Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder Lead Bonnaroo Festival On Day 2
Stevie Wonder galvanized Bonnaroo with a sweaty, irresistible nighttime performance, an act that headliner Jay-Z followed with torrid, flawless bombast.
Jay-Z and Wonder were perhaps the two biggest acts to perform back-to-back at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which closes Sunday night with the Dave Matthews Band. The two took the Bonnaroo main stage in succession on Saturday, pumping the festival crowd — some 75,000 in total — full of energy.
Each performance was a remarkable individual showcase. Jay-Z, often solo with his band behind in the shadows, roamed the stage relentlessly, moving briskly from hit to hit, including “Empire State of Mind,” '‘Big Pimpin’,” '‘Hard Knock Life” and “99 Problems.”
Well into the set, after songs almost uniformly about himself, Jay-Z made one of the more redundant introductions.
“Some people may know me, some people may not,” said the rapper. “My name is Jay-Z.”
Bonnaroo may have begun as a jam band event, but it years ago expanded into all genres, including hip-hop. And Jay-Z has recently been making rock festivals a frequent destination. He famously drew ire from some traditionalists in the U.K. when he performed at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival. He also played California’s Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in May.
Dressed in a black T-shirt and black shorts, Jay-Z never removed his “sunnies.” He singled out a girl in the audience because it was her birthday and sang “Happy Birthday” to her on stage.
It was a surprisingly sweet moment for such a swaggering concert. But the performance started on a similar note.
“Wait ‘til I tell my mom Stevie Wonder stayed for my set,” Jay-Z said, smiling broadly.
Wonder played a career-spanning concert that was roundly viewed as a festival highlight. The R&B legend frequently led the crowd in sing-alongs, informing the audience that they were now “a Stevie Wonder group of voices.”
“I’m going to be your teacher,” he said, before cautioning, “Don’t mess up my words.”
Wonder didn’t skimp on the hits, performing warm, lively renditions of “Higher Ground,” '‘Superstition,” '‘Sir Duke,” '‘My Cherie Amour,” '‘Do I Do” and many others.
He began the set offstage, playing a funky opening jam on a keytar of “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me?” He was guided as he walked to his gleaming grand piano, as his large backing band filed in behind.
He was a consummate bandleader, shouting to his group to change keys as he jammed on a talkbox during a cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
The entire performance had a warm, inclusive glow. In the intro to “Livin’ For the City,” Wonder criticized dishonest politics.
“If you want to be a supremacist, then be the supreme of getting people together,” he said. He finished the song with his arms raised and a bar of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”
Other acts Saturday included Weezer, Jack White’s the Dead Weather, Norah Jones and a middle-of-the-night set by the jam band Disco Biscuits.
Excessive heat in the high 90s has been a constant at this year’s ninth annual Bonnaroo. Reprieve came late in the afternoon when a passing shower cooled things off. The rain arrived as Jack White’s the Dead Weather were performing on the main stage, and White told the crowd to remember who was playing when the rain came.
Conan O’Brien introduced the Dead Weather, with whom he has a close connection. He and White are friends, and on Thursday in Nashville, O’Brien performed a set of rockabilly at White’s Nashville label, Third Man Records.
“Don’t think of it as rain,” O’Brien told the crowd. “Think of it as us having a shower together.”
O’Brien has been emceeing the Bonnaroo main stage and twice performed his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” comedy show. After crisscrossing the country, O’Brien — whose voice was hoarse Saturday — is nearing the finish of his tour, which ends Monday in Atlanta.
World Cup fever also came to Bonnaroo, where the U.S.-England match, which finished with a 1-1 draw, was broadcast on a big screen.
No one was a bigger soccer fan than Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer. On Friday, the band released a Cup anthem for the U.S. team, “Represent,” available for free on iTunes.
Before taking the stage, Cuomo could be seen backstage juggling a soccer ball. Wearing a U.S. jersey, he was clearly in a good mood, bouncing around the stage and climbing scaffolding. The band began with “Hash Pipe,” as Cuomo sang, fittingly, “Come on and kick me.”
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