Over the past eight years Wakarusa Music Festival has brought together open ears to enjoy a taste of music in the sunshine. In the north western part of the “natural state” of Arkansas, the Ozark mountains made home to thousands ready to enjoy the acoustics of the mountaintop. With recognizable acts on the lineup there were no doubts the festival would open doors to a variety of musical experiences. The diversity of the genres of music created a draw for any type of music. During the whole weekend there was something to see or to dance to. What started Thursday in the morning with yoga flows and hula hoop practice drifted into musical memories that will last a lifetime. From the costume contest to the parade that marched down the midway, the disc golf course on site to the artistic creation of the main stage area would become after midnight; there was something to see at this festival at all times and of course there was plenty to hear.
Thursday June 2nd Thursday morning was all about the car loads of attendees swarming in and setting up for the music to begin. Midday came and the starting bands took to the stages. With such a variety of music present at this gathering, southern string bands and mellow rock set the mood for the kick off. Whether it was Dirtfoot or Tyrannosaurus Chicken or any of the other bands performing, the first performers of the festival started things off on the right chords. North Mississippi Allstars rocked the Main stage mid afternoon with their bluesy southern rock style. Music running in these musicians veins brought for a sensational performance, very unique with instrumentals, even adding a little old school washboard instrumentals to the mix. These guys are a fairly frequent performance at Wakarusa that always seem to get the crowd moving, and attendees continued to move!
At the Revival Tent, Minus The Bear brought from Seattle, songs and instrumental talents. With a flash of electric and interesting lyrical choice this band brought a nice tone their set. They included the attendees by always asking for a backup beat with clapping. A very catching stage presence as there was a theatrical additions as well with pig masks and dancers. With a progressive flare Minus the Bear added an uplifting set to ring in the early evening headliners. On the main stage, Grace Potter belted out beautiful chords along with the subtle sweet strumming movements on guitar. A hop away at the Revival Tent, Buckethead hypnotized attendees with his fast paced guitar movements and industrial rock style all with his signature bucket on his head style. These acts were both a sign of the diversity that flowed with this festival.
With powerful lyrics and impressive energy Micheal Franti and Spearhead rocked in the crowd, literally, not just with them. Opening with the song, “Everyone Desrves Music,” Franti al ways jumping around and telling the audience to put their hands together. The mix of pop, hip hop and powerfully moving lyrics of real world issues brought an attentive crowd to the stage. Performing a variety of songs from previous albums like “Rude Boys Back in Town”, “Hello Bonjour”, “All I want is You” and off his newly released album, “Sound of Sunshine.” A real musician with character and compassion intermixing into the music and the whole performance. Taking time out of his set to shout out to all those who have been hit with devastation. At one point during his set audience members were brought up to the stage to dance with the musicians, Franti and Spearheads set was so collective and humble gathering the community of people together. Micheal Franti spent more time dancing in the crowd than he did on stage. His music and performance are both very moving musically and spiritually. Drifting from the stage after this bands set made the rest of the evening a positive experience.
Umphrey's McGee stepped out to their dedicated following to rock the main stage as Beats Antique brought their world music to the RevivalTent. Beats Antique beat out worldly music with entertaining dance movements on stage. This band lifted the music progressively with attention towards the bass drum, laptop mixes and instrumental mixed brought the vibrations of sound together.
Lotus with their instrumental electric style vibrated a mystifying set to kick off some late night spirits. In the main area of the late night rage, the Intersteller Sanctum brought world music styles and fluid beats to the early morning with artistic talents of Spongletron, Ott and Hallucenogen,. Eoto closed out the night with their positively mind blowing improv late night progressions.
Friday June 3rd As Morning of the second day on the mountain top came as the heat came with it. The music was a cool breeze to the blazing sun. Local Arkansas music of Mountain Sprout kicked off the Revival tent. The bluegrass music was perfect for the shaded setting where attendees took shelter from the beating sunshine. The Heavy followed the with rock progressive music, blaring with the heat the band was impressive to see at a festival.
Representing the Midwest bluegrass rock was Cornmeal. Their upbeat and energetic string movements was a fantastic way to dance into summertime. Bluegrass string jams erupted from the fast paced musicians who created the fury. This band never fails to move an audience, its hard not to get up and groove when you have the whole band smiling and swaying as well. They were a prefect way to enjoy a break from the sun and move to sweet melodies.
