There are many roads you travel down to see music, the road leading to Wakarusa Music Festival was one of the most splendid treats about partaking in this years fest. Winding up and down the hills of Arkansas, through the lush Ozark Forest there lay the top of Mulberry Mountain. There was a lot of hype about the location moving to Arkansas last year, I know personally the negative attributes connected with the festival being held in Lawrence, Kansas. There were many harsh moments which involved the law enforcement in previous years which prevented this gathering to reach its full potential. This year traveling to the mountain top there were normal sightings of law enforcement compared to harassment at check- points and uncalled for hassling that came in years past being held at Clinton State Park. The state troopers on the high way in line even thanked us for coming to the beauty of this land. With a calm and community feel for the second year at Mulberry, it made the music that much more enjoyable. With the attractive line up it certainly brought on a populated festival grounds, around 20,000 estimated, possibly even more. Captivating landscapes of the Boston Mountains in Ozark National Forest intrigued nature lovers along with the thrill of the music. An entrance to the Ozark Highlands Trail on the Northeastern part of the grounds was a way to fit in many recreational activities besides just dancing. On top of hiking there was a disc golf course to throw a round, yoga sessions to stretch out after dancing to the wee hours of the morning. Hooping workshops, fishing, kayaking, canoing, carnival rides and even a costume contest just to mention a few other attractions besides the tunes. Overall the outstanding musical presence, organized volunteers and the gathering of carefree partakers created a genuine feel to this years Wakarusa Music Festival.
Thursday, June 3rd Arriving at the gates there was a line like any festival with such a heavy populous. Fortunately the workers were organized and kept a flow going to get people in and away to the stages.The music started early in the day, once arrived and unpacking you could catch Mountain Sprout, Mother Hips and Split Lip Rayfield. Band of Heathens played in the late afternoon in the Revival Tent. A fabulous start to weekend musically as this Austin, Texas based band who brought out a bit of folk to distract from the heat. Combining many genres such as rock, folk a touch of the blues and a lot of soul. The music had a very diverse audience, from the middle aged woman raving about this group to the small child dancing in the back of the tent. Adding entertaining instruments to visually impress like the lap guitar in addition to mesmerizing your ear drums with exciting conclusions with drum solo's. This band jammed, rocked and smoothly moved those making this set. There was a twang to the music which made you tap along and even bust out all together. Comical songs with lyrics mentioning cornbread and the simple life being brought out into the air with the acoustics. An assortment of guitars harmonizing with bass and drums created simple vibes to get you moving. Leaving real life behind was a simple task when all you could hear in front of you was the sweet chords created by this tranquil quintet. This band had a way to attract you to their chords as the next band attracted you with their raw funk.
Next to take part in moving the smiling faces populating the main stage was Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. No matter how many times you may witness this band it is always a thriving performance visually and musically. The populous of this band bangs out on the stage with intensely moving music straight from the jazz capital of New Orleans. A perfect dash of bass backed up by smooth keys and beating percussions made these fellas worthy of fighting sunburn to see their set. Always bringing energy and good hearted music to the over lookers made their appearance a necessity for the festival experience.
Another act which drew an awaiting crowd was the performance by 7 Walkers. Several familiar members of this band made them a band that could not be missed. Members including, Bill Kreutzmann, acclaimed drummer of the Grateful Dead and Papa Mali. Others to join the stage with there talents were multi- instrumentalist Matt Hubbard and Reed Mathus of Tea Leaf Green on bass. The songs included some old favorites along with new songs and lyrics by Robert Hunter, who is known for work with names such as Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Dancing to tunes such as, “I Know you Rider,” and “Bertha,” the festival vibes had spread over the mountain. Adding some known favorites was very exciting, seeing the songs covered by fresh talent made them new in the spirit of the jams. Other songs which made the set flawless included a moving version of “Wharf Rat,” a rocking and uplifting cover of “Deal.” Near the end of the set Kreutzmann rapidly beat out the percussions in, “Without a Warning.” Shocking with energy and uplifting with spirit in the GD covers this band hyped up the early evening. As the sun went down and the heat demised the party to kick off the weekend had begun.
