Of Bonnaroo’s four days of festivities, the opening on Thursday is typically the most low-key. There are no big headliners scheduled and people are still trickling into campsites throughout the evening. Bands scheduled for Thursday are usually up-and-coming type acts that can benefit from the exposure of simply being there even if they end up playing for a small audience. And if an artist can pull off a kick-ass set on Thursday, then they can gain the attention of festival-goers that might have skipped their performance to see someone more famous were they scheduled to play on a different day during the weekend.
Blues-influenced pop singer ZZ Ward was able to do just that during her set on Thursday, which impressed enough fans to pack into the Sonic Stage the next day to see her perform again for a smaller, acoustic set. Ward’s blend of blues, hip-hop, pop, and soul brings to mind singers like Joss Stone, Adele, and Amy Winehouse; women who have put their own unique modern twist on a vintage sound.
For Ward, it’s all rooted in the blues. Even poppier singles like “Put The Gun Down” that get the crowd dancing also call to mind the despair of the blues with dark lyrics about shooting down a cheating man. Ward covered Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face” as a release for this year’s Record Store Day, and you don’t get much more authentically bluesy than the iconic slide-playing bluesman of the late Twenties and early Thirties.
“I grew up listening to the blues. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Big Mama Thornton, Tina Turner when she would sing the blues. The blues resonated with me a lot… the powerful voices that I would listen to and the simplicity of the songs and the sincerity. I thought, there was nothing fake about the blues, it was just the essence of emotion… And so, I love that about the blues. And that’s kind of what connected me to the music,” Ward said in an interview with Wall St. Cheat Sheet after her acoustic set at Bonnaroo on Friday.