Jim James is not a man known for doing things halfway. That’s been proven time and again at Bonnaroo through his epic performances as part of My Morning Jacket and this year as a solo artist. So when it was announced that James would curate a soul music Superjam, Bonnaroo fans knew they were in for something special. What they did not know was that James had found an unlikely musical conspirator who matched his passion for this project; John Oates. Working together as ringleader and musical director, the two put together a cast of stars bigger than any Superjam before it.
If James and Oates had only managed to get the announced guests, this would have been a memorable Superjam. On a month long press blitz that just built in enthusiasm, Oates slowly revealed names signed to appear. Zigaboo Modeliste from The Meters, Larry Graham from Sly & the Family Stone, Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and backup singers Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten were some of the names Oates seeded to the press, throwing so many out so fast, many believed there would be no surprises left come the night of the jam. They needn’t have worried.
The first surprise came early in the set as Brittany Howard from The Alabama Shakes stopped by to jam out for over half the set, including a solo turn on the Rolling Stones hit “Satisfaction” that brought down the house. But Howard was far from the biggest surprise.
Already announced guest Larry Graham led the audience in a multi-song sing along of Sly & the Family Stone songs that built in popularity and intensity until the whole audience was screaming along to “Everyday People” along with the band.
From there, the surprises got huge. The first massive get for the Superjam was R. Kelly, who had just finished his own Late Night set on Which Stage. Kelly hit the stage to perform a spot on rendition of “Long Time Coming” by Sam Cooke.
But that wasn’t even the end of the surprises. Not wanting to slight their other fellow Late Night performer, That Tent performer Billy Idol showed up to get the crowd into a frenzy with an energetic cover of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” There is probably no person on The Farm this weekend more suitable to sing that song and Idol brought the thunder.
It was one of those rare moments when everything came together perfectly for 2 hours. In past years, some of Bonnaroo’s Superjams have been criticized for just being two artist collaborations. This one lived up to the name “Superjam” as well as any could. With limited time to rehearse, a massive band to manage, and some of the most challenging music in rock history before them, every participant of the Superjam nailed his or her part. Jim James and John Oates pulled off a feat no one had any right to expect could go that well.
In addition to those already mentioned, other highlights of the night include a massive crowd sing of “Love Train”, a festive rendition of Prince’s “1999”, and Otis Redding’s “When Something’s Wrong with My Baby.”