Bringing the antsy fans some funk at the Main stage was Robert Randolph and the Family Band. This act genuinely are masters of funk. Energy erupting on stage. Empowering with insanely dramatic lyrics backed by impressive instrumentals. These guys knew how to rage the crowd. It was a beautiful sight to see such fun in the spread of their music. Robert Randolph is such an impressive musician, on such a unique instrument as the steel guitar. Watching it backwards and forwards brought a visually stunning display, the outcome was far superior to hear though. A few others on stage with him included Marcus Randolph, on drums and the savvy bassist Danyel Morgan. Jumping and hopping through their set performing jazzy originals and even upbeat covers like,”Don't Talk Back.” This band on stage was a gift to the evening, a dance party which broke out in the crowd as well as on stage. There was something very close- knit and open about this bands performance which made it that much more enjoyable. The diversity in the crowd ranged from young to old just as the next band, the music was an appeal to many individuals just trying to hang loose.
Moving on to another band that always seems to create a sway in the crowd, Railroad Earth took the stage for a spectacular late night performance. This New Jersey based band never ever seems to let you down, brightening up the crowds with an airy and carefree melody constantly flowing outward. Thursday night that was apparent as the instrumental impromptu jam sessions continued into the night. The jams where livening. The set began with the song, “Old Dangerfield.” This song thrived with other favorites, “Cold Water” and “Been on Down This Road.” Performing two sets at this festival, the demise of their first appearance left you thirsty for more. Concluding with the a jammy “Warhead Boogie” into a joyous new song, this group of talented individuals knew how to bring this crowd together.
The altered genres to the late night sets were spectacular, you could eat up your bluegrass and then have infused dance melodies for a treat. The band the Disco Biscuits made an appearance on stage and blew away new comers and awaiting Bisco heads all the same. Programming the crowd to dance was a success as the members of the band bellowed out the beats. A vibration of sound and an uplifting sequence of songs all came in with this performance. These guys have a unique way of continuing and popping into jams. Opening the set with “Mirrors,” it wasn't hard to get hooked from the get go. Engaging with other songs like, “Caterpiller,” which left you wanting more. Going into the set with break through instrumentals in songs like, “Cyclone” and “Little Shimmy in a Conga Line,” this song exaggerated jam rifts and seemed to send a powerful whiff of dance fever over the crowd. Encoring with “Feel Good inc,” a surprising cover of the Gorilla's song was a closer that kept you on your toes. The Biscuits leave you with no doubts to why they have such an enthused following, you carried their melodies and dancing continued even after the notes ceased to be played.
Just hearing about people embracing the sensation that was Pink Floyd deserves respect but when you get up on stage and remake the experience is truly inspirational. The Machine did just that. They took the power and skills behind Pink Floyd's music, yes including the lights, mesmerizing the crowd. The synchronization between the music and the lights was pristine. The musicians on the stage brought out a lot of passion and skill into their performance. They played many Pink Floyd creations which members jazzed it up with their own flare. The uniqueness of this festival was seen no matter where you stepped, the night continued to be an experience to remember with the bands who played into the early morning.
Harmonious instrumentals came from the Outpost Tent, though it was a packed area the Lotus vibes still drew a crowd. Straight as the first notes hit the populous of the band seemed so in sync and genuinely enthralled in putting forth their musical creations. Fluent melodies drifted into, “Hammer Strike,” a real crowd pleaser. The tent was moving and shaking into a really mind blowing set by the band. A mixture of upbeat and sleek jams were included. Lotus seems to catch another piece of you each time you witness them. The pure mechanized instruments forming the music is simply beautiful. Cracking into such a start to the set it just got better with the song “Suitcases.” A developing start lead into “Behind Midwest Storefronts,” a song that brings you up and leaves you flouting through the clouds till a subtle landing. Reinforcing enchantment over the crowd the band played a rich assortment of their music. “Spiritualize,” a valuable jam to see brought out, incredibly moving for the mind and soul. Concluding with “Shimmer and Out,” Lotus was a winning set to catch. Leading into the wee hours of the morning the guys played their last notes. This performance was hard to live up to afterwards and wore out your dance moves. Awaiting the next full day of music the presence of Lotus was fabulous to conclude the first day at the festival.
