Day three of Bonnaroo was the most blissful yet. We spaced out to Unknown Mortal Orchestra deep cuts, danced our hearts out to Rubblebucket’s frothy pop and laughed ‘till we cried at The Lonely Island’s calculated absurdity. Special guests kept popping up all over the place—Brandi Carlile at John Prine’s That Tent showing, a pack of fabulous drag queens at Kacey Musgraves’ dusky party—and there was a chill, comfortable feeling that blanketed the whole day’s festivities. Bonnaroo is said to have a familial aspect to it, and on Saturday it was easy to see that community at work. Read about everything we loved from day three below.
Even if you tried to create the perfect festival band in a lab, it would be hard to outdo Rubblebucket. But that’s not to say this art-pop duo are predictable. Kal Traver and Alex Toth know how to curate a magical experience, one laced with the intricacies of joy and heartbreak, a dance-till-you-drop energy and the stark colors and limitless imagination of Dr. Seuss. Traver had a giant pink rose perched on top of her yellow bowl cut, and balloon chains (each with at least 100 balloons) evoking a Chinese dragon parade were unleashed into the crowd. Their latest album, Sun Machine, with its brass-tinted pop and funky rhythms, was the perfect soundtrack to open the radiant day three. —Lizzie Manno
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
New Zealanders Unknown Mortal Orchestra are masterful purveyors of fuzzy and smooth psych-rock. When Ruban Nielson and co. walked on stage, the group was fully ready to rip and drip. Nielson was hopped up on adrenaline from the get-go, jumping down and scurrying through the crowd with his guitar. Launching into the leisurely psych-funk of older cuts like “So Good at Being in Trouble” and “Necessary Evil” in addition to newer singles “Hunnybee” and “American Guilt” from Sex and Food, UMO know how to groove. For every crunchy guitar solo, there was a subtle, snaking bass line, and both put the crowd in a state of blissful melting. —Lizzie Manno
John Prine’s Saturday set felt like a church service attended by all of Nashville. The songwriting legend is revered across all kinds of music genres, but when it comes to country/folk, he’s nothing short of godlike. Here in Tennessee, performing on the same day as country successors like Kacey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly and Maren Morris, John Prine was welcomed warmly. He brought out Kelsey Waldon for a lovely take on “In Spite of Ourselves” and Brandi Carlile, a Sunday Bonnaroo performer, for “Summer’s End,” from last year’s The Tree of Forgiveness. He also played classics like the always moving “Hello in There.” It was pure, G-rated musical perfection. Prine’s innate goodness is a rare delight to behold. —Ellen Johnson
Early Saturday morning, I was sitting in the press tent when I heard what sounded like the opening bars of Kacey Musgraves’ “Wonder Woman” bouncing off a distant stage. I leapt from my seat and charged across a field only to find Musgraves and her all-star band warming up for Saturday evening’s much anticipated set, flanked by eager fans and early risers who, like me, had correctly suspected the source of that sweet noise. “Wonder Woman” is a back-end treasure from Golden Hour, one that’s even more enjoyable to hear live. That 10-minute soundcheck was itself perfection, but the real deal was on a whole other plane of blissed-out elation. The immaculate set marked Musgraves’ sixth year in a row performing on the farm, and her third major festival performance this summer after both Coachella and Governor’s Ball, where she was met with a screaming mass of NYC music fans. But it’s different in Tennessee. I couldn’t help but believe her when Musgraves said, “I’m not lying at all when I say that Bonnaroo is my absolute [sic] favorite place to play.” It was the perfectly timed golden hour performance of Golden Hour hits, from the uplifting piano ballad “Rainbow” to a plucky rendition of the title track. She wound down the set with an unexpected but delightful cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” and closed out with her disco-infused bop, “High Horse.” A shower of globe-shaped balloons rained down on the crowd, rainbows peeked out from every corner and a troupe of drag queens (some of whom were on stilts) emerged for a finale we’ll not soon forget. —Ellen Johnson
It would be easy to write off a singer/songwriter who first rose to prominence on YouTube as just a flash in the pan, but 20-year-old Claire Cottrill (aka Clairo) appears to have some staying power. Cottrill has a saintly intrigue and cool confidence, and slick, yearning pop songs to match. Her midnight set was packed with stylish young millennials ready to dance and embrace each other. Songs like “4EVER,” “Pretty Girl” (which currently boasts 34 million YouTube views) and her newest and best track yet “Bags” were expectedly moving, but what’s most surprising was her magnetic stage presence—she gracefully glides across the stage like a veteran. Her debut album, Immunity, which she co-produced with Rostam, drops on Aug. 2. —Lizzie Manno
Every millennial attendee was in comedic heaven on Saturday night when The Lonely Island (aka Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone) took to the Which Stage for 90 minutes of absolute foolishness. As it turns out, the ridiculous bro humor that found a home on YouTube in the 2000s and 2010s translated super well to a live setting. Chris Parnell made a surprise appearance for “Lazy Sunday,” Michael Bolton screened in “live via satellite” for the classic “Jack Sparrow” and Samberg and Schaffer appeared as the Bash Brothers, a nod to their playing baseball stars Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire on their recent satirical Netflix special, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience. Samberg also surprised us with a few references to Saturday Night Live favorites like Shy Ronnie and “D*** in Box,” a duet with Justin Timberlake. A puppet version of JT stepped in for the pop star. The Lonely Island isn’t for everyone, but for the massive Bonnaroo crowd, their set was a gleeful and nostalgic run of pure hilarity. —Ellen Johnson