All photos by @begt
The Wakarusa Music Festival took place May 31 – June 2 in my neck of the woods. And I’m quite literal when I say that, I’m talking about bear sightings here, people. The festival has taken place at the Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, AR since 2008 (just about 1 hour 15 min drive for me), after moving from The Clinton State Park near Lawrence, Kansas, where it was born in 2004.
I’ve held Wakarusa close to my heart since 2010, when I attended the first time. I’ve always enjoyed the beauty of Mulberry Mountain and appreciated the eclectic atmosphere. A lot of new music has made its way into my life through Waka. I’ve always loved it. All of it. Including the near sunburn I’ve gotten every year, despite all the sunscreen. But this year was different. After only a day at Mulberry Mountain, I bailed. No shame, no apologies. Let me tell you why.
I got there on Friday around noon, a whole day after the start of the festival. A friend of mine called me that he had an extra ticket and I took it, very excited to not miss my dear festival. But he warned me, there was mud everywhere. It had rained on Wednesday and Thursday, crazy thunderstorms and lighting that even halted the music and send all Wakarusos to take shelter in their cars. I left my car at an improvised day-parking (original day-parking area was too muddy for cars to get in) and went up the mountain. The day was semi-cloudy, and all I cared, really, was about catching Of Monsters And Men‘s set at 5PM.
We went walking around with my friend and when we got to the stage gates, I saw it. A swamp. Pools of mud where people were trying to walk. I braved it, but looking around we all seemed like expert Walking Dead extras. Everyone was walking slow and soulful, trying to get around the mud without falling. This picture doesn’t even do justice to how my feet ended up. After going around the festival’s various stages, we made it to the Revival Tent stage, where Of Monsters And Men played. It was an awesome set. The band didn’t much differ from their album versions of the songs, but I enjoyed it a lot. The tent was packed. It seems to me that the festival’s main stage would have been better for their set.
For me, it was an unprecedented experience. I was only there a little over 26 hours and only caught four acts: Eitch, Of Monsters And Men, MUTEMATH, and Dispatch. I was highly pleased with each of those sets, but I was thirsty for more music. In my usual Wakarusa experience I catch from 6 to 9 sets each day. I even left my camera and fisheye lens back at my tent for the evening after OMAM, because it was so bad.
The four sets I caught were great. The big surprise was Eitch, the electronica diva that we found by chance while she performed at the Satellite Stage (best kept, mud-wise, of stages). She had a fun set. We got there in time to listen to “Sun and Moon” and “Curious”. Eitch is releasing an EP in a series of singles, free to download in various music blogs, so check out her site.
That evening, after Of Monsters and Men, I was able to catch MUTEMATH, the alternative rock band from NOLA. I’ve liked them for a few years now, ever since the first time I heard “Typical”, sometime around 2007. They were on my list of must-watch and were SO great! The crowd was a lot smaller than for OMAM, but it was a lot more intense. Those guys are alive. Paul Meany, the main vocalist and keyboardist, ended up the set by doing a armstand on this piano, wuuuut! And he even rocked the keytar at some point in the show. You guys, the KEYTAR!
My (and Waka’s) last show on Friday was Dispatch. I couldn’t help but to compared them to State Radio (both bands include Chad Urmston’s genius as main vocals, guitar), and well, I like State Radio a lot better. Dispatch delivered, nonetheless. They started out the set with classic songs, including “The General” and “Bang Bang”, to then move to their most recent material.
After the Dispatch set, the last one on the Main Stage on Friday night, around 1:30AM a big ass storm hit us. I had never experience a crazy storm with tornado warning conditions inside a tent, and I never want to again. After the crazy winds, the water continued falling, hard. And it was around 10:30 and 11AM the following day when it finally stopped. I didn’t even want to imagine what the conditions were like around the gates and stages after all that water. In media camping close to the main entrance, we saw five trucks full of gravel come into the festival grounds. But I don’t think anything could help the mud pit of main stage camping at that point.
One of the stages got shut down for at least half a day that Saturday. Around 3PM that day I decided to pack my wet tent and head back to my car. The lineup was weak enough to not be worth it. The only Saturday sets that were attractive to me were Ozomatli, The Coup (who were scheduled in the afternoon at the stage that was out of commission), and GROUPLOVE, who cancelled sometime before the festival started. By the time I reached my car, the sun had come out. I sent my good vibes to all my fellow Wakarusos who were left at the mountain (probably because they couldn’t get their cars out of the main stage camping aka Swamp City Capital) and to the Mulberry Mountain (the nature sanctuary was that completely destroyed with almost 30,000 walking around the muddy ground) and left. That drive back was beautiful. Here’s a slice of it:
All in all, Wakarusa was not all it could have been this year. Music-wise, I doubt they will ever top 2011 (Ben Harper, Mumford & Sons, Michael Franti, My Morning Jacket, Thievery Corporation, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals). And when it comes to the overall experience, 2012 is the standard organizers need to go by. Waka 2012 looked better organized (no porta-potty station right next to the food area), beautiful, clean, and it all ran smooth. This year was quite the mess, and not just because of the weather. I wasn’t the only one to think so.
It’s safe to say that Waka 2013 will be remembered in several ways: Swamparusa, Muddarusa, The Wakapocalypse, etc. Better luck next year, my dear Waka. Lineup and weather-wise.