Later in the day on the Main stage, a variety of talented instrumentalist combined to compose smooth sweet southern soul music. JJ Grey and Mofro performed their variety of tunes with impressive instruments on display. A collective choice of material off their albums brought a funky afternoon set.
STS9 came out during sunset to please the crowd and put everything and everyone into more of an up-tempo mood. With STS9 just stepping back into the touring seat after a small break to give time to David Murphy and chemotherapy treatments for his recently diagnosed nasal cancer. David looked like he was in a place that made him happier than ever, his place on the stage seemed to have transported him to a place of happiness as he said, “Its so good to be back with ya'll”, his bass started putting out the start to a new song from Sound Tribe Sector 9, “When the Dust Settles”, a funky song incorporating all instruments on the stage showing sides of both and older style of their sound and also newer sounds that have recently defined STS9. Right a away they came back and kept the tempo up with a crowd favorite Aimlessly, a song that truly in ways portrays tribal sounds with lots of climax's and funky breakdowns greatly attributed to the Wah Pedal of guitarist Hunter Brown who is a major infulence on the electronic nature of the band, exemplified his skillfull ways with the guitar that night at Wakarusa. With already a show pleasing the already happy peoples surrounding the Main Stage they followed into the more electronica based “F.Word” and with “Unquestionable”. After hitting some more electronica based songs, they came back with a very funky classic, “Wiki Chikana” and even more, surprising most people they covered, “Shakedown Street” from the Grateful Dead. STS9 kept a great balance of playing Sound Tribe Sector 9 classics while also playing some of the new tunes from upcoming albums.
The headlining sets were at a peak when My Morning Jacket came on the stage. With a southern alternative rock flare the band showed of their instrumental skills performing a variety of tunes favored by the attendees such as, "Touch me I'm Going to Scream" and , " Off the Record". While My Morning Jacket was performing, Galactic lit up the Revival tent with jazzy New Orleans style and gripping funk beats. Several popular songs by the group were preformed to keep the crowd grooving the whole time.
The late night variety had to be one of the most impressive scheduling for a festival, the combination of old school rock like Dark Star Orchestra, or those with a bluegrass liking for Hot Buttered Rum and of course if your need an instrumental progressive electronic fix there was The New Deal who are actually splitting up here pretty soon to family obligations so, if you have the chance to catch this band, please do because they create some beautiful sounds. All were fabulous sets. Dark Star Orchestra striking up roots of some of todays music with beloved covers of Grateful Dead era songs and melodies. Hot Buttered Rum stomped up some dust on the Backwoods stage with their enticing bluegrass movements on string instruments that strummed the movement to your dancing feet.
The performer gathering the largest crowd had to be at the Interstellar Sanctum, Bassnectar literally lit up the mountaintop and no doubt vibrated it a bit. There is something about this artist's choice of bass beats that puts a spell over the attendees that makes them flock towards the music. Impressive light adding to the powerful remixes and dramatic drops of dub bass. The late night Main stage area was illuminating with the glow from all the light up toys guiding the captivated attendees.
Late night transformed into early morning as the music kept crowds going, Ghostland Observatory mixed their talents of creating beats to a crowd at the Interstellar Sanctum. A mixture of two talented musicians and styles called for an entertaining set and musically grabbing. The beats kept flowing till the sun rose again over the skyline, Skrillex busted out his remixes of known favorite tunes and adding dramatic and humorous elements to the music creating some enticing IDM beats backed with the Dub-Step favored sounds of the day. Emancipator brought in the new sunshine closing out on the satellite stage.
Saturday June 4th 2011 By the third day of the festival it was time to escape the heat, hit the forest and chill out. Heading down the twists and turns of the mountain you could go even more natural at the area of the festival where there is a river rolling through. The perfect place to embrace the beauty of Mulberry mountaintop. Surviving the heat was the hardest waiting for the music to start. Early in the day, under the shade of the Revival tent there was the funky flow of Big Sam's Funky Nation. A steller grooving time with big band jive and spirit. Performing several personalized remixes of tunes from past and present. The energy was a jump start to the day as the band literally busted it down to the floor with everyone in the tent, and then bumped it up. It was a perfect introduction for the smörgåsbord of music the day followed with.
With music on the mind there was not far to go for more music. Galactic performing on the main stage brought on a pleasant yet sunny set. One of the more positive attributes about this festival was the appearance of bands more than once over the weekend.
