Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Stevie Nicks Casts a Spell at Bonnaroo

There are many reasons why it became a tradition to close out Bonnaroo with a legacy act. Not least among them: When you’ve been coated in dust and sunscreen and roasted in the sun for four days, it feels good to sing along to songs you know, which may have been part of your life for a long time. When Bonnaroovians shuffled over to What Stage to end this year’s fest with rock ’n’ roll fairy godmother Stevie Nicks — the first woman solo artist to play a headline slot since the festival launched in 2002 — we certainly got that. 

Nicks and her band, led by guitar hero Waddy Wachtel, played “Dreams,” “Landslide,” “Gold Dust Woman” and “Rhiannon” — bar-setting songs that she added to the Fleetwood Mac canon in the 1970s — as well as the hard-rocking “Edge of Seventeen” from her 1981 solo debut Bella Donna. The lush, many-layered presentation felt like watching your (or your parents’) album collection come to life in vivid detail, and the songs elicited ecstatic tears from more than a few in the crowd. There were also plenty of deeper cuts, like the poignant “Destiny” from Nicks’ 1984 LP Street Angel, that stood tall next to the hits. 

That would’ve been plenty, but as seems to be her style, Nicks brought even more to the table. In one of many asides, Nicks noted that she was wearing a bespoke dress from the photo shoot for the Bella Donna album cover — and how her mom had pooh-poohed her decision to invest the equivalent of a house payment in the piece, which has since paid off. There were nods to her camaraderie with Tom Petty, from performing a gentle cover of the late rock hero’s “Free Fallin’ ” to introducing the Petty-penned “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with a story that mentioned how she’d wanted to be in The Heartbreakers. The anecdote also mentioned how condescending producer and then-boyfriend Jimmy Iovine had been at the time, one of many instances when Nicks was subject to the misogyny that seems to have always been endemic in the music business. 

The oldest song in the main set was the nuanced and rollicking gem “Crying in the Night,” which Nicks wrote for Buckingham Nicks — the lone eponymous album from her band with guitarist and then-partner Lindsey Buckingham, before the two joined the already-established Fleetwood Mac. The record has since become a cult favorite, but poor performance when it was released, coupled with unfulfilled promises that “Crying in the Night” would be released as a single, convinced her that her fledgling music career was finished. To borrow a phrase from late, great Scene editor Jim Ridley, here was one of the heads on Mount Rushmore, taking a pause from rocking out to open up about the pain of rejection and what kind of perspective five decades has afforded her.

“Not only was it not a single, the whole record actually tanked,” Nicks recalled. “Down the road, everybody thought [Buckingham Nicks] was this great record, but who knew? We certainly didn’t know. If you think your dreams are just trashing out and you’re never gonna make it to where you want to go, that’s not true. … It might take a while to get to your dreamy place, but you will get there, I promise you.”

Later, at the conclusion of an encore that seemed to be finished twice before it actually ended, Nicks & Co. fired off a ripping rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” It made Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ thoughtful reworking from a few days prior seem sleepy by comparison, and it was the friendly push we needed to get moving back to the non-Bonnaroo world.

Photos: Angelina Castillo

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