Wakarusa 2013: A Retrospective
Muddy waters may have made the most memorable appearance at the 10th Annual Wakarusa Music and Arts Festival last weekend. Yet whether you inventively coined Swamparusa or Wakaggedon, the wacky weather did not give us the blues.
These, among other creative names, describe this year’s Wakarusa Music Festival in weather terms. The first two days of the festival gave all attendees a bit of a setback on their festivities. Although there were show cancellations due to threatening storms, windy weather, and tornado warnings, Mulberry Mountain was still graced with over 15,000 music lovers who transform into festival-goers this time of year.
Thursday, May 30th
Under the Arkansas sun, we arrived at our campsite on Thursday afternoon. But as soon as we had set up camp, we were told by our friendly neighbors that there was a tornado warning in place and threats of strong wind gusts as well, which caused not only show cancellations, but closed the entire venue. Almost immediately upon gaining this knowledge, we were forced to get into our cars and wait out the storm. After realizing the storm had died down, we decided to clean up camp a little and make our way to the venue.
Much to our delight, the music had revived. We started off by heading to the Revival Tent where Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was starting the week off in a funky way. Most of my group wanted to stay there, and as much as I was enjoying the music, I had been itching to see Moon Taxi for, well, many moons. The indie band from Nashville put on an intensifying show, proving that the overcast skies could not hold back their want to jam out at the Technaflora Outpost Tent. They played a fair amount of songs off their latest album, including “Mercury”, which was obviously a crowd favorite. It was time to mosey on over to the Main Stage for The Black Crowes. Often for main stage shows, I enjoy taking everything in from a full perspective of the show. I at least wanted to do this for a couple sets and The Black Crowes was a perfect choice. We stayed for a few more mellow songs, but we wanted to be sure to catch ZOOGMA. The Birmingham-based group got the audience pumped up by meshing heavy bass with jam band qualities, of which the latter had never been more prominent in all of the previous shows I have been to. It was quite strategic that ZOOGMA played right before Sound Tribe Sector 9, or STS9, one of Wakarusa’s headliners this year. STS9, known by fans as Tribe, opened with a dynamic set featuring songs such as “Kamuy”, “Golden Gate,” “Vibyl”, and ended with “March”. But this finale was abrupt and unplanned since ominous storms were once again making way over the Ozarks. Everyone was asked to evacuate back to camp and take shelter. Music did resume, however, later in the night, but we unfortunately did not take the calculated risk to go back to the venue.
Highlights: Moon Taxi rocking out, Tribe’s set was just too good (especially the end), before they were forced to stop due to the extreme weather.
Friday, May 31st
Waking up in a car once again proved that we could rough it through the unexpected interruptions on the first day of the festival. Realizing that music was starting to begin, most of my friends took off to the venue while we headed over to the press conference.
Bands represented included Dispatch, MUTEMATH, SOJA, and The Motet. Members of SOJA said they enjoy Wakarusa more than other festivals because it is not a festival about money but rather, “it feels like a family”. Dispatch echoed SOJA’s feelings by saying that Wakarusa does not have much ego and they are supportive, not corporate. These answers made it obvious that even though Wakarusa is a major music festival, they stay true to the grassroots initiative.
Due to the press conference and resting at camp afterwards for the long night ahead, we headed back down to the venue just in time for Umphrey’s McGee. Their first of two sets of the festival was on the Main Stage and it was incredible to say the least. But my friends assured me that tomorrow night would be even better and I had a feeling this was going to be true. After Umphrey’s, we stayed to watch most of Dispatch. Seeing the three-piece rock band perform for the first time was that much more meaningful since I had just gotten the chance to hear them speak at the press conference. After Dispatch, we made it over to the Revival Tent about a half hour before STS9 was set to go on. But as soon as it was time for Tribe to go on, we were told that they would not be able to play and we had to go back to our campsite to take cover. My group decided to call it a night and sleep in the car since the storm was quite intense. Other artists such as Galactic and Shpongle had set cancellations as well. But the next two days would surely make up for the threatening weather, despite the muddy waters.
Highlights: press conference with Dispatch, SOJA, MUTEMATH, and The Motet. The highlight of the press conference was Dispatch giving a shout out to the Tabernacle because half of the live album they just dropped is from their Atlanta show.
Saturday, June 1st
Music resumed in full swing Saturday afternoon. But my first priority was to go to another press conference, where Govinda shared many tales, knowledge and information with us. It was an intimate meeting and it was obvious he was thrilled for his sunrise set the next morning.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival was our first show of the day and it was the first time seeing a show at the Backwoods Stage. The vibe was quite tranquil, more so than the other stages and tents I had been to so far. The six-piece band rocked out though, but it was easy to tell they have roots in folk. Discovering this group is what makes festivals like Wakarusa inspiring to music lovers. We took some pictures of the beautiful sunset on the way to Widespread Panic on the Main Stage. We caught their first set, which included tracks like “Party at Your Mama’s House,” “Greta,” and closed with “Henry Parsons Died” before intermission between sets. Anxiously wanting to see all of Umphrey’s McGee’s second set, my crew left before Widespread would suck us into the rest of their three-hour show. And Umphrey’s did not at all disappoint. Their set was even more dynamic and the crowd reciprocated that energy as well. Playing in a tent this time, the progressive group played originals and some covers as well. After their set, we stayed at the Revival Tent for Papadosio. Opening with “Method of Control”, the electronic-rock band is known for their improvisation skills, and they proved this by playing “Do the Muddy Waka”, which everyone knew all too well how to do that. The group also performed two songs for the first time, “New Love” and “Dream Estate”. Realizing that the night was turning into day before our very eyes, we made it over to see The Floozies at my personal favorite stage, the Satellite Stage. The Floozies consists of two brothers, one produces and plays guitar while the other plays live drums. The combination of their overall sound and lightshow were reminiscent of Pretty Lights when he had Adam Deitch play live drums. The sun had set and we were just heading to sleep until our last day on the mountain.
Highlights: Umphrey’s McGee’s entire set, but especially their cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain”, Papadosio improvisation and first timers (you could tell they were loving the vibe), and The Floozies having a sunrise set was just remarkable.
Sunday, June 2nd
We had all finally made it to our tents to sleep early Sunday morning and sleep we did. After an exhausting past few days, many of us slept in quite late. Although some attendees had already left, the closing day of the festival brought fair weather and great music. We headed back to the stage we had abandoned earlier that day to see GRiZ play a DJ set. After seeing GRiZ play in Atlanta, I was intrigued to see his DJ set with no saxophone. The skies were blue and Satellite Stage was