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Published: 2012/06/11

Bonnaroo’s Sunday Surprises: Lionel Richie, fun., The Beach Boys, Ben Folds Five and More

The 11th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival came to a close shortly before Midnight Monday morning. As previously reported, Phish closed the festival with an extended two-set show that included a cameo by country legend Kenny Rogers on his signature song, “The Gambler.” The performance was the climax of another successful edition of the Manchester, TN festival as well as one of Bonnaroo’s most eclectic days in recent memory.

Oddly enough, 73-year-old Rogers—a last-minute Bonnaroo addition several decades past from his peak hit-making days—was among the day’s breakout acts. Playing for one of his youngest audiences in recent member, Rogers offered a set of hits that included “The Gambler,” “Islands in the Stream” and other songs most of the crowd had never seen live. Near the end of his show, Rogers also brought out the weekend’s biggest surprise guest, cross-generational pop icon Lionel Richie, to sing on his own “Lady” and “All Night Long” (Richie considers Rogers his mentor and joined the veteran country star at SXSW this past March.) Every year The Mayor of Manchester also awards one Bonnaroo artist the keys to the city, and The Gambler received ths year’s honor during an unexpected mid-set ceremony.

Despite Bonnaroo’s usual allignment with jam, indie and roots music, Sunday’s lineup was also filled with pop acts with various ties to the grassroots music community. Jack Antonoff, who led one of Bonnaroo’s unofficial house bands Steel Train for many years, made a heroic return to the festival with his chart-topping band fun. The unabashed pop trio played for a sprawling crowd in That Tent at 6:45 PM. Though fun. ran through their current singles “We Are Young” and “Some Nights,” they also sprinkled in covers of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” while singer Nate Ruess name-checked Phish and told the crowd Bonnaroo was his favorite festival. In addition, the horn section from MyNameIsJohnMichael made a surprise appearance on three songs during fun.’s set.

Likewise, Ben Folds Five—whose unique brand of piano pop has appealed to H.O.R.D.E. fans and radio listeners alike—played for several thousand fans on the massive Which Stage. Folds, who has performed at Bonnaroo with his solo band, told the audience he loves playing Bonnaroo because it is a “real-music” festival and focused on material from the recently reunited band’s classic catalog. “Brick” and “Battle Of Who Could Care Less” were two highlights.

Another recently reunited act, The Beach Boys, echoed Folds’ statements while performing on the festival’s main What Stage. After arriving at Bonnaroo a day early with his family to catch Red Hot Chili Peppers and Santigold, frontman Mike Love exclaimed that Bonnaroo is a festival for “real music fans.” The five surviving classic-period Beach Boys and their expansive backing band then proceeded to remind the audience—their youngest in decades—just how many timeless songs they have recorded over the past 50 years. With the exception of two new numbers from their new album That’s Why God Made the Radio and a few covers like The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” the band focused on the classics—from their early surf hits to Pet Sounds favorites and the ’80s comeback smash “Kokomo.”

Though he sat quietly behind his white grand piano for much of the afternoon, Brian Wilson sang lead on a few songs too, most notably the Smile track “Heroes and Villains.” At the end of the night, he picked up his bass and joined the rest of the band at the front of the stage for “Barbara Ann.” Though many of Love’s baby boomer jokes were lost on the young crowd, fans hapilly threw beach balls in the audience and participated in one of the biggest sing-alongs in the festival’s history. In another endearing moment, guitarist Al Jardine gave a shout-out to his kids, who were camping at the festival, and said he “hoped they made it” to the show.

As in years past, a giant indie rock band—this time The Shins— closed out the Which Stage while fans gathered for Bonnaroo’s traditional Sunday night jamband headliner. Their set included Millenial anthems like “New Slang,” “Carring is Creepy” and “Kissing the Lipless” and even a surf-rock riff reminicent of The Beach Boys during “Simple Song.”

The rest of the day’s lineup was filled with rising indie, roots and psychedelic rock bands that a decade earlier would have been considered part of the jamband scene. Austin guitarist Gary Clark. Jr. opened the What Stage with a set of blistering blues songs reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Intertwined Philadelphia groups War on Drugs and Kurt Vile connected the dots between punk and psychedelic music. ALO, one of the only true jambands on Sunday’s bill, showed their own diversity by covering “Eye of the Tiger.” The Fruit Bats channeled elements of Devendra Banhart and longtime friends The Shins. Radiohead protégés Here We Go Magic threw a few free-form jams into their setlist and referenced their love of Phish backstage. Onetime indie-Americana act Delta Spirit showcased their new, more rock-centric sound on the Which Stage.

Even Bon Iver, who spent his early years in jam and roots-rock bands but functioned as Sunday’s What Stage indie rock headliner, made a point to stretch out his songs a bit more than usual. At one point he called the audience “sunburnt,” and he asked them to join him in a call-and-response jam. As more than a few artists pointed out throughout the weekend, hippiedom is still fully engrained in Bonnaroo’s DNA.

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