Friday, June 4th Awakened to the second day on Mulberry Mountain, the excitement for the voluminous music to begin was evident. In addition to the music, the heat seemed to be making a huge display at this festival . The climate was very intense during the day, the humidity and blazing sun created a daytime lag in energetic patrons. The daytime seemed to sport phenomenal acts of musical talents, there was also a display of rays over the Main Stage. The tent areas were well shaded but in the triple digit heat index still created uncomfortable dancing conditions no matter where you shook it. During the day the music boomed with Dumpstaphunk hitting one stage, continuing a funk-a-thon that never ceases with this band. The build up and captivating spirit drifted thoughts on the unbearable heat away. Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band broke it down mid-afternoon, busting into feel good music that brewed and cast a spell over the crowd to keep the movement and spirit going. The day seemed to drift into the early evening where it started to cool down for the late night music that went on.
Multi instrumentalist JJ Grey took the Main Stage's early evening set and brought a soulful empowering performance. JJ Grey and Mofro embraced the southern flare and filtered the heat into powerful chords backed by bluesy lyrics. The members on stage knew how to burst out spunk. This band had terrific build up in their set and busted down with funk influenced melodies.
Reawakening fans with vibrant string melodies, Railroad Earth played the sound track for the sun set on Saturday night. This group has spread such a touching collection of music to many people throughout their time playing together. The music that is created is hard to gather words which can describe it to the fullest, in many ways it was almost bewitching. There is something that grabs everyone which is surrounded by the music. As the band drifted to their places on stage, smiles beamed and a cheery anxiousness was dissipated from the air with the first notes played. “Seven Story Mountain,” was a ground breaking song to put the attendees in motion. Their sets are filled with acoustic jams, entertaining displays of unique instrumental use and heavenly vocals by the lead guitarist, Todd Sheaffer. Prosperous rhythms continued with, “Old Man in the Land,” and “Saddle of the Sun.” Though the sun was disappearing slowly from the sky, the heat was still a special guest at this festival. Commenting on the brutal beams violinist, Tim Carbone stated his hope for the sun to hide behind the tiny gathering of clouds a bit longer. Strength in every stroke and each pluck of the strings evolved throughout their set. The songs played were a solid mixture, light and gentle then into sharp and exhilarated up tempo songs. The experience with RRE was powerful, building into the last songs played, “Mighty River,””Head,” then concluding with, “Little Rabbit.” The festival sets for this band are reviving, these fella's know how to read and relate to those in attendance. There was a very mystical feeling you were left with once the band dissipated. Those who indulged in the jam-grass drifted onwards to go where the music took you, even if it was to a completely different style.
On the Second night of the epic festival, a sea of people, neon glow sticks and colorful lights filled the Main Stage area as people piled in for the much anticipated Sound Tribe Sector 9. They came onto the stage silently then began playing with the intention to make the start of the Friday night a delight! Starting with a newer track to their books, "Atlas", showed the crowd, old and new Tribe Heads, recent manifestations in the bands sound. The treat really appeared as the next song flowed into the mix with, "Once Told." A rarely heard but loved song to many with ambient sounds and kids voices which confused and amazed the crowd when mixed with the heavy beat. Along with the light display perfected by Saxton back with the Sound Tribe scene. STS9 continued to amaze with a the funky influenced, "Ramone & Emiglio." Without stepping off stage for a set break they played into the night with the electronic heavy , "Abcees" and continued mid song into a rarely heard, "Kaya!" STS9 has played quite differently this summer, apposed to the past couple summers. They seem to be incorporating more of the older Sound Tribe sounds in addition to some of the newer, stronger songs and it has been beautiful to see Tribe come full circle. For the first time Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic stepped on to add in a Saxophone sound to the much loved, "Grow." This was the first time anyone heard this collaboration on this song, it was a great twist to the classic. Sound Tribe Sector 9 finished out the set strong with "Breathe In," and the always festival favorite "EHM." These songs always get a great reaction from the crowd. Walking off the stage, people lingered around the area, hoping for an encore performance, still in a daze and the crowd got what it wanted as STS9 came back on for one more song. A song well suited for the carnival backdrop of Wakarusa, "Circus," a beautiful selection to close out the set! Once again STS9 hooked newcomers to the Tribe sounds and even impressed long-time tribe heads with their remarkable set-list. Stepping away to hear more ambient sounds coming from the raging tents, there was a very serene feel treading with the crowd to continue the evening. The peak of the night was underway, music was beating from all areas of the festival. The vibration of ecstatic sounds was beating from the Revival Tent as Bassnector took the stage. This artist is a visionary sight to see with his creative music style and highly enthused fans. Molding sounds together to form a continuum of dance beats. A series of consistency followed by break through blasts induced a dance party for those present. Dance parties were a common assurance underneath the vibrating tents.
