The thing about seeing live country and Americana music at an all-genre festival like the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. is that the artists need no fancy production. Their words, musicianship and overall artistry are the main event.
And they draw loyal fans by the thousands willing to camp out in, as Cardi B described live onstage Sunday (June 16), “the middle of nowhere.”
First, it’s safe to say no one had more fun at the sold-out event than the women of country and Americana music. Even Dolly Parton was spotted smiling on Post Malone’s shirt and pants.
Kassi Ashton, a member of CMT’s Next Women of Country program, camped the whole weekend to fully immerse herself in the Bonnaroo experience. Her Bonnaroo debut was part of the Whiskey Jam concerts on Thursday (June 13) at The Ville, a plaza in general camping dedicated to rising Nashville hit-makers. Jessy Wilson and Charlie Worsham were also among The Ville artists.
Lindsay Ell inspired the most natural reaction when she joined GRiZ’s G.O.A.T. A Celebration of Music Legends SuperJam to eulogize Chris Cornell with a scorching “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden. One fan in the front row was overheard telling his friend, “That’s wifey material right there.” Damn straight, son.
Maren Morris gave some victory remarks before “I Could Use a Love Song” recalling the time a radio programmer told her he wouldn’t play the song because he claimed, “No one wants to hear women be sad on the radio.” Well, that song went No. 1 and according to Morris, that guy got fired.
The timing of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour set on Saturday (June 15) was perfection. First, Bonnaroo’s inaugural Pride Parade ended at the Which Stage moments before Musgraves emerged with her band, and the setting sun made the Tennessee grounds glow as if they were inside a bottle of sparkling champagne. She brought balloons that looked like globes for “Lonely Island” and performed an inspiring cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize.”
On Sunday (June 16), Brandi Carlile brought out Tanya Tucker to sing “Wheels of Laredo” from Tucker’s forthcoming album with Carlile, While I’m Livin’. In observance of Pride Month, Carlile dedicated “The Mother” to straight fathers, gay fathers and trans fathers everywhere. At the end of her set Manchester Mayor Lonnie J. Norman surprised her with the keys to the city and Coffee County.
Bonnaroo 2019 had the best country and Americana artists represented with return of the Grand Ole Opry, the Avett Brothers and Trampled By Turtles. John Prine collaborated with new Oh Boy! signee Kelsey Waldon and sang a stirring “Summer’s End” with Carlile. During his Bonnaroo debut at That Tent, Ruston Kelly announced he was celebrating six months of sobriety and gave an evocative performance of selections from his latest album, Dying Star. Luke Dick, a No. 1 songwriter behind hits for Eric Church and Dierks Bentley and arguably Nashville’s most creative artist, brought his band Republican Hair to the Who Stage on Saturday (June 15).
The 2019 headliners were Childish Gambino, Phish and Post Malone.