Festival-goers enter the main gate at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., on June 13, 2013.
(Photo: Brian Mansfield via USA Today)
The twelfth Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival got underway Thursday afternoon with area thunderstorms threatening to dampen the spirits of 80,000 attendees. "It was really good earlier today, but now I get the strong sense that something is coming," said Tyler Joseph, whose twenty | one | pilots was set to play one of the first sets of this year's festival. The Bonnaroo grounds wound up with just a brief cloudburst, enough to moisten the ground and cool the air, making Thursday one of the most temperate days in Bonnaroo history. While Paul McCartney and Tom Petty will headline subsequent nights, music fans eased into the event with an opening-day lineup that included Japandroids, Alt-J and Allen Stone.
Automatic pilots. Joseph says he approaches every set as if no one in the audience has a clue who twenty | one | pilots is. "There's an edge to what I do as a frontman because of that," says the singer and keyboardist for the indietronica duo. "Not only do I take this head-on, almost competitively, but I've got to put in the work, and hopefully they'll respond." Joseph worked hard to win over the crowd -- and succeeded, delivering the first great set of Bonnaroo 2013 as he donned masks, scaled the lighting rig and, with drummer Josh Dun, took a pair of bass drums into the audience.
Mumford & Sons out. Attendees got some bad news Thursday: Mumford & Sons, scheduled to headline the festival Saturday, canceled their appearance, along with two other upcoming dates. Bassist Ted Dwane had surgery earlier in the week to remove a blood clot on the surface of his brain, prompting the cancellation of shows in Dallas and New Orleans. The group had hoped to return to the road in time for the Bonnaroo show but decided to wrap its American tour early. "It is with sadness that we have to announce the cancellation of our scheduled performances at both Bonnaroo and Telluride Festivals, and our show at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, KS," the group posted to its Facebook page and website Thursday evening. "If we could've we would've, you know that about us. We trust that you can respect our collective desire to encourage Ted to make a full recovery, and that this is based purely on the medical advice we have received." A replacement headliner likely will be announced Friday.
Having the HAIM of his life. During HAIM's set, 5-year-old Asa Spears held up a sign reading "Kiss Me Este." So Este Haim, the oldest of the three sisters in the Los Angeles-based group, did just that, climbing from the stage into the audience and giving him a big smack on the cheek. She also brought Asa on stage to watch a couple of songs. That won't be Asa's only onstage Bonnaroo moment, says mother Amy Spears. As the result of winning a contest, he'll shave his mom's head during Bernhoft's Friday-afternoon set.
Turn yourself over to absolute Spree. Polyphonic Spree played twice during the first day of Bonnaroo. First, the 17-member group played the music from the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Cinema Tent, with frontman Tim DeLaughter playing the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter, dressed in a black robe emblazoned with the red Rocky Horror lips, along with a red cape, fishnet stockings at Converse Chuck Taylors. The band has performed its Rocky Horror show twice before - last Halloween in London and Wednesday night, as a warm-up for Bonnaroo, at the Bottletree Cafe in Birmingham, Ala. "We're doing it here, then we're doing it in Australia and Korea," DeLaughter says. "And then that's it. I don't want to be a Rocky Horror band." The group also played an unannounced 2 a.m. set of their own material in front of a 20-foot fountain in the festival's center area. "Whenever we do Rocky Horror, we have to do our own rock set to balance the thing," DeLaughter says.
Capital-izing on the moment. Capital Cities, which recently topped USA TODAY's Alternative airplay chart with its single Safe and Sound and is currently crossing over to Top 40, had one of the latest opening-night sets, beginning at 1 a.m. But with festival-goers fresh, 1 a.m.'s practically a headlining slot. "Everybody's partying," says singer/keyboard Ryan Merchant. "This is the first night of Bonnaroo, so people are gung ho about going crazy tonight." Wearing matching yellow blazers, Merchant, Sebu Simonian and their three backing musicians had the New Music On Tap Lounge audience jumping to a dance-pop set that included not only Safe and Sound but covers of Pink Floyd's Breathe and the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive. "It's about trying to win over the hearts and minds of those that haven't seen you," Merchant says.