8 Performances That Define the Bonnaroo SuperJam

Article by: Emily Ward|@_drawylime

Mon June 04, 2018 | 10:00 AM

A festival wouldn't be a festival without the unexpected taking center stage. Jaws drop in stupor, transcendence achieved. These moments are what turn a bunch of kids standing in a field into a culturally defining moment.  When Tupac "performed" as a hologram with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at Coachella in 2012, the future brought the past to life for a new generation. When a rogue attendee burned down The Man five days early at Burning Man in 2007, the aftermath proved that there are always rules, even on the allegedly lawless playa.

At Bonnaroo, those glorious moments go down in the SuperJams: loosely drawn sets featuring musical giants whose careers span decades and genres, uniting for performances that reach beyond those who witness the magic in person and into cultural lore. It's the annual homage to the festival's jam-band roots. According to Bonnaroo organizers, β€œThe group that gathers on stage creates a one-night-only experience in which the band gets no second chance to do it right. Only the best in the business can live up to the mantle." 

SuperJams are essential to that Bonnaroo magic, and they're one of the most anticipated events for Roovians every year. From humble, heady beginnings in 2002 to today, the Jam's had 16 years to bring the heat. Star-powered lineups come and go, but insane collabs like these could only happen here.

SuperJam 2015: 80s Throwback Edition

To the generous soul who uploaded this entire set, thank you. With a thematic nod to the 80s, 2015's Jam changed it up with remixes of the decade's finest hits from Pretty Lights, DMC of Run DMC (!), Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo (!), Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers fame, later of fun.), a fresh-faced Chance the Rapper, Reggie Watts, John Medeski of Medeski Martin &Wood, Karl Denson (these days he plays with a Tiny Universe), and Jamie Lidell. Not to be outdone by that collection of living legends, actors Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis opened the Jam with an impassioned stab at "We Are the World."

SuperJam 2012: Questlove and D'Angelo Do Prince's "My Summertime Thang"

Go behind the scenes with three-time SuperJam headliner Questlove as he takes us along for the ride – from his ride to the airport, all the way to the the moment D'Angelo popped on stage for his first American performance in twelve years (at the time). Joined by Pino Palladino, Jesse Johnson, Kendra Foster, Eric Leeds and various members of his band The Roots, Questlove and friends delivered a funky set, made all the more epic by D'Angelo on the keys for Prince's "My Summertime Thang."

SuperJam 2002: Bela Fleck, Robert Randolph, Jeff Raines and Michael Kang Kick It Off

The first SuperJam ever featured electric-synth banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck (sans The Flecktones), who paired up with then-hot newcomer Robert Randolph, Jeff Raines of Galactic, and String Cheese Incident's mandolin maestro Michael Kang. It was clearly the start of something special, as the guys eased in and out of an eclectic selection of 10 tunes. Soaring to the finish line with a 15-minute jam to The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone," the set's final words were a nice little reminder to not let the cops nab you on the way home. Listen to the entire set here.

SuperJam 2007: Questlove, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Ben Harper

Five years after the SuperJam concept came to life, Led Zeppelin's legendary bassist John Paul Jones joined forces with Bonnaroo staple Questlove (of The Roots), and fellow headliner Ben Harper to bring together classic rock and hip-hop. A rolling version of "Dazed and Confused" (a tune that hasn't been played live by a Zep member in generations) topped out at over 25 minutes, while a 15-minute version of the Stevie Wonder classic "Very Superstitious" brought some serious special sauce to this unforgettable set, cementing the Jam as a major draw for the festival.

SuperJam 2013: R. Kelly Sings Sam Cooke

This unplanned collaboration was a surprise for R. Kelly himself – the kinky crooner only had a few hours to prepare before he came out to join Jim James of My Morning Jacket and John Oates (of Hall & Oates) for a rendition of '50s crooner Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." This is one of the more jaw-dropping stage entrances in The SuperJam's history, as the three musicians appear to have little in common on the surface. The opposite, however, makes itself apparent as the set unfolds, reinforcing the SuperJam ethos of "leave your expectations at the door."

SuperJam 2008: Les Claypool and Gogol Bordello Do Tom Waits

The legend known as Tom Waits is a name you'll never see on a festival roster – so it makes sense that the ethereal, seedy underbelly vibe this elusive man's music exudes was brought to life in a fest setting is big. Thanks to the disparate yet distinct styles of Gogol Bordello's gypsy rock, Primus bassist and lead singer Les Claypool, and a guest appearance from Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Tom Waits's unique, revered catalog was a brilliant choice tailor-made for the history books. 

SuperJam 2013: Billy Idol Sings T. Rex's "Bang A Gong (Get It On)"

Thanks to Bonnaroo 365, a front-row seat to creative insight from music's most talented minds is ours. Tune in above for musings from legendary British punk rocker Billy Idol as he reflects on 2013's "Rock N'Soul Dance Party" SuperJam. 

Jim James, John Oates, Larry & Tina Graham, Brittany Howard and Preservation Hall Jazz Band covered iconic hits from Prince, Sly & the Family Stone and Bill Withers, and it's Idol who brings the house down with T.Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" for the Jam's encore. Year after year, it's these unexpected combinations of stars that make for festival season's most exciting sets.

SuperJam 2014: Skrillex and Friends


Behind the decks and on the guitar, Skrillex rotated tunes from stylistically variant acts like backing band Big Gigantic, Fatman Scoop, Thundercat, Warpaint and Lauryn Hill during his high-energy set. In another performance from the same set, the dubstep maestro picked up the guitar with Damian Marley to sing his father Bob's legendary reggae anthem "Get Up, Stand Up." Seriously, on what other stage could you witness an EDM king take on Bob Marley with Marley's own son? Skrillex also boosted The SuperJam's exposure beyond festival grounds; his 2014 Jam spawned a documentary series about how the Jam comes to life each year.

The big SuperJam takeaway? Leave your expectations at the door; The Jam is improv at its finest. Who will unite on stage in 2018?