1. The Decemberists at What Stage
The Decemberists have been on my list of bands to see ever since I first heard “Engine Driver” playing on a speaker system at my local Borders bookstore back in 2005. Finally seeing Colin Meloy and Co. play through some of my favorite tunes like “We Both Go Down Together” and “16 Military Wives” was a dream come true and the band delivered on every note. For an extra bonus, Sara Watkins was playing with them (filling in for Jenny Conlee). Her version of “Won’t Want for Love” (off 2009’s Hazards of Love) gave me chills! The band seemed as happy to be there as the audience was to have them and the playful and easy interaction created a joy that rippled out over the crowd of thousands relaxing in the grass. Thinking back to all the sets we saw, The Decemberists at What Stage is the one that sticks out most clearly in my mind, representing the epitome of my Bonnaroo 2011. ~ Kristen
Another one of my favorite Decemberist songs:
2. Eminem at The What Stage
Truth be told, Eminem was probably the artist I was most looking forward to seeing at Bonnaroo. When Kristen and I first saw Eminem at Epicentre in Fontana last year, we were skeptical with an attitude of, “let’s watch him just to say we saw him.” We were subsequently blown away with his performance. I was hoping for a repeat and got so much more. Eminem’s show features a car crash backdrop and an LED screen alerting the audience that we are witness to his “Recovery.” After the powerful opening of “Won’t Back Down” he took us on a ride through his extensive discography playing hits like, “Airplanes Pt. II”, “Love the Way You Lie”, “So Bad”, and “Till I Collapse”. He also brought out Royce da 5’9″ and they rapped a few songs from their new project Bad Meets Evil. And unlike some artists who only play new and current songs, Eminem took us back to his very beginnings by doing a mashup of, “My Name Is”, “The Real Slim Shady”, and “Without Me”. Perhaps the best part was his consistant chatter with the audience and dedications to the fans coupled with his intense focus on stage. It gave the feeling that he was there in the crowd with you rapping instead of up on stage in front of thousands of people. With an encore of “Lose Yourself” and endless gratitude to the audience at the close, Eminem was definitely a top act of Bonnaroo 2011. ~Amanda
3. The Head and the Heart at The Other Tent
I’m not really sure what to say about The Head and the Heart. It’s hard to define what exactly it is about them that makes them special. It could be that this Seattle based six piece offers a folksy soulful outlook on life or their unique sound filled with shakers, piano, and violin in addition to the standard guitar, drums, and bass. It’s definitely not something I can easily put words to but seeing them again re-affirmed my love for this band. The first time I encountered them was at SXSW where they were playing a small stage in a bike shop. I was unfamiliar with the band and how largely popular they are. The Head and the Heart had no problems filling up the tent and they handled the larger stage with such ease, it seemed almost second nature. They are currently set to join Death Cab for Cutie in Germany and the UK and then tour with The Decemberists while attending festivals such as Calgary Folk Festival and Austin City Limits. If given the opportunity, this band should be at the top of your “to check out” list. After all, they made it to #3 on our Top 5 Acts of Bonnaroo. ~Amanda
4. Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons at The Ford Focus Lounge
I had high hopes for Wisconsin’s Cory Chisel before the festival even began. Fortunately, Cory and his Wandering Sons did not disappoint. Cory crafts my favorite type of soulful folk tunes and accompanied by delicate harmonies provided by Adriel Harris, it’s impossible not to fall in love. I enjoyed Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons so much that I ended up seeing them three times. The first set at The Solar Stage cemented my love and introduced me to his songs including the crowd pleaser and highly appropriate “Tennessee.” The second, nighttime set at The On Tap Lounge really got the crowd going and featured a guest appearance by Brendan Benson as well as a more rockin’ version of “Born Again.” But it is the third set at The Ford Focus Lounge that I enjoyed the most. It felt the most intimate. It was a stripped down set, featuring only Cory and Adriel. This made songs like “Never Meant to Love You but It’s Too Late Now” all the more powerful. It was also more interactive with Cory taking audience requests and singing songs that I could, by now, sing along to. My enhanced enjoyment could also have something to do with the location, an air-conditioned and carpeted lounge where we could sit on plush seats with handkerchiefs full of ice. The set ended with Cory doing a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” I don’t think I could have had a better introduction to a new favorite band than seeing Cory Chisel at Bonnaroo. ~ Kristen
5. Neon Trees at This Tent
I was super excited at the prospect of being able to actually see Neon Trees on stage at Bonnaroo. The last time I ‘saw’ them was at SXSW and I was relegated to the back of the pack for my lack of being there early with nary a visual. This time around, was a whole different story. I had managed to sneak in the side of the tent (which was a might bit too small for them in my opinion), and work my way to a comfortable spot in the shade. This was one of my most memorable shows at Bonnaroo. At one point in time durin their set, the sound went out and they kept playing their song. As soon as the sound came back, they did a reprise of the song so everyone could hear it at full volume. At one point in time, singer Tyler Glenn discussed the difference between love and lust and also admitted to having a crush on a girl but was a coward so he wrote a song instead. Perhaps the most memorable moment was when Glenn took off his pants, revealing his American flag boxer briefs and danced around the stage, telling everyone it was ok to be a freak. Either way, it was a show I will not forget. ~Amanda
Amanda’s Honorable Mention: Kopecky Family Band at The Ford Focus Lounge
I was just hanging in the Ford Focus Lounge, trying to cool of and get some energy back when I heard people talking about this upcoming band and how awesome they were. I was at that point in the day for me when I didn’t really care much about who was playing, I just wanted to cool off and relax. This rather unassuming band came up and caught my attention. They reminded me of Fresno’s Fierce Creatures with a less ethereal and more jam band sound, but still with a captivating presence. The people around me were not wrong about the Kopecky Family Band I hope they come out to California soon because I would love the opportunity to see them again, in a less heated environment.
Kristen’s Honorable Mention: The Black Angels at The Ford Focus Lounge
It could have something to do with the intimate setting…or perhaps how the set started with the band announcing they didn’t have paper for setlists so they made some t-shirts with a list of songs they wanted to play and handed them out for people in the audience to wear. It could even have something to do with the fact that the guitarist broke a string (supposedly for the first time ever on stage) and the band had to improvise while he tracked down a replacement. For some reason, The Black Angels at The Ford Focus Lounge was the most fun I had at any set all weekend. ~ Kristen
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