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Published: 2013/06/16

From The Bonnaroo Beacon (Sunday Edition) : Better Together

Photo by Dean Budnick

One of the fundamental Bonnaroo credos is “Better Living through Serendipity” (there’s also one about Gold Bond but that’s best left to another day). Any festival with eleven performance spaces running simultaneously rewards a bit of luck.

Serendipity also played a hand in selecting Saturday’s headliner. Following Ted Dwane’s emergency brain surgery, Mumford & Sons held out hope of performing their Saturday What Stage set despite the fact that such spirited aspiration seemed to fly in the face of a medical credo, which is don’t perform two hours of music in the Tennessee heat and humidity five days after emergency brain surgery. Fortunately, Jack Johnson was en route to the festival (mostly to attend as a fan, while appearing for a few songs on Thursday night with his longtime friends in ALO), just as Mumford made the decision not to perform this year. Johnson received a call while driving to the fest with an invitation to step into the Saturday night slot. As he told the Beacon yesterday, Jack was game to do so, even though he hadn’t performed live with his band in over a year, because of the special affection he holds for the festival and its audience, explaining, “It’s such a music-loving crowd. You feel that right off the bat. You can really feel the difference when you have a crowd like that.” He also affirmed that such a welcoming environment helps to foster a sense of camaraderie among musicians whereby “people are so excited to be there, all the bands backstage. Nobody’s in a hurry to get out of there and people usually stick around when they’re done.” Not only do many artists remain on site but they freely collaborate as well, both on stage and behind the scenes.

Saturday at Bonnaroo 2013, reflected all of these principles and impulses.

The day featured a variety of artists tipping their caps to other Bonnaroo acts. For instance, early in her Which Stage set, Solange delivered a cover of the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move,” while the group appeared a few hours later at This Tent. Portugal. The Man interpreted the Beatles “Helter Skelter” during a Which Stage appearance that will go down as one of this year’s highlights, 19 hours after Paul McCartney performed the tune on the What Stage. Speaking of headliners, another nod came when Jack Johnson, who had dedicated his set to Dwane and the absent Mumford & Sons, later performing a version of their “The Cave.”

All manner of other surprises took place as well. A few hours before they would close out the Which Stage before a packed crowd that spilled back to the Broo’ers Festival, The Lumineers made a special appearance with Ed Helms’ Lonesome Trio as part of his Whiskey Sour Radio Hour at the Comedy Theater. Later on, while the Lumineers were on the Which Stage, Portugal. The Man performed a bonus set before a lucky few hundred alongside the Bonnaroo Fountain.

The connection between artist and audience that Johnson described could be seen over at the Sonic Stage where Lord Huron’s Ben Schneider handed bells to an audience member to play during their show. It was all the more tangible during Matt & Kim’s performance at The Other Tent where Kim Schifino trusted the audience to support her as she crowd surfed.

That special Bonnaroo synchronicity also saw the day’s opening and closing sets on the What Stage include the same Steve Miller cover. Gov’t Mule performed a reggae version of “The Joker,” with Haynes singing “I really love your plantains, want to shake your tree,” rather than the original lyrics. Later on Johnson delivered the traditional “Peaches” line while emulating the sounds of the original version with ALO’s Dan Lebowitz guesting on lap steel.

Speaking of guests, given that environment that Johnson characterized, musical collaboration was a steady part of the equation as well. “Weird Al” Yankovic joined Portugal. The Man for “So American.” Portgual’s John Gourley later sang The Kinks’ “Strangers” with Black Prairie during their evening set in the Artist Compound which also featured appearances by Punch Brothers’ Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldridge.

Meanwhile, over at the Rock n’ Soul Party Superjam, a variety of unannounced artists entered the fray. R. Kelly made a beeline for This Tent after his late night set on the Which Stage and sang lead on “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Bring It On Home To Me.” Billy Idol later showed up after his show at That Tent and offered “Get it on” and “Take You Higher.” Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard was on hand for much of the two hour set, singing lead on such songs as “Hot Fun In The Summer,” “Dance To The Music” and “Everyday People.” She remained in This Tent after the show ended and sang Led Zeppelin’s “Darlene” and “The Lemon Song” with Bustle in Your Hedgerow. James also sat in with his close friends Preservation Hall Jazz Band earlier in the evening for “St . James Infirmary”

Both Jim James and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who were part of the Superjam, joined forces earlier in the night when James sat in with Pres Hall at This Tent for “St. James Infirmary.” Later on, the group helped Jack Johnson close out the What Stage by adding their signature New Orleans flair to “Mudfootball.”

All In all it was another satisfying Saturday at Bonnaroo, where the triangulation of artist, guest artist and audience made it all “Better Together,” to quote the Jack Johnson song he performed during his encore.

Here’s hoping for more of the same during Bonnaroo’s encore on Sunday.

Here’s a look at the Superjam’s setlist via

Star Spangled Banner (with Michael Winslow)
Standing on Shaky Ground (The Temptations cover)
Hey, Pocky Way (The Meters cover)
Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield cover)
Love Train (The O’Jays cover)
Use Me (Bill Withers cover)
Don’t Do It (The Band cover)
Instant Karma! (John Lennon cover)
1999 (Prince cover)
When Something is Wrong with My Baby (Sam & Dave cover)
Dance to the Music (Sly & The Family Stone cover)
Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly & The Family Stone cover)
Family Affair (Sly & The Family Stone cover)
Everyday People (Sly & The Family Stone cover)
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Sly & The Family Stone cover)

A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke cover) (with R. Kelly)
Bring it on Home to Me (Sam Cooke cover) (with R. Kelly)
Get It On (T. Rex cover) (with Billy Idol)
Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones cover)
I Want to Take You Higher (Sly & The Family Stone cover)

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