Heading to the Outpost Tent on the other side of the carnival rides. Your nostrils where teased by the greasy fair food that brought a youthful feel to the fest. Busting out sensational percussions and amplified electronic instrumentals, Michael Travis and Jason Hann beam on stage in their project EoTo. Each time seeing this duo the energy created is awing. Maybe its just the personalities which fuse into the beats breaking outward or perhaps its the mind blowing improvisational skill. Whatever attracts you most about this performance there is never a dull moment or an unappealing beat to break down. Watching this performance the close knit feel in the air was evident, the main goal sensed was just to get down and have a raging time. Breaking and shaking the crowd there was never a stop to the flow. With the consistent build-ups followed by a crowned spectrum of rhythm the music blared outward never stopping. The conclusion of their set just amped up the festie goers with a treat of pure talent, pumping them up for more music.
From the San Fransisco Bay area to Mulberry Mountain, Tea Leaf Green is one band that gets you charged up not matter where you are. Touring with lucid live performances and breaking melodies this jammy rock band has it going on. As the band appeared and the music began, the evident laid back vibe was automatically felt. Trevor Garrod, the keyboardists commented on the jails already being full so there is no reason why chaos couldn't erupt in the tent. That it did with the breaking psychedelic styles in the song, “Germinatin.” The late night performance got crazy with such power and emotion in every chord played and as each vocal belted outward. Intense lighting and stupendous stage presence brought on an unbelievable set. Touching many individuals in the crowd with a mix of fast tempo jam songs with subtle progression. Solid versions of “Don't Curse at the Night,” and “Ride Together,” all made their way over the attendees. Inspiring use of instrumentals in the song, “Let Us Go,” caught by the heart and vibrated the soul with the sweet sounds and vocals projected. Beating out the last song, “Morning Sun,” this band knew how to keep the crowd hanging till their early afternoon set the next day. Seeing Tea Leaf Green is such a motivating experience, they truly know how to invent a head trip with the music created. Played the next day, you didn't have to wait long till these guys broke you with their musical talents once again.
Saturday, June 5th By the third day, the heat that hovered on the festival was a draining factor when you are standing in the sunshine dancing to the tunes performed on the stages. Luckily there were ways to keep cool during the day, you could go to the river running through the grounds or take a hike to where the waterfall was located and take a dip. Once energy was delivered the music was undeniable. Tea Leaf Green delivered another spectacular set of jam tunes, while That One Guy mesmerized those witnessing him playing the “Magic Pipe.” With any festival the music continues to flow and move all those willing to dance.
Rocking the mid afternoon away, The Black Keys, wowed away the heat. The duo projected pure, bluesy, rock rifts which you had to shake your head along to. The skilled populous of this band relay their instruments which created a whirlwind of sharp and enticing music. The animation in each move created precision in each added sound. Flashy movements and beautiful melodies mixing together treated those bracing the sunshine.
The music continued with the experience of the legendary musician Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil leading his band Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa. With a variety of different musicians working magic on each of their instruments, this band stimulated and shook the crowd with a saucy set. A vast array of talent composed music openly with different genres and sounds. The passion for each elaborate notes was heard and seen in the way the band performed. They combined elements that create the sense of old school rock rage with modern twists. Jams that sent the crowd soaring in waves created by dramatic rifts, surges of keys, bluesy sounds of the sax, bass touches, wacky vocals which turned heads all together producing an intense outcome for your hearing. There was an old soul appeal that this band connects with just as so many other musicians can connect to.
Boombox was heard jetting out their instrumental mixture of electronically infused tunes. Overcoming lyrics mixed with smooth beats bumped from the stage. This duo knew how to get the crowd going, jumping, waving and hooping to the steady productions projected. Just as many fellow musicians the musical history for this band started from family. Zion Rock Godchaux son of Keith and Donna Godchaux (The Grateful Dead), brought his vivid instrumental talent on guitar and vocals as well as producing some interesting mixes to the beat and a unique wardrobe on top of it all. The personalities of these two individuals are displayed throughout their time on stage, through their playing and their actions. Witnessing the out of the ordinary display from Russ Randolph producing and engineering in addition to busting out the drum beats. This pair heated up the already spiced up audience. The psychedelic mix with electro beats was a jamming experience to move to. Even after their beats stopped the hoops kept spinning and the euphoria of their music drifted away with the crowd to the next band.
An act that has been around for decades, once more wowed fans with a profound performance was Widespread Panic. Walking up to the stage the spread of lights and eruption of rock rifts were beaming outward. The elements which are emphasized throughout the set was kick back and dance. Jams which created eruptions of buildups and consistency with their instrumental showdowns. The band opened with “Henry Parson's Died,” drifting into “Tall Boy” and continuing with dance breaking jam sessions. The lights seemed to follow every elaboration in sound and glow sticks erupted perfectly attached to climactic moments. Filled with perpetual rhythms and a steady flow of melodic spunk, this band had old spirits yet new life in their music. Playing a variety of past favorites along with promoting songs from their new album which was just released. Dirty Side Down, is the eleventh studio album this band has created. This set showed the compassion is still alive in these musicians. All songs played were pleaser's to any that witnessed. Successive with the mixture of songs played including, “North,””Flicker,” and ”Saint Ex” in addition to many more. Boundlessly the music thrived for several hours. Winding down to the encore the band thanked the many smiles that make the music that much sweeter. Concluding their performance with “Up All Night,””Pleas” into “Mr. Soul,” the thrills of the music soaked in. Stepping away from the stage the appreciation for pure rock talent was heightened.
Reviving the liveliness to attendees late Saturday, Umphrey's McGee rooted their rock jams into the mix. The music projected was striking to the variety of fans that were onlooking. They played many old favorites with a few present day jams. Opening with “Bridgeless,” the psychedelic rock was sent out and started a wave of motion. Included in the set was, “Partyin' Peeps,” “In the Kitchen,” returning back to, “Bridgless.” Popular favorites like “Miss Tinkle's Overture” were emphasized, the band always seemed to want to go back into previous jams. Raging the tent the set sent many fans back to early days with their choice of songs. Overall the crowd was activated once more with this band as their set concluded with, “Cemetery Walk.” As the populous dispersed afterward the glow this band leaves over the crowd was sensed. Umphrey's went into the early morning with many musicians to follow suit in raging festival partakers into the break of day.
To top off the festival, Sunday was filled with a variety of different bands and activities to give one last hoorah. Though the festival had many vacant spaces due to Monday morning responsibilities, many stayed to bask in the sun and sounds one last day. Early afternoon brought on acts like, Roots of Creation added a mixture of Reggae and R&B. Busting out the bluegrass for the heel to toe movers was Backyard Tire Fire. They kicked up the Backwoods stage with string movements and uplifting melodies. Presenting a different yet strikingly appealing act of music, Rev Peyton's Big Damn Band stunned those who took part. This trio stroked out alternative country tunes intermixed with never before seen actions to create sounds syncing with other instrumental affects. John Butler Trio was one of the last bands to deliver their skills. Smooth vocals and swaying chord progressions created a mellow break to send you back to reality. Sunday was a very low key day to take in one last round of what this years Wakarusa offered.
Sweat breaking heat, elevated forms of music making and the smile inducing weekend was breakthrough for many bands as well as attendees. This years Wakarusa Music Festival was much more than a festival. For the nature lover's, the music lover's and the free spirit that needs to break loose this festival will be raved by those who experienced it. Feeling so withdrawn from the world away from the music, there was a way this festival engulfed you in positivity. There were many attributes to this years Wakarusa that will be talked about for years to come. Being the collaborations and appearances by the acts who made it possible or the behind the scene workers who pulled this fabulous gathering off. The expanded draw to this land is one which cant be denied as next years Festival begins to assemble, the anticipation deepens to return to this blissful place.