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It was hot and muggy when the kids (and grown-ups) woke up Friday, June 14, for day 2 of Bonnaroo. And it stayed hot until the sun went down, cooling things off considerably.
The first news to come out of the press tent was the unfortunate cancellation of headlining act, the rootsy, folksy band Mumford & Sons. The group’s bass player, Ted Dwane, is being treated for a blood clot in his brain and couldn’t make the show. So we here at CW wish him a speedy recovery. Singer/songwriter Jack Johnson will be playing the main stage in their stead.
At the first artists panel, John Oates, Nicki Bluhm, comedian Ed Helms, Michael Angelakos from Passion Pit and duo Matt & Kim did a round-robin-style interview with Esquire’s Andy Langer. In addition to his comedic acting résumé, which includes the Hangover movies, Ed is an accomplished banjo player and has curated an acoustic series for Sunday, June 16, that includes Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers) and many others.
“I’ve just been doing comedy to support my banjo playing,” he joked. This is Ed’s first Bonnaroo and he noted that visitors have to walk around and scream the entire weekend just to be heard over the nonstop music.
He also reflected on why he got started playing his instrument of choice. “Banjos are extremely irritating and maybe that’s why banjos and comedians get along so well. We’re both so irritating,” he said with a laugh.
After lunch, Southern singer/songwriter Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit played for an enthusiastic crowd that endured some scorching midday sun to see him. His fiddle-playing wife, Amanda Shires, harmonized and bowed beautifully.
Jason asked the crowd how they were doing, joking that most entertainers didn’t really care when they asked that question. “But I really care about each and every one of you and I want you to have a good time,” he remarked.
Included in Jason’s set were “Live Oak” and “Stockholm”—both of which appear on his new album, Southeastern—as well as “Go It Alone” and even his Drive-By Truckers favorites “Outfit” and “Decoration Day.” He wrapped up with a muscular version of Southeastern’s “Super 8.”
Jason was also on the afternoon’s artist panel, along with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, Brian King of Japandroids, and comedians Mike Birbiglia and Michael Che. He was actually happy for the big crowds everywhere, because it meant a chance to make new fans. “If it’s a crowd that big, they can’t all be my fans,” he mused. “I like not preaching to the choir.”
Brian, a Canadian, called the Tennessee heat “physically challenging.” It’s challenging for the rest of us, too.
And reflecting on the very intimate, personal nature of his new album, Jason thought performing those songs was easier because it was something his fans expected. Though he pointed out he’s also unafraid of making a big, Van Halen-style rock move when it suits him. “If I could do the splits I’d be doing them all day,” he said with a laugh.
Later in the day, performers included rockers Wilco and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, as well as beloved hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
The evening’s big headliner was none other than Sir Paul McCartney. No other shows were going during his set, so the entirety of Bonnaroo, 80,000 or so strong, flocked to the main stage to catch his set, which was heavy on Beatles classics like “All My Loving,” “Paperback Writer,” “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Hey Jude” and a lovely tribute to George Harrison on “Something.” He also played his own hits, including “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Band on the Run” and “Live and Let Die"—which got a boost from a huge fireworks display.
Following Sir Paul, those bearded bards of boogie ZZ Top were playing one of the side stages and an enthusiastic crowd packed the area. And well into the wee hours, more experimental artists like Pretty Lights and Animal Collective got to dazzle the blissful night owls, happy to dance until the sun came up again.