This year’s Bonnaroo Superjam, the festival’s annual freeform display of artistic collaboration often scheduled on Saturday night and curated by one seasoned performer, was an overarching tribute to Tennessee, with a pastiche of Bonnaroo players paying homage to the Volunteer State. Kamasi Washington, the jazz saxophonist who released the brilliant album The Epic last year, served as host, and brought out a slew of guest stars to cover everything Tennessee, from Johnny Cash to Justin Timberlake.
The latter was covered by Miguel at the tail end of the show, with the Saturday night performer jetting across the festival grounds to close out the set with “Sexyback.” The R&B star seemed to let a lot of lyrics go astray, but made up for the 3:00 am cameo with an enthusiastic goading of the crowd during the song.
Earlier, Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins delivered the strangest performance of the Superjam by settling into Johnny Cash’s iconic “Ring of Fire.” Jenkins admitted prior to the song that he had missed soundcheck, but pulled off the cover well enough, even if the “Semi-Charmed Life” singer didn’t exactly evoke the Man in Black.
As with every Superjam, the audience was delightfully privy to the rapport between artists navigating a series of tributes. This year, Washington served as jovial curator by hyping up all of his collaborators between blasts of his mighty saxophone. Allen Stone’s take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” proved to be soulful and spine-tingling; Washington said that he got “goosebumps” just thinking about the display. Elsewhere, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child was on-hand for Maurice White’s “Getaway,” Chicano Batman played a bizarre rendition of the Shaft theme, and Nathaniel Rateliff led a sprawling take on “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” by Bobby “Blue” Bland. Even the collaborations that didn’t work sported a thick coat of ambition, and it was hard to fault Washington and co. for attempting such lavish reinterpretations of Tennessee touchstones.
And, rest assured, the brass section was on fire, led by Washington’s sax. The horns crowded together onstage like they were afraid to leave each other’s side, and there were too many eardrum-rattling trumpet solos to count. There weren’t any huge guest stars (and it’s worth noting that Dev Hynes was scheduled to appear but never showed up), but for Washington, the Superjam was an opportunity to jam with friends, experiment with old favorites and, hopefully, gain a more robust following.
Watch Daughter discuss their new music live at Bonnaroo: