All good things must come to an end— even badass virtual music festivals. I won’t lie. I was skeptical about this idea of a virtual fest when I first saw Bonnaroo promote Virtual ROO-ality. Watching live performances on YouTube seems like a regular Tuesday activity to me. What’s so special about that? But here’s the thing. When I’m wrong, I’ll say I’m wrong. And I was wrong. Really wrong. I can’t deny that I was impressed long before the third and final day. Each day of the virtual fest left me more invested, with more virtual friends and more impressed than the day before. More importantly, it finally pulled me away from watching old concert videos on Tik Tok and crying. (I’m only kind of kidding about that.)
Anyone who has been to Bonnaroo will tell you that the culture at this fest in comparison to others on the fest circuit is unmatched. It’s not just about music. It’s about community, art, wellness and all the things that make our hearts go ‘round, right? It’s a tall order to expect Bonnaroo to deliver all of that to your living room, but damn it they did it. By the third day, the live stream was crawling with inside jokes of people who had become friends through it all three days. It was packed with people reliving their memories from legacy shows or fan-girling over their new favorite acts who were live-streaming (and talking to those artists in the live chat, by the way. Having that kind of accessibility to the bands isn’t always something you would get the opportunity to do in real life.) The way Bonnaroo was able to bring their unique culture alive and to our living rooms left a stamp on the idea of what virtual festivals can do and large shoes for others who attempt to do the same to fill. With that being said, here’s my recap of the third and final day.
Joy is the most personable and authentic artist I saw perform out of all the live streams in the three-day span. She grew up in Arizona and learned to play guitar at 10-years-old, casually writing songs over the years. She had no intention of pursuing a musical career until after she graduated college and she was encouraged to pursue it by a friend. She moved to L.A. working as a backup singer— eventually releasing her own album. She began to receive national recognition when Ciara and Russell Wilson used one of her songs in a pregnancy video. She currently lives with her girlfriend in Nashville recording her music on the second floor of their home. Her music is emotional, soulful, and endearing with folk and R&B influences. One song in particular that she hasn’t released on streaming services was one that made everyone in the chat erupt. The song was called “Icy America” or “I See America”. We weren’t sure which. When we asked her which one it was, she replied that it was both. She joined in the live chat to talk to us and was personable, humble, relatable, and down to earth. This performance was one of my top two favorite performances of the weekend— coming second only to Jack White’s 2014 set.
Allen Stone Bonnaroke
Allen Stone’s Bonnaroke (pronounced bon-ah-roke-key) is a play off of karaoke. Allen had held a contest prior to the fest for his fans. The winners would be streamed into his set to sing his hit songs with him karaoke-style. This was a great way for him to interact with fans and bring something unique and fresh to the lineup. The winners then joined in the live chat stream with everyone else providing a cool interactive element I hadn’t seen before.
To say this folk duo is dreamy would be an understatement. They live-streamed their set from a tent under the stars for crying out loud. Their dynamic is so pure, innocent, and intimate. When they perform it’s like the audience isn’t even there— that maybe we are just getting a peek into what a regular Saturday night in this married couple’s living room is like. This is easily one of my favorite finds of the weekend. If you are a fan of acts like Rayland Baxter, The Milk Carton Kids, or Shovels & Rope you will love Mandolin Orange. Heck, if you’re a fan of emotional and textured of folk, you’ll love this North Carolina duo.
Mindchatter is New York-based Bryce Connelly’s electric brainchild. Connelly definitely has a certain “innocent” endearing boy band swag to him when he performs which caused him to quickly become a Bonnaroovian fan-favorite in the live chat. His sound is what happens when upbeat pop somehow meets electronic introspection causing juxtaposition and intrigue. This element gives his music a chameleon-like characteristic allowing it to be seamlessly played in a variety of environments. If you like Lauve (with more electronic fusions) you will like Mindchatter.
Funk grooves meets 70s rhythm rock are the foundations in which Neal Francis’ sound thrives. Neal is a Chicago-based musician who uses music as liberation from his vices and a celebration of his found sobriety. His presence and his vibe pays homage to soul-rock singers from the 70s while bringing something fresh to the table. There are so many moments he reminded me of Billy Joel circa The Stranger. While his set was only 15 minutes, it was enough to get a taste of who he is musically and left everyone wanting more.
My Morning Jacket (2011)
I completely forgot how utterly intoxicating Jim James’ presence is. It wasn’t a minute into My Morning Jacket’s set that I was reminded. If you have ever seen this group perform you get it. If you haven’t, you won’t understand until you do. It is hard to put into words, but let’s just put it this way. If Jim James ever started a cult I don’t think I could resist joining. He has such an allure and a draw in his stage presence that you can’t help but be completely consumed and lost in them collectively. He acts as a gateway into this musical rabbit hole and watching the group perform is an experience. My Morning Jacket is textured in a way where you are captivated the whole time hanging on every note to see what will come next. If you ever have an opportunity to see them (in a post-COVID world), don’t think about it. Just buy your ticket and enjoy the ride. Until then, here’s a video to hold you over.
The White Stripes (2007)
I’m a sucker for Jack White live, but had never seen him with Meg this way until now. The two of them together are something special. Someone in the live chat said “They make a lot of noise for two people,” and that’s just it. The power that they are able to bring to the stage and in their music when it’s only the two of them is insane. I also love how Jack positions his mic at the base of Meg’s kit and performs to her, with her performing back with the same intimate intensity. It’s almost as if the audience isn’t even there at times. And, that just shows how connected they are. The White Stripes never performed with a setlist. It was all off of the intuition of them as a duo and their connection which is incredible. It’s chaos, it’s intense but it’s intimate as hell and I will live for that kind of soulful, innate and cross-dimensional destruction on stage every single time.
Well, that’s a wrap on Bonnaroo’s Virtual ROO-ality. It exceeded my expectations and scratched that itch I’ve had in COVID world to see live music and go to a festival— for now. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to the fest and all the new Roo friends I made, but you never know. Maybe we’ll reunite on the farm someday. If you’ve been to Bonnaroo, you know — without a doubt— that anything is possible. Until next year, Happy Roo and radiate positivity!