Childish Gambino blew minds, G. Jones just blew at Bonnaroo 2019

A straight take on what sucked and what didn’t on The Farm.

click to enlarge The Kalliope stage at Bonnaroo 2019. - Photo by Kaylee LoPresto
Photo by Kaylee LoPresto
The Kalliope stage at Bonnaroo 2019.

Cars lined the shoulder of Interstate 24 Thursday morning, and the wait to drive a vehicle into Bonnaroo took anywhere from three to five hours. Long car queues are common for festivals like ‘roo, but the discovery of two pipe bombs five miles away from the festival site might’ve slowed the process. Luckily, all was safe at The Farm in Manchester, Tennessee, 65 miles southwest of Nashville (police arrested the man responsible for the pipe bombs on Wednesday night).

Since selling control of the festival to Live Nation in 2015, Bonnaroo has gone through many changes both aesthetically and in music selection. Initial reaction to the changes meant lower attendance (46,000 in 2016), but Bonnaroo bounced back in 2019 by welcoming about 80,000 fans to the festival’s first sold-out showing since Paul McCartney headlined in 2013.

This weekend played host to some of the best and most passionate performances I’ve ever witnessed in my entire career as a music journalist. Instead of going through every single artist that played, let’s focus on those who blew our minds and those who just kind of blew in general.

Performances That Blew Our Minds

Space Jesus

After playing last year, the almighty Space Savior returned to The Farm and delivered a second mind-shattering performance, replete with intense sound and psychologically horrifying visuals, on the Other Stage. That Saturday set — preceded by a secret B2B on Thursday and an early morning set on Friday — was the best DJ set of the weekend and left a field full of wooks staring at their hands while their ears rang. If it wasn’t for Childish Gambino, this would’ve been the best set of the weekend.

Childish Gambino

I want to sit here and make jokes about Troy and Abed or mention how hilarious Donald Glover was onstage, but Childish Gambino’s Friday-night Which Stage performance was such a far cry from Glover’s stand-up and acting. He was a completely different person onstage. From shirtless krumping to high-pitched belting, Glover played his heart out in one of the most passionate performances I’ve ever seen. Playing a mix of new and old, hard and soft, covers and originals, Glover turned heads and warmed hearts with his soulful and masterfully executed set.


Playing two sets this weekend — one on The Other Stage and a two-hour set in the Silent Disco — this duo from New York was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable sets of the weekend. While we missed its set on the Other Stage, we wandered away from the Odesza set and found Memba directing a full-out party in the Silent Disco. In a world where half of all bass music sounds the same and the other half is just dubstep in a wig, Memba does the improbable with its highly unique sound, incredible production and creative musical layout. A must-see for any future festivals.

Girl Talk

This was a rare one. In 2007 Greg Gillis quit his job as a biomedical engineer to focus solely on making mashups of popular songs under the Girl Talk moniker. While mashups aren’t anywhere as popular as they were in 2007, that didn’t stop Girl Talk from throwing the fuck down with them. With close to 50 people on stage behind his booth, giant inflatable hands and feet on the sides of the stage, and cannons of both confetti and toilet paper, his set was a nonstop mashup extravaganza. Unlike Marshmello, who samples, say, part of an Adele song and then throws some dubstep behind it after the chorus, Girl Talk actually samples the vocals into the mix, creating a completely different feel than the song would have had before. Thanks to Girl Talk’s style, the nostalgia actually had a purpose.

Everything at Kalliope

The mad scientists at Walter Productions did it again. Burning Man art cars were back at Centeroo for all-night sets (accented by flames turned green red and white by metals like phosphorus and magnesium) that went well past sunrise. Spacewomen walked around with neon scepters. Men dressed like kittens and wore bunny ear top hats. Someone used rings on his fingers to play a giant spoon. Despite getting sprayed with what someone claimed was liquid LSD (it wasn’t), Kalliope was worth attending each night.

The Lumineers

Wanna smile till it hurts? Wanna feel like you’re in a field of daisies when you’re really just surrounded by people’s festival trash? Wanna freebase sunshine and bathe in musical purity? Check out The Lumineers at your next local festival. There isn’t much else to say except that the band is incredible and puts on a great show. The lead singer told of how he went to the first-ever Bonnaroo as an attendee and how incredible it was to be back years later.

Liquid Stranger

On Friday, Wakaan label head and Space Jesus-bestie, Liquid Stranger, put on an incredible set after Childish Gambino. While it wasn’t my favorite set of the weekend, he’s mentioned here because the last Liquid Stranger set I saw was a lot less coherent (and honestly a lot less enjoyable). His Bonnaroo set was fluid, hard-hitting, and featured a Space Jesus walk-up — not much more you can ask for.

The Lonely Island

On Saturday, The Lonely Island found itself surrounded by a sea of fans. The group played a mix of “Digital Short” songs from its Saturday Night Live days, sprinkled comedic interludes in and managed to pull of costume changes, too. Members even threw T-shirts into the crowd, which was exciting until they announced that they didn’t have time to print the logos on them; all the shirts were blank 3XLs or blank baby onesies.

Performances That Just Kind of Blew

Cardi B

Half of the music played wasn’t even Cardi B’s. I think I heard the voice of her hype man more than I heard her. Cardi B has great music and was impressive for every minute of rapping she pulled off every five or 10 minutes, but this wasn’t a Cardi B set. Leave the hype man at home, drop the covers and do the songs people came to see. Don’t play songs like “Old Town Road” just because they’re on the Top 40 — pump people up with your own talent.


This guy has got to chill with the pop music. I think Illenium forgets that he’s a DJ and not Hannah Montana. He’s got some sick drops and great music, but fans are going to start dropping like flies if he doesn’t cut the pop out. Very disappointing.

G. Jones

This one was a tough one to add to the “Kind of Blew” list because G. Jones is a pioneer in the genre and a legendary producer. The set had its moments — including some incredible drops — but there was so much dead air between songs that it was as if he wasn’t even mixing them together (his main job). While I love G. Jones, this performance was just one detached song after the other.


Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if a computer farted? I present Hekler. Maybe it was just too early on Thursday night, but Heckler was not the vibe at all. With dubstep, there’s hard and then there’s the kind of hard that makes you uncomfortable. This set might’ve been enjoyable had I been on the right drugs, but I’m not even sure what drugs would have paired with this level of debauchery. Honestly, those drugs are probably also too intense for my taste — and this is coming from someone who feeds off debauchery.


This one was a bummer. Zhu played an incredible set at Imagine Music Festival 2018. From what I’ve heard, most of the stops on last year’s North American tour were just as good. But even diehard Zhu fans were let down by this incoherent, vibeless Saturday set on the Other Stage. The band was too focused on guitar solos, and there were too many random moments marked by dissident chords being played through a Pedaltrain. Past performances may have set the bar too high for Zhu, and waves of people gave up halfway through his set before making their way to see Joe Russo or whatever was happening on the Kalliope Stage.

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About The Authors

Michael Fritz

Michael Fritz, Jr. is a former intern at Creative Loafing Tampa and a sophomore at the University of Tampa, where he's studying writing and economics.

Kaylee LoPresto

Kaylee LoPresto is a music and arts photographer from Tampa, Florida. She is currently studying art at HCC and has been with Creative Loafing since the summer of 2016. 

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