it was much deserved. They alternated between classic hits and teasers from their upcoming album, all while the sun set on a packed What Stage.
10. Kacey Musgraves
If you’d asked me before the festival who I was most excited to see, Musgraves was an easy top three choice. Unfortunately, though, her performance was lacking energy. I know a majority of her songs are pretty slow, but there are still ways to get the crowd going with songs like that. Don’t get me wrong, Musgraves was by no means bad, her voice was still phenomenal, I was just hoping for a bit more of a show.
Brockhampton came out of nowhere to be one of my most unexpected favorites. I’d only heard a few songs before arriving on the farm, but going in unfamiliar may have been even better. That way, I was able to be surprised with each of the rap quintet’s new songs and different vibes. Plus, they had a dope airplane set on stage and shiny matching jumpsuits.
12. Cardi B
Talk about a disappointment. After a slew of cancellations, I’d hoped Cardi would hit Which Stage refreshed and ready to deliver, but that wasn’t the case. She only performed brief snippets of songs, trying to fit in as many as possible instead of focusing on just nailing a handful. But, at least I can say I was there when she twerked too hard and split her pants.
13. Grand Ole Opry
I’m not a big country fan and I can proudly say I didn’t know any of the singers who performed, but the Grand Ole Opry brought the energy to kick off the first night of Bonnaroo. Plus, the “Old Town Road” and “Wagon Wheel” covers made it all worth it.
14. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
This Aussie band from down under gave some nice alt-rock vibes on Thursday night to help get the festival started.
15. Shovels & Rope
I may not have caught the Americana duo’s real performance, but we were treated to a private set inside the media tent, which provided an intimate setting for a scaled-down show.
I’ve never been one for electronic/dubstep music, and I honestly wouldn’t have even gone to their set if I hadn’t already been there camped out for Post Malone. I will say, it seemed like everyone who followed ODESZA was loving it, so it must have been a great performance. At least there were cool fireworks!
I had no intentions of checking out this Prince cover band until I realized that “Featuring Maya Rudolph” meant featuring THE Maya Rudolph. After that revelation, I decided to swing by and take in a few songs, but the best part was seeing her interact with a totem of Connie from “Big Mouth.”
18. Catfish and the Bottlemen
I’m not gonna lie… I’m familiar with a few songs from Catfish and the Bottlemen, but I spent their whole set waiting for one specific song, only to later find out that it wasn’t even one of their songs. Talk about a bummer.
G.O.A.T.: A Music Legends SuperJam with GRiZ
Friday night’s “G.O.A.T.: A Music Legends SuperJam with GRiZ” was really awesome, too, but since it had a variety of artists rotating through, I didn’t know how to accurately rank it.
Until next year, Bonnaroo!
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.