MANCHESTER, Tenn. — You expect to see, hear and do some things not part of your everyday life at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. That's part of the reason nearly 55,000 people travel from all over the world to the 700-acre farm that is Great Stage Park and spend four days camping in a field in the Tennessee heat.
Maybe what you don't expect is for the music to be so powerful, so emotional and so raw that it induces real tears. Maybe not ugly crying, but tears none the less. And, certainly not from four different bands on the same day.
It started with happy tears induced by watching Davie and his band rip through a joyful set of old-school soul blended with hip-hop and R&B. Their smiles were infectious as they watched the small crowd get bigger in the midday sun in front of the Who Stage.
That was immediately followed by a heart-touching testimonial from Michael and Tanya Trotter of The Way & Treaty regarding Michael's two tours of duty in Iraq and his continuing struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
During a break between their white-hot set of soul music, Michael Trotter ramped up the tear factor by talking about his friend who committed suicide after being raped.
"We are all part of one race the human race," he said.
That was immediately followed by the legendary Mavis Staples, who at 78 is still a vocal powerhouse. She brought a similar message, and more tears, with her sad, still all-too-relevant delivery of "Freedom Highway," a song written in 1962 by her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples.
"He wrote it for the big march, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama," Staples said.
"I was there. I was there. I was there, and I'm still here!"
Sometimes with a quivering lip, she repeated the phrase "I won't turn around." The show concluded with the Staples Singers hit, "I'll Take You There."
Fans from that show on the Which Stage wandered into the What Stage area for Nile Rodgers and Chic for a barrage of No. 1 hits he'd written such as "We Are Family," made a hit by The Pointer Sisters, David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Madonna's "Like A Virgin" and "Upside Down" for Diana Ross.
It was a full-on dance party interrupted briefly by his own emotional announcement that he earlier had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and told to get his affairs in order.
He asked the crowd to go old-school — but with a new twist — and hold up their cellphone flashlights. When nearly every one of the 50,000-60,000 in attendance did so and he saw all those lights, he became emotional. Then the real tears flowed.
"During my first year of recovery," he said, "I get a call from two French guys called Daft Punk, and a brother named Pharrell Williams. We wrote a few songs, and one of them was called 'Get Lucky.' And I feel like the luckiest man in the world, because tonight, I am standing here before you at Bonnaroo, and I am cancer-free!"
Other Saturday highlights included two sets by Bon Iver and a powerful set by Anderson .Paak and Pond.
The festival concluded Sunday night with The Killers and St. Paul & The Broken Bones.
Despite two heavy storms that rolled through the site on Sunday morning, the festival remained relatively quiet, said Coffee County Sheriff Steve Graves and Jeff Cuellar, vice president of promotions with AC Entertainment.
Graves said earlier an autopsy has been ordered for a man who was found dead in his car Friday. He said no foul play was suspected in the death of Michael Donivan Craddock Jr., 32, of Mount Juliet, Tennessee.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Clarification: Attendance numbers were near the mid-50,000s.