The highs and lows of Bonnaroo 2010

by Ryan Snyder

Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff performs “The Harder They Come” Saturday afternoon on the Bonnaroo main stage. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Stevie Wonder, Saturday night: A disappointing and punchless set due in part to the absence of “I Wish,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “As” and “Tell Me Something Good.” Stevie jammed the first minute of the set on keytar — not coincidentally, the photo pass was restricted to the first 60 seconds of the first song — before taking a seat behind piano and synth the rest of the show, which he abruptly cut short by 15 minutes. Oh, and he was 20 minutes late. The setlist was okay for slow dancing and rarities, but let’s face it: Every Stevie show is a rarity — not so much for 70,000 who baked in the heat all day and were ready to funk out.

LCD Soundsystem, Friday late night: Easily one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, James Murphy was a good sport about being pelted with glow sticks throughout his band’s set — for a time. He laughed it off at first, saying “Seems like I wouldn’t love getting shit thrown at me, but I do, I do, I don’t know why,” but was clearly more perturbed as the night went on. That didn’t impede an outstanding set, however, as LCD Soundsystem closed the night out with “New York, I Love You” that faded out into the chorus of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”

Jay-Z, Saturday night: For one of the biggest stages on HOVA’s tour, this one didn’t really stand out. Jay-Z can’t help but put on a good show, but this one ranks with the Greensboro performance despite a crowd three times as large and Stevie Wonder in attendance. Jay cut his set short by about 20 minutes and rumors floated by festival promoters that Kid Cudi and Kanye West would appear turned out to be bull hockey. The potential for something really special was there — guitarist Jack White was seated side-stage as well — but a performance of their recent collaboration was merely wishful thinking. Like the lyric goes though; Jay-Z is not a businessman, he’s a business, man. A semi-trailer full of Rocawear gear was parked in the backstage artist hospitality area all weekend, so that cash register sound wasn’t necessarily coming from the Flaming Lips’ cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

Kris Kristofferson, Sunday after noon: One guitar, one mic, one Highwayman. Kris Kristofferson didn’t need a band, and he certainly didn’t need to remember all of his lyrics to enthrall thousands of fans.

His husky voice crackled a bit when he tried to sing “Sunday Morning Coming Down” the same way Johnny would have sang it, but it was his flaws that made his set so endearing. He needed a pick-me-up on vocals toward the end, but the only thing that Jamey Johnson added was just another guy who couldn’t remember the lyrics. Still, seeing Kristofferson share a stage with John Prine and vice versa was one of those moments you never forget.

Conan O’Brien, Saturday and Sunday afternoons: There was a better chance of getting invited onto Stevie Wonder’s tour bus for a staring contest than getting a seat in the nowticketed Comedy Theatre for one of the two Coco shows. Lines began forming at 5 a.m. for a seat to see O’Brien’s performance — which legend has it was phenomenal — though it’s possible that some just passed out in front of the ticket booth after Galactic’s three-hour latenight funk-a-thon.

Deadmau5, Saturday late night:It’s understandable if you couldn’t pick beat merchant Joel Zimmerman out of the crowd during the Saturday night set by Dan Deacon Ensemble. He was just another face in the audience before his Deadmau5 alter ego took hold of the largest Saturday late-night outside of Jay-Z for a dark and mesmerizing dance party. Perched atop one of the most stunning light shows of the weekend — a massive, LCD-covered cube with flanking accoutrement — Deadmau5 looked like Mickey Mouse on LSD with only a pair of giant grey ears peeking over his rig, the glowing corona around his head lending a cartoonish, 2-D feel to the performance.

Kid Cudi, Friday late night: The Kanye prot’g’ was smug and awful, and the news of his arrest earlier in the day for a domestic disturbance and possessing liquid cocaine was far more interesting than his actual set. Next.

BoB, Friday late night: Next being Winston-Salem-born, ATL-bred MC Bobby Ray Simmons, also known as BoB. Outside of Jigga Man, BoB gave the best showing of any hip-hop artist on the bill, though his enthusiasm surpassed them all. His one hour set spilled into two and he had already cleared an album, two EPs and a mixtape worth of material as 4 a.m. rolled around. The only thing left to do was cover MGMT’s “Kids,” thus stealing Weezer’s thunder for the next day, not that they had any to begin with.

Weezer, Saturday afternoon: It’s unfortunate that the highlight of their set based on crowd reaction was that cover of MGMT’s “Kids.” These days they’re like watching the Fonz on water skis.

Jeff Beck, Saturday afternoon: Mud wasn’t a problem at Bonnaroo this year, but the thousands watching Jeff Beck play guitar for 90 minutes left enough drool on the ground to claim a few pairs of sandals in sacrifice to the God of Guitar. As if Beck alone wasn’t enough to leave faces in a molten slagheap, Prince bassist Rhonda Smith and legendary producer/ session drummer Narada Michael Walden rounded out his trio.

Ween, Sunday afternoon: I had to spit my beer out after I heard Gene Ween say that “Touch My Tooter” was dedicated to Stevie Wonder, only to have him add, “Oh, he’s here watching? Stevie Wonder, ladies and gentlemen!”