As the final date of Big Freedia's Just Be Free tour, the NOLA diva's performance at Voodoo proved to be a homecoming fit for a queen. Freedia's set was her freshest, most polished showcase to date, with her twerk troupe moving as a collective unit and going through multiple costume changes.
But the performance still honored her roots by bringing former backup dancer Steph onstage for a few twerking cameos. Freedia also brought out special guests the Showboys, two of bounce music's pioneer producers, for an incredible onstage collaboration that mixed the current face of bounce with the duo whose hit "Drag Rap (Triggerman)" was the sonic blueprint for nearly all early bounce music. As Freedia put it, "That was another part of history made." Indeed. — Jeff Benjamin
This year’s Ultra Music Festival was plagued by surprise health problems, with both Afrojack and headliner Avicii ending up in the hospital instead of on stage. Enter Deadmau5, who agreed to fill in for Avicii at the last minute. The DJ closed Saturday night with a festival-favorite set that also mixed in moments of humor. He nodded to Avicii by sampling “Levels,” and he played Martin Garrix’s festival-conquering hit “Animals”…remixed with “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” To close the set, he pretended like he was about to jump into the audience to crowdsurf—then he stopped and joked that the last thing anyone needed was another DJ sent to the hospital. “I’d be in a bed right between Avicii and Afrojack,” he said before bounding off the stage.
A solo Eminem set is a rare and exciting enough thing on its own. But halfway through Slim Shady’s headlining set at Lollapalooza, the stage went dark for a moment as the opening piano notes of “Love the Way You Lie” began playing. Then Rihanna emerged in a sexy, cut-out dress. The crowd went crazy as the duo moved into their latest collab “The Monster,” followed by Rihanna taking on Dido’s chorus from Em’s 1999 hit “Stan.” A week later, Eminem and Rihanna would launch their co-headlining The Monster Tour. But everyone in Chicago was lucky enough to get a sweet, swift preview of that team up, before Riri slipped away.
In their two-and-a-half hour closing set at Voodoo 2014, the Foo Fighters roared through two dozen songs that made for not only a career retrospective, but also an exciting demonstration of the band embracing new sounds off their Sonic Highways LP. Dave Grohl kicked it off by running up to his microphone and letting loose one of his signature blood-curdling screams before roaring through classic Foo hits ("Learn to Fly," "Everlong"). The set also showcased their newfound love for horns by bringing New Orleans favorite Trombone Shorty onstage for a live collaboration to mix an extended musical interlude into the band's debut single "This Is a Call." The set proved that the act is revitalizing their formula with new inspirations while, of course, still catering to the listeners who have been with them since Day 1. — Jeff Benjamin
In their first U.S. performance in more than two years, Girls' Generation closed down America's biggest K-pop festival, KCON 2014, with a set that hit on all the nostalgic notes. The gals whipped out fan favorites like 2009 singles "Genie" and "Gee," their breakout K-pop hit, but also nailed their most recent release "Mr.Mr." The set might ultimately stand as a bittersweet one for U.S. fans as it was the last time they would see member Jessica perform with the outfit. (For still-unclear reasons, the 25-year-old is no longer in the group.) — Jeff Benjamin
Unlike Lady Gaga's massive, monster of a show, twenty-something teen heartthrob Justin Bieber chose to make his SXSW performance a little different. Our "Baby" played a small and, most importantly, completely unannounced gig at the Texas festival, delighting (and confusing) those in attendance. We're not complaining. — Maria Sherman
While 2013 was the Year of Yeezus, Kanye West gave his larger-than-life tour a festival re-work that successfully captured the cinematic quality of his stadium-ready live show at Bonnaroo 2014. The stage setup was a bit different (with no rock formations or faceless dancers involved), but 'Ye's ferocious energy translated beautifully to the fields of Manchester, Tennessee for his Bonnaroo-headlining set. "Blood on the Leaves" and "Black Skinhead" were absolutely sensational, but the best part? That 10-minute rant he gave set to the strains of a piano in the middle of the whole thing. — Hilary Hughes
SXSW might be the de facto stomping grounds for all upcoming artists, but that doesn't mean the legendary week-long fest ignores the big wigs. Lady Gaga was the highlight of the Austin event this year, performing her bizarro pop at the impressive Doritos' Bold Stage. Fuse was there to livestream her outsider art set, and the result was delightful, dirty and definitely memorable. Just check out some of our hot shots! — Maria Sherman
Linkin Park are by no stretch of the imagination Warped Tour veterans, but that's what made their surprise performance in Ventura, California so special! The arena rock band played a late afternoon set and somehow crammed all their hits into the span of 30 minutes. Added bonus: They even invited some of the other acts on the bill to join in, like Yellowcard's Ryan Key and Finch's Nate Barcalow. — Maria Sherman
The third year of Boston Calling closed out the electric weekend (seriously—a mild hurricane on Saturday forced Girl Talk and Volcano Choir to cancel) with a double shot of Nas and the legendary Roots crew. Nas shared the stage with Questlove and company for a set that included “The World is Yours,” “Represent” and “NY State of Mind” (which plays better than you’d think in Boston). The Roots flexed their ability to be musical chameleons and treated fans to everything from Guns N’ Roses to Kool & the Gang and an excellent rendition of "The Seed 2.0." Wicked cool! — Jonathan Stern
OutKast’s electric Coachella set was their first concert after a seven-year hiatus. Though the pair went on to spend the rest of 2014 headlining more than 40 festivals, none of those subsequent performances matched the thrill of this first time. Yes, the Coachella appearance boasted surprise cameos by Janelle Monáe and Future. But the real excitement came from the pair themselves, who seemed instantly comfortable back on stage together. They spent the first part of the show pacing around a kitchen table. "I bet y'all wondering why we walking around in circles," Big Boi said. "Before our first album, we'd write raps in my auntie's kitchen, walking around her table." Everybody at Coachella was lucky to see the two back doing their thing.
Sure, Coachella had a pretty good lineup this year. But you know what was even better? The lineup of just Pharrell’s set. Over the course of two Coachella performances, Skateboard P surprised the audience with Jay Z, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Nelly, P Diddy, Busta Rhymes (pause to take a breath), T.I. and Tyler, the Creator. It was a staggering demonstration of how many A-list artists Pharrell has worked with over his career. Did anyone in the audience even remember that Pharrell had produced “Hollaback Girl” ten years ago? Probably not. But when Stefani came out to perform it, you can be sure the crowd went B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
Picture this: You're a rock star and modern pop-punk icon who grew up loving The Replacements, and by some crazy twist of fate you get to sub in on rhythm guitar during your favorite band's Coachella-headlining set. That's exactly what happened to Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong when Paul Westerberg threw out his back before the big show and needed some additional support onstage. Though it's a bummer Westerberg wasn't feeling the greatest, it made for a memorable rock moment and a seriously gleeful set for Armstrong and all present in Indio. — Hilary Hughes
Skrillex is an EDM juggernaut, sure, but the DJ proved his multi-genre musical worth by hosting and decimating an absolutely insane superjam well into the morning hours this year at Bonnaroo. The crew that assembled around him included everyone from Zedd on the drum kit to Lauryn Hill to Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley to Robby Krieger of the Doors, with Skrilly picking up a guitar at several points to rock out as opposed to breaking the beat down. He and the rest of the Skrillex Superjam ensemble appeared to have an absolute blast, and it was one big, happy, freaky affair that made for one of the best dance parties the festival has seen to date. — Hilary Hughes