Published Jun 15, 2014Despite the scorching heat, festivalgoers seemed to be holding up well on Saturday. The line-up was packed, but the stars of the day seemed to be frontmen stepping out and shining solo.
Winnipeg rockers Royal Canoe managed to get the tiny but attentive audience at Café Where off the ground and on their feet for their afternoon set with songs like "Blood Rush" and "Sweat." Crammed on to the little stage, the band nevertheless seemed happy to be a part of the weekend.
On the other side of the farm, First Aid Kit's gorgeous folk seemed a perfect fit for the sea of onlookers relaxing on the grass before the evening really kicked into high gear. The Swedish sister duo sounded excellent as they delivered songs from their brand new record Stay Gold, plus older tunes like "The Lion's Roar" and a lovely cover of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee."
It was Damon Albarn's phenomenal performance, though, that set the tone for the third night of Bonnaroo. Walking on to the What Stage, past his piano and right to the centre stage mic, the Blur and Gorillaz mastermind launched into "Lonely Press Play" from this spring's Everyday Robots. The show took a surprisingly high-energy turn with Gorillaz's "Tomorrow Comes Today" eliciting a lot of love from the crowd, but it's Albarn's knack for surrounding himself with great musicians that made for the most special moments. De La Soul stormed the stage for "Feel Good Inc.," which made the ground shake. As if that wasn't enough, Del the Funky Homosapien made an appearance for "Clint Eastwood" towards the end of the set.
With a choir from Texas on backing vocals at multiple points and a brass section from Chicago — plus the constant presence of newly formed backing band the Heavy Seas — Albarn packed the stage with players that were a delight to hear. He drew from the solo record, but in addition to the Gorillaz stuff, delivered the Good the Bad and the Queen gems "Three Changes" and "Kingdom of Doom," as well as a stripped-down solo version of Blur's "Out of Time" and recently-revived oldie "All Your Life." Telling the crowd he appreciated the festival's similarity to Glastonbury, Albarn sent the crowd into the evening with a rousing sing-along version of "Heavy Seas of Love."
Former Fugees songstress Ms. Lauryn Hill also had a chance to prove her solo chops, but 45 minutes after she was supposed to start, the stage was still empty, leaving many to file out early to catch the headliners.
The greatest band-to-solo-artist success of the night, however, was Jack White's headlining slot. Stepping out in front of tens of thousands of fans, White opened with a flurry of sound that morphed into a blazing version of "Icky Thump," transitioning straight into new single "High Ball Stepper." His set list also borrowed heavily from the assortment of projects he's worked on over the years, shelling out White Stripes classics like "Hotel Yorba" and "We're Gonna Be Friends," as well as the Racounteurs' "Steady As She Goes." Blunderbuss solo songs and new ones like "Alone in My Home" and "Three Women" also made their way into the set list. It's obvious that the guy loves music, filling the stage with unique instruments and musicians from across the country; even giving shout-outs to Tennessee greats before him like Elvis and Dolly Parton. Maybe it was proximity to his Nashville home, but the crowd went wild for the pomposity of his between-song banter that Kanye got booed for the previous night. Just like Yeezy, he fired shots at the press — specifically Rolling Stone for taking recent quotes about other artists out of context. He then made a deliberate effort to say nice things about fellow performers Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys and Lionel Ritchie. Nevertheless, White was obviously a better match for the Bonnaroo crowd than Kanye.