Bonnaroo 2013: Tom Petty, The National, Kendrick Lamar, and David Byrne and St. Vincent
    • TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2013

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    After a drive that seemed to last an eternity, I pulled back home at nearly 7 PM Monday evening. With access to a hot shower, a private bathroom, real food, rest, and air conditioning, it seems odd to say that I'm already missing the 2013 Bonnaroo Music & Arts festival. We'll run a more general overview of our reactions to the insanity of this year's Bonnaroo in the coming days, but even nearly 24 hours removed from the last encore of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the What Stage, I can still feel the excitement of an astounding, legend-fueled Sunday coursing through my veins.

    I wasn't able to catch much of Queens rapper/gourmet chef Action Bronson or Virginia dream pop duo Wild Nothing, but what I saw confirmed the already high opinions I had of the artists. Action Bronson's Ghostface Killah flow and generally seriocomic rhymes were slaying the crowd when they weren't floating away on the (one must assume) reefer smoke emanating from what he was smoking on stage. At one point, he even took a joint from the audience and smoked it on stage and then wondered if it had been laced with DMT. And the shimmering, synth-driven pop of Wild Nothing reminded me immediately of why their Empty Estate EP has been one of the most intriguing records of the year. This is a band continuing to grow and define their sound, and they will be one's to watch.

    Unless you were living under a rock for the last two years, you've likely realized that Kendrick Lamar is the new crown prince of hip-hop. He's got virtually all of the talent of Kanye with a quarter of the ego, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city has become the Illmatic of the 2010s. I caught him last year in a small Thursday tent slot before his magnum opus came out and he was already killing. Now that he's become a household hip-hop name, Kendrick's presence and charisma has only grown, and the audience was starving for a chance to try to keep up with Kendrick's complex, rapid-fire delivery. The crowd reaction was so insane that he could stop singing during any section of "Backbeat Freestyle" (his most insanely fast song) and the whole audience would fill in for him, word for word, beat for beat. Kendrick is fast on his way to becoming a modern hip-hop icon.

    Kendrick Lamar

    If you're a fan of The National, you already know that their non-Abel tunes can best be described as "mellow" at crowd-friendliest and "heartwrenchingly melancholic" at crowd-unfriendliest. So, perhaps it's not particularly shocking that the reaction to the National's set was so polarizing. Frontman Matt Berninger (of the golden baritone) spent most time on stage with both hands cupped over the microphone or drinking a chardonnay as he emoted, and his backing band weren't any more exciting. However, and arguably most importantly, they sounded amazing. If you've grown up finding yourself emotionally devastated by his lyrics and their tight instrumentation, the set was revelatory, and "Abel," "Mr. November," and "Mistaken for Strangers" were even more powerful than ever. For new listeners, I heard a steady round of "boring"s.

    The National

    I sadly only caught a snippet of David Byrne & St. Vincent's act because I had to run for last minute preparation for photographing Tom Petty, but what I saw makes some of what I found to be silly on their shared record to make more sense. The live energy and fun of their performance reminds me that what may seem silly about David Byrne is truly sincere from a man that's just as eccentric as you'd imagine the frontman for Talking Heads to be. And Annie Clark's guitar playing is astounding. I can't for the life of me name a female guitar player that's impressed me more in a concert setting than St. Vincent has. With every record, she becomes more self-assured and more entrancing to watch.

    David Byrne & St. Vincent

    The coup-de-grace of the 2013 Bonnaroo experience though had to be the jaw-dropping turn from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I distinctly remember thinking "Tom Petty? Really?" when he was first announced as one of the headliners, but I listened to his catalog again and remembered how many deep cuts and hits this man has had over the years. And he performed many of them live including "Refugee," "Running Down a Dream," "American Girl," and "Don't Come Around Here no More." The "Free Fallin'" sing-along nearly rivaled that of "Hey Jude," and at one point, as the rain was pouring down, I danced with a new to the near perfection of "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It was one of those moments that could only happen at Bonnaroo.

    Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

    Though the set may not have reached the level of life-changing euphoria that Paul McCartney achieved, it's unfair for anyone to ever have to compete with a Beatle. Between Petty's voice (which has aged like a fine wine) and the simply astounding guitar playing Mike Campbell, I'm not sure if I can dream up a better way for this year's festivities to end. I was frightened that the last-minute cancellation of Mumford & Sons would suck the life out of Bonnaroo, but not even a torrential downpour during the Sunday headliner could stop the classic rock mastery of Tom Petty. Bonnaroo, we can't wait to see what you cook up for us next year.

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