Saturday at Bonnaroo was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is no hyperbole in that statement. None. I was riveted by the performers I saw on Saturday. My expectations were extremely high going into the day and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. If anything, my expectations were exceeded.

I decided early on that Saturday would be an almost strictly main stage day. The downside was that I wasn’t going to check out some of the smaller acts at other stages, but I soon found out it was all worth it.

Jimmy Cliff and his band started my day off with his mellow reggae and ska. Jimmy is quite the live performer and thrives off of crowd participation.  He moves his body around while his band plays island sounds, and he’s a unique, powerful presence on the microphone. Though his sounds are mellow for the most part, Jimmy has a very strong political message, typical to his genre, but it never seemed too preachy from him. Simply put, Dr. Cliff and his band put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.


Next up was Dead Weather. Let me start by saying this. I knew Jack White was a great musician going into the set, yet I didn’t realize he was this good. From my account, he’s the best musician I’ve seen at Bonnaroo all week. Bottom line. Clearly he’s extremely versatile; working the drums, the guitar, and vocals. He also has a confidence about him that is always captivating – a star swagger, if you will. He really seems in his own world when he’s performing, as if he’s doing the thing he was born to do.

As for the entire act, Dead Weather was one of my favorite at the festival.  Dean Fertita is an awesome guitarist. Jack Lawrence is strong on bass. The only flaw was Alison Mosshart’s vocals sounding distorted early on in the set, but that quickly came to pass. I was really impressed at how each band member changed instrument responsibility on a few songs; for instance, Fertita on keyboard when White picks up the guitar. I loved the dual vocals by White and Mosshart during the set on songs like “Die By the Drop,” “Cut Like a Buffalo” and “Will There Be Enough Water?” This set was clearly going to be a candidate for best of the festival, and more power to White being that he’s now based in Nashville.

After that fiery set, the crowd waited in anticipation for Stevie Wonder. The legendary performer kept the crowd waiting, coming out a bit late, but he easily made up for it. It’s difficult to separate the actual performance from the awe when a legend performs live. Part of me kept asking, “was I really watching Stevie Wonder live?” The other part of me tried to break down his performance.

Stevie Wonder performed many of his classics and got the crowd thriving on every note throughout. As expected, his personality shone through. Surprisingly, he moved around a lot, at one point standing on his piano seat. At his advanced age and stature, Stevie still brings it. But at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, it wasn’t an overwhelming performance. It was a good, fun performance that made me smile and brought me back to my childhood when I first heard many of his hits. I’m just glad I got to see Stevie Wonder perform live.


And now to the main event. The dichotomy of my inner self was at an all-time split. Jay-Z, easily one of my favorite emcees of all-time, was ready to perform. But on Jay’s road to pop stardom, I’ve strongly felt that his music has suffered. One thing that I would agree on is that Jay-Z has reached a level of live performance ability that very few ever reach. He just innately knows how to perform live. I first saw him at his 9/11 tribute concert last year at Madison Square Garden and it was a performance only a few artists can put together. He has confidence, energy, and a group of loyal fans that are helping make some of his shows the stuff of legend.

After Stevie’s set, I had to make a quick decision. Stay where I was standing (a good spot nonetheless, no more than 300 feet from the stage) or try to work my way in the pit. I chose to go for the pit. I really wanted to experience the energy of his personality close up, despite the songs he plays. So I did what any capitalist would, and I gave the security guard at the metal rail a $20 bill and he let me in the line for the pit. As the line was let into the pit, there was a huge push. One girl even got slightly trampled. There was Hova mania in the air. I survived, barely.

As I stood about five rows back in the muddy pit, the biggest star in music came out to a spotlight. Jay-Z performed tracks from his most recent album, The Blueprint 3. He did indulge some his long time fans with a few older tracks, but he mostly stuck to post-2003 music.  Let’s face it, Jay-Z’s newer work has more flaws than a plastic-surgery patient, but he is an accomplished showman. Even if I wasn’t in the pit and instead hundreds of yards back, I would have been transfixed, but it was enhanced by my position. Only my back and knees hated me for it.

It was time to let loose. I had run out of energy the first two nights of Bonnaroo.  It’s clear I’m not a kid anymore at 30 years old, but since I jumped into a muddy put for one ultimate experience, I felt I could continue to act like a kid for the rest of the night. I headed over to This Tent to check out the techno and house sounds of Deadmau5. What an atmosphere. He provided a light show, and as his custom, he wore he mouse mask for the crowd. The crowd provided their own light show as well. From there I headed to the DJ tent where some techno music was playing then over to the silent disco, where I partied to nearly sunrise. Let’s just say the freaks truly come out at night.

There’s a part of me that wishes I experienced Bonnaroo in my 20′s. But deep down, I know I probably couldn’t have handled it maturely. I’m glad that I’m here now, despite my body aches and need for sleep. What an amazing day. Good night.–Chris Dino/photo of Jimmy Cliff, Dead Weather, Jay-z via: Allsongs on flickr