Bonnaroo Day 4 Review: Florence Saves ‘Roo From Billy Joel’s Misstep

Oh, Billy. What happened? You had us in the palm of your hand, and you brushed us off like whippersnapper dust. 

So ended the 2015 incarnation of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which by nearly all accounts was a screaming success. That is, with the exception of one Mr. Billy Joel, who closed out the main stage on Sunday night with a set of off-kilter duds with a few banger classics mixed in for buoyancy. 

It just didn’t work. He wasn’t prepared for a glowstick-laced crowd of passive fans at best, who were only familiar with his sounds through the lens of their parents. Now, on their own turf on the tail end of a musical marathon of sweat, incredible music and camping endurance, he was going to deliver fucking “Zanzibar” in the first three songs of his set? Get the hell out of here.

Thankfully, the rest of the day was true to Roo form, packed with adventure and greatness across several stages and random picnic tables throughout the fest, such as these fine young cats from The Very Best, who had just finished playing a set at This Tent:

Bonnaroo crowd

By Sunday, all pretense was gone. The topless girls didn’t bother with body paint. People slept everywhere, shade be damned. But the smiles were enormous and the crowds astoundingly patient as the crowd for Twenty One Pilots nearly packed the entire main stage field.

5 Twenty One Pilots Bonnaroo 2015

We told you how powerful their shows can be at Sasquatch, where they outshone the headliners and were on the lips of nearly every attendee throughout the weekend. Bonnaroo wasn’t much different, where Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun brought thousands of screaming fans into their world for a leaping, crowd-surfing maniacal blast of fun.

Apologizing for starting 20 minutes late Sunday, Joseph said, “They made me sign a piece of paper saying I wouldn’t climb anything,” a testimony to his early-Vedder-like tendencies to climb scaffoldings and lighting rigs (just like he did at Outside Lands 2013).

21 Twenty One Pilots Bonnaroo 2015

Regardless, the paper didn’t stop him. During their hit “Car Radio,” Joseph jumped down, ran through the audience and climbed the lighting scaffolding behind the soundboard, finishing the song from there. And the roars of approval were deafening…

AWOL Bonnaroo 2015 (1)

We’ve been enormous Awolnation fans for years, and after our conversation with mastermind Aaron Bruno earlier this year on what the band had in store we couldn’t wait to catch them at ‘Roo. But sadly, the experience was a live disappointment. The sound is there, and they truly sound fantastic, but with a sonic impact this big the visuals need to accompany in a way that reflects the energy. But with Bruno simply standing there making arm gestures, there was no intensity translation. Where are the lights, the wild enthusiasm? Lead us to it, man!

1 Florence Bonnaroo 2015

While everyone else humped Robert Plant’s leg on the Which Stage, I was the only photographer in the pit for an astoundingly good Caribou show. Dan Snaith has a remarkable ability to connect sonic appreciations found through psychedelic exploration with those of a more grounded appeal.

2 Florence Bonnaroo 2015

A flourish of analog samples, 90s house and pop structure are filtered through a lens of delicate, intricate beats that envelop the listener in a transformatively meditative experience. It was the perfect place to be as the final stretch of Bonnaroo sent us off with gentle, ethereal grace.

3 Florence Bonnaroo 2015 (2)

“Are you surviving?” asked a beaming, wild-eyed Florence Welch after singing a captivating version of “Ship to Wreck”. “It’s so hot out there. Is everyone drinking enough?” The maternal wood-nymph goddess was in beautiful form, and entirely occupied with connecting as deeply as possible with her audience. That’s just how a Florence & The Machine show goes.

Leading with the cinematically magical “What The Water Gave Me,” Welch’s vivacity carried the enraptured crowd’s enthusiasm through a wave of new material from their excellent third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The slow-build forest fire of “What Kind of Man” found her running from end to end of the stage connecting with fans.

4 Florence Bonnaroo 2015

While Billy Joel wasn’t at all concerned with making a connection with his audience, it was precisely the opposite experience for tens of thousands of people crammed in to see Florence on the main stage. And the results were magnificent.

We think Glastonbury’s going to be just fine with its new headliner.

Now to take care of this mangled field, wrecked body and the inevitable hangover effect of knowing that real life awaits, and we can’t exist in the land of Bonnaroo all year round. But we can look forward to next year, and we’re about to book our flights for Bonnaroo 2016. If you’ve been here, you understand why it’s the Best Festival in America

Now to clean up this mess! 


That’s not my tutu, I swear.

All Photos: Johnny Firecloud