MANCHESTER, TN (WAVE) - For the past 14 years, tens of thousands have camped out each June on a dusty farm to witness live rock history at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in middle of Tennessee.
As the 2015 chapter was recorded in its musical notebook, many in the hot, sweaty crowd danced in front of cranked up amps blasting songs born in Kentuckiana.
Near the top of the 150-plus-act lineup was Louisville's My Morning Jacket, touring in support of their seventh studio effort, the physical-loss-brings-spiritual-change-themed The Waterfall.
My Morning Jacket became Bonnaroo legend in 2008 with a four-hour, rain soaked set that included covers of Sly & the Family Stone, Funkadelic, James Brown and Motley Crue along with a guest appearance from Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.
Back for a second time seven years later, with the unofficial title of Bonnaroo's house band, frontman Jim James and company led the well-acquainted crowd through its own material without any covers, nearly a third of the set coming from The Waterfall, with album opener Believe (Nobody Knows) kicking things off.
Compound Fracture and Spring (Among the Living), also from The Waterfall, served as a bookend to songs from 2011's Circuital and fan favorite Wordless Chorus. A mid-set combination of Off the Record into I'm Amazed injected energy, with a dark timbre in the improvisational portion of Record foreshadowing the introspective pieces from more new material that followed, including title track In Its Infancy (The Waterfall). Echoing the band's 2011 performance, the set ended with a Guitar-Hero-worthy One Big Holiday.
While the Saturday night main stage performance came before headliner Mumford and Sons, My Morning Jacket weren't finished. They returned to close out the night, along with actor-musician Ed Helms and members of The War on Drugs, Dawes and Hozier in a collaborate cover of Joe Cocker's version of the Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends.
As much as Bonnaroo gives the industry's biggest acts a spotlight unlike any other, it also does the same for rising stars. New Albany's Houndmouth landed a coveted Thursday night slot, something that in the past few years helped Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar land primetime slots in 2015.With momentum building form the band's single Sedona, they're targeting the West Coast and playing chess, a common staple in songs and videos, in between tour dates. For their second year at Bonnaroo, Houndmouth delivered a high-energy effort with their throwback style, capped off with a cover of Dion's early '60s doo-wop Runaround Sue that turned their tent stage into a 21st Century sockhop.
Other Thursday acts to make waves and perk up ears included Courtney Barnett and Jungle. Barnett is known as a tongue-in-cheek lyricist, yet the live version of her material has more punch in the drumbeat, more buzz in the amplifiers, and a hue of fury drizzled in '90s grunge. Jungle's contagious jam Busy Earnin' and their new-funk vibe kept people dancing hard in the thick, humid, nighttime air.
Another Kentuckian looking to break into the top rung of the music world at Bonnaroo was Sturgill Simpson, an outcast amongst outcasts who hails from the mountains of Breathitt County. With outlaw ballads of love and drugs, and a voice to match any legend in country music, his band delivered a dose of the psychedelic into the honky-tonk rebellion of his songs that will undoubtedly, inevitably garner attention from suits in Nashville high rises and small towns in America abroad.
On Sunday night at Bonnaroo, Louisville found itself tumbling from the lips of rock icon Robert Plant. A sundown set with the Sensational Space Shifters included bluegrass-folk standard Little Maggie, with Plant beforehand tracing the song's roots to the Daniel Boone National Forest, giving him a moment prompt cheers from fans by name dropping other homesteads in the Commonwealth, including the Derby City.
As the sky grew dark around them, Plant and his band lit up the early night. Placed around a selection of Americana and blues classics was a thunderous rework of a full-out Zepplin session, including Going to California, a beefy version of Dazed and Confused that included verses from Howlin' Wolf's predecessor No Place to Go, and a mashup/medley of Crossroads, I Just Wanna Make Love to You, You Need Love, Whole Lotta Love and Who Do You Love.
An encore of Rock and Roll closed ended the night with one act left on the main stage, where Billy Joel led a two-hour sing along through his four-decade long catalogue complete with mandatory crowd sing along of Piano Man, but the set brought less energy than what Florence + the Machine delivered in the same spot a couple of hours earlier, including a touching moment when fellow fans crowd surfed a woman holding a sign asking "Hug?" to the front of the stage, where Florence Welch was all too happy to render with a tight embrace.
Bonnaroo headliner Kendrick Lamar landed the top hip-hop spot. Heading into the festival, some media critics openly wondered why he and his backing live band weren't performing more songs from the well-received latest release, To Pimp a Butterfly. Along with a start-and-stop rendition of m.A.A.d. city and other selections from his previous masterpiece, he hushed those quick to judge critics with furious live delivery of These Walls, King Kunta and tour debut of i that had the majority of Bonnaroo's 80-some-thousand people bouncing after a brief cover of Tupac Shakur's Hail Mary.
When the music wasn't playing, which happens for maybe a dozen hours over the course of four days, and as Bonnaroovians left the stage area known as Centeroo to return to camp at night, one of the dinner options delivered some Louisville spice. The local Holy Mole food truck made a road trip down to the festival farm, delivering various versions of three tacos for $9, which is pretty fair fare compared to a normal concert, much less the biggest one of the summer.
The flair of Bonnaroo returns the favor next month at the Forecastle Festival. Parent organization AC Entertainment books and oversees both events. Among those performing are the previously mentioned My Morning Jacket, Houndmouth and Sturgill Simpson.