Leading Ladies

“Wanda Jackson, we worship the ground you rock on!,” said the colorful sign held aloft by a fan inside The Other Tent during ‘Roo ’11.

Out strode a petite woman with a red-fringed top and sixty years of experience as a rock & roller. The 75-year-old rockabilly pioneer began touring with Elvis Presley in 1955—in the days when women were expected to be seen and not heard. She changed all that by belting out songs like “Hot Dog! I Made Him Mad” and “Let’s Have a Party.”

Wanda continues to beguile a new generation of fans: Her 2011 album, The Party Ain’t Over, was a collaboration with Jack White, and her current album, Unfinished Business, was produced by another ‘Roo alum, Justin Townes Earle. “I love her, she’s so brilliant,” Wanda’s acolyte Adele, also a Bonnaroo veteran, has said. “I don’t think ‘Rollin’ in the Deep’ would exist without her.”

Jackson is among many trail-blazing female artistswho have graced the stage at Bonnaroo over the years. Appearing at the second ‘Roo in 2003 was Emmylou Harris, whose 1970s duets with Gram Parsons, followed by her hit-making solo career, helped give birth to country-rock. That same year, post-punk bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon performed with her band, Sonic Youth, and the following June, the Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith took the stage, a broad smile on her face as she communed with welcoming fans. Blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt played down on the Farm in 2006; her career began in the 1960s when she played at one of the first outdoor music festivals—the Newport Folk Festival—alongside the bluesmen and women who originated the music.
Emmylou HarrisEmmylou Harris
You can draw a line from Bonnie to Cat Power and Trixie Whitley—among the numerous women who will be attacking the stage at Bonnaroo 2013—and from Emmylou to the Lumineers or Sonic Youth and Patti Smith to Bjork and St. Vincent. The lineage of exciting, innovative women artists continues to astound and extend.

The same year that Wanda Jackson performed at Bonnaroo, two of her peers from country music and soul also wowed audiences: the legendary Loretta Lynn, “the Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and Mavis Staples, who began singing as a youngster in the Staple Singers, led by her father, the great Pops Staples. Onstage, Loretta and Mavis, both in their 70s, had all the energy of artists one-third their age. You know what they say: A woman’s work is never done.

—Holly George-Warren