As this annual celebration of music and community approaches two decades in the running, Phish reclaims the festival-circuit reins of the premier festival it helped inspire. Here are some highlights from the Bonnaroo farm.

Trey Anastasio

Phish’s Trey Anastasio

Phish frontman Trey Anastasio’s fingers glide smooth like butter across the frets of his Paul Languedoc Koa guitar. A major highlight of the band’s six-hour stage time over the four-day weekend was the longest groove of Friday’s set, a 14-minute rendition of “Everything’s Alright.” That song’s message was easily digested by a committed hippie-friendly crowd who came in droves to see the pioneers who trailblazed jam-band fests.

For Bonnaroo’s 17th year, the godfather of modern music festivals went back to its roots with one of the bands that pretty much invented the jam circuit. Phish headlined two nights out of four on June 13-16, in Manchester, Tennessee, and their followers showed up, too, selling out the 80,000 capacity for the first time since 2013. For Bonnaroo’s inaugural year in 2002, Trey Anastasio headlined with Widespread Panic. Even back then, Anastasio and his band Phish had already been doing this for years: In 1996, they held the Clifford Ball festival in Vermont and drew 70,000 people to an event where Phish was the only act, and these massive concerts became a regular tradition.

And so it goes, decades later, Phish got the most stage time at ’Roo, about six hours in total over multiple sets, because hey, give the people what they want. Bonnaroo’s genre-leaping lineup might be spastic for listeners who keep their eggs pretty much in one basket, but with four days and more than 100 acts in the lineup, it’s a music fiend’s dream. Have a look at our handpicked highlights of players who performed this year, and go down the rabbit hole of discovery, because that’s what it’s all about on this farm. P.S. Did you know Post Malone plays guitar? We weren’t able to photograph it, but here’s a video of him playing solo acoustic on “Stay.”)

In Bombino’s hands, his Cort KX-Custom electric yields athletic lines, kinetic grooves, and impressive choruses that Western ears immediately respond to.
Photo by Vittorio Catti

Seeking liberation by blending West African roots with Western rock, the Tuareg guitarist discusses the rippling, distinctive tones and tunes on his new album, Azel.  

“Akhar Zaman (This Moment),” from Bombino’s new album Azel, is a rocking plea for the survival of the ancestral Tuareg culture.

They say that music is an international language, and this truism was recently confirmed when the guitarist Bombino decamped from his native Niger to Woodstock, New York, to make an album. Bombino speaks Tamasheq, Arabic, and French, but not English. He had to rely largely on musical gestures in recording the tracks on Azel, which was produced by Dave Longstreth of the avant-pop band Dirty Projectors.

Omara Moctar, aka Bombino, was born in 1980 in Agadez, Niger, to a Tuareg family. The Tuareg people are part of a nomadic Saharan culture with a history of staging armed uprisings against national governments. At the onset of the Tuareg rebellion that took place in Niger and Mali between 1990 and 1995, Bombino and his family fled to Algeria, and this is where his fascination with the guitar began.

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