In the high heat of the day Family Groove Company rocked the Outpost Tent. Impressive instrumentals and amazing rifts brings the rocking funk of the music out with "Professionals Here", a song about crime fighting on LSD. These musicians are not only good to move to but they are captivating to watch with the passion they put into every note. The band blends together their talents into an amazing combination of music and positive vibrations. With the uplifting vocals and smooth bass line this band attracted a crowd that was moving and hooping the duration of their set. Livening the musical experience was Mumford and Sons. Bringing folk, rock infused with a powerful stage performance they were an act to see as the sun sank. The variety of songs played and the instrumentals made the set drift by in the strokes and strums came to a close.
An American poet and genuine musician stepped out on stage for a headlining set, Ben Harper joined on stage with Relentless 7. Walking out giving a shout to the state of Arkansas for hosting the gathering on their spectacular land. Starting the set off quickly with “Diamonds on the Inside.” The perfect way to close out the light of day, smooth strokes of the bands instruments and the sweet seductive vocals of Ben Harper. Adding into the set, unique and visually entertaining instruments like the lap guitar, hearing the sharp tones along with the elongated guitar chords was perfection. The men on stage were true musicians, their craftiness and knowledge for each instrument was seen and heard. During the set there were a mix of popular songs like,” Ground on Down,” and ,”Lonely Day.”Several songs that showed meaning and appreciation for all those swaying in the crowd. While the moving set of Ben Harper and Relentless dwindled, the night was just kicking off.
Before heading to the stage area for the headlining set, there was attentions brought to Grassroots Dome. The Coop transfixed passerbys with their electric sound and skills to vibrate the whole dome they occupied for the secret set of music. It was a great stop to dance and move to the smooth melodies that drifted out to the festival. Warming up for a worldly and thriving set was Thievery Corporation . After a delay from some technical difficulties, in excitement the bass player Ashish Vyas ripped off all of his clothing leaving him in only underwear and breaking into an enchanting rift and combinations of instrumental skills while dancing around the entire stage. Performing a number of songs that have added down tempo styles with hopping, shocking beats that makes you move and sway without knowing it. This band is simply mystifying, they hit the stage and just blow it up with amazing combination of visual and auditory stimulation. A new album coming out created new opportunities to show off the growth this band specifically the master mixes of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. The live performance of this group is an experience to be highlighted when it arises.
Sound Tribe Sector Nine hit the Revival tent for a late night appearance showing off their ability to really drift into a musical trance. STS9 even invited a friend on to stage, saxaphonist Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic stepped on to stage for a collaboration on, “ Be Nice”. They also touched on such classics as Kamuy and EHM. The Revival Tent at Wakarusa was packed with many late night ragers and also 5 live artists were performing and creating art during the process behind the sound and light booth. Sound tribe created a beautiful scene, an amazing light show and of course great late night beats to keep the party going.
One of the closing bands to hit the stage on Saturday late night was the duo of Dominic Lalli and Jermey Salken making up Big Gigantic. These guys are mind blowing together, a dash of smooth drum mixed with the jazzy climax of the saxophone is the perfect makings for music that makes you move. Performing songs off their album released last fall as well as a treat into some new material. Dancing away the early morning to the grooving beats and the synchronized light eruptions was the perfect closing to the evening or morning, though the music kept flowing till the break of heat with bands at the Grassroots Satellite stage.
Sunday June 5th AS the last day of the festival came, the music was still flowing. Though many attendees had to head back to the real world, there were many acts that concluded the music with style. Early in the day, John Brown's Body and Toots rocked the main stage to those willing to risk the sun in that stage area. Bringing Chicago up and coming music to the Satellite stage was The Coop. This band shows stunning energy in their music brewing, with a crowd that was swaying. The combination of jazzy smooth electronic with subtle rock hints and drops of gripping beats. This band was a highlight of the Sunday performances. As the day continued and Toots and the Maytals stepped out out for their set. A Jamaican band that brought ska style to the festival. Closing out the festival, Eoto was perfection with another set that cemented to positive sensations the whole festival brought on.
Wakarusa 2011 can be regarded as one its most successful years, with an amazing even more diverse line-up than last year that enables you from seeing everyday Jamband scene favorites to Grammy nominated and winning artists, being in it's amazing back round of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Mulberry Mountain with easy access to the entire festival grounds and welcomed by amazing folks both outside and inside of the festival. It was a great year to be at this beautiful festival, truly a gem in the Festival scene, Wakarusa 2012 is something that everyone who attended this years fest can definitely look forward to next year!