Day Four: Martha Wainwright, Widespread Panic

It was an unusually poignant and reverent Sunday (June 17) at Bonnaroo this year. As debaucherous and overwhelming as a festival weekend can be, the candor of a few of the day’s acts recalled the simpler, earlier time where festival culture was born. In a celebration of respect for the past, recognition of the present, and lunging towards the future, Sunday was a time for today’s classics to shine.

Borrowing from and innovating her family’s strong musical ties, Martha Wainwright’s late afternoon set in That Tent made Bonnaroo Sunday folkin’ excellent. With a handful of father Loudon’s sincerity and a sprinkle of brother Rufus’ regal vibrato, Wainwright recalled Summer of Love-era songstresses with an edge of her own thanks to profanity-laden choruses and a signature stage presence. As one of the festival’s many solo female performers, Wainwright’s organic and graceful catharsis was a comforting reminder of festival tradition amidst a lineup that prides itself on bringing out whoever may be the biggest, boastful, and brightest.

As Wilco walked offstage and exit strategies were announced, it was clear that the strong who survive Bonnaroo are handsomely rewarded for such endurance and dedication. With sun on their skin, dust in their eyes, mud in their toes, and glowsticks in hand, a comfortably large crowd welcomed final headliners Widespread Panic to What Stage. With the addition of guitar virtuoso Jimmy Herring, Panic’s roster was stronger than ever and their break-less three and a half hour set included songs like “Tallboy,” “Chilly Water,” and “Lose You.” As the band launched into the legendary favorite “Driving Song,” 21-year-old festival staff member Matt Baker exclaimed, “This is the last thing I was expecting. I didn’t even know they played this song live anymore!” and then loudly beckoned at the stage for Herring to continue with his effortless “face-melting” guitar work. In the spirit of jam bands and appearances past, Widespread Panic was turned on and right at home — and sadly, their friendly neighbors would soon be sent home packing.

R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” blared from the stage speakers as the crowd trickled out of Centeroo and all we were left with was the unexplainable and irreplaceable experiences of another year in musical utopia where it’s hot in the sun and hot onstage as well. With the performers of today perpetuating the culture of the past, Sunday night was the end of our Bonnaroo world and we knew it — but it sure was fine. SAMANTHA PROMISLOFF


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