Best of Bonnaroo: ALO, The Polyphonic Spree, Ariel Pink, Jonny Fritz


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Bonnaroo was off to a strange start on Thursday. This Tent openers Diiv had been postponed till the next day so they could fill in for Earl Sweatshirt, who cancelled, and the festival’s Saturday night headlining act Mumford and Sons had also cancelled. But for the folks at AC Entertainment, this proved only to be a minor setback. Before the end of the day Bonnaroo management managed to squeeze in everything from surprise sets to a tease of their replacement Saturday night headliner.

Some of the highlights of the day include Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, The Polyphonic Spree, ALO featuring Jack Johnson, and Ariel Pink.

Armed with a plethora of vocal effects that recall classic Ween almost as much as R. Stevie Moore (almost), Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, the enigmatic singer known as Ariel Pink, brought a manic blend of sugar-y pop and neo-psychedelia to the Bonnaroo crowd Thursday evening.

Though Rosenberg has been releasing home recordings since the early 2000s, it wasn’t until recently that his work has seen a more mainstream appeal.

After hearing his beat-driven, hook-filled live show, it’s a real stumper that it didn’t catch on sooner, but Rosenberg certainly made the best of his set, which was as entertaining as it was strange at times.

Another great under appreciated artist at Bonnaroo this year was Jonny Fritz, the man formerly known as Jonny Corndawg.

Fritz took the stage at the New Music On Tap Lounge sporting a neck brace and sling, and seemed to be in strange spirits.

Despite the fact that during the quieter moments of his set Japandroids bled through, the audience was appreciative of Fritz’s earnest songwriting and phenomenal backing band, which seemed to improve his mood.

Between songs Fritz mumbled something about a visiting the skate park the day before, which may or may not explain the injuries.

Injured, drowned out, and crammed on a tiny stage, Fritz still put on one of the best shows all day and kept the audience on their feet the whole set. He even played a Middle Brother cover.

It would be a mistake if Bonnaroo didn’t seriously consider having Fritz back in a tent for a proper set, but regardless of the situation, he’s a live act that shouldn’t be missed.

Fans who weren’t able to catch the Polyphonic Spree’s Rocky Horror Picture Show set in the cinema tent were treated to an impromptu late night set  by the fountain.

Bonnaroo’s surprise fountain sets have included such diverse artists as GWAR and Portugal. The Man in the past, but they all have quality in common.

Though the show served as only a passing attraction for some, it was undoubtedly the highlight of the night for many.

Thursday night at Bonnaroo has traditionally been a place where hot up-and-coming acts make their presence known, but Bonnaroo veterans ALO changed the pace by bringing headliner Jack Johnson in for a guest appearance.

Fans weren’t quite sure what to expect from the San Francisco quartet, who were advertised as appearing with “special guests.”

After doing some songs with Tim and Nicki Bluhm (of fellow San Fran bands Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers and The Mother Hips), ALO promised a very special guest was on his way.

Johnson, head of Brushfire Records (ALO’s label), and an old friend of the band, emerged from the back to a mass of chants and screams, and strapped on his guitar. “I’ve been a fan of these guys since I was eighteen,” Johnson told the crowd. “They’ve been a band since the seventh grade.”

With that the band launched into some of their own material, featuring Johnson on backing vocals, before teasing “Better Together” in the middle of their song “Falling Dominos.”

After that the band backed Johnson for “Mudfootball,” and a few more song, before bidding farewell to the singer/songwriter.

The band then brought out members of the Ryan Montbleau Band for a Paul Simon cover before closing out the show with the breezy “Barbeque.”

Considering the fact that this set predated the news that Johnson would fill in for the recently cancelled Mumford and Sons on Saturday night, That Tent was only at about half capacity, giving fans a rare chance to see Johnson in an intimate setting before his headlining show.

ALO, for their part, brought great energy and made good on their spot as Thursday night’s unofficial “headliner.”

Though things didn’t quite go as planned, Bonnaroo still managed to put together one of their more entertaining Thursdays in recent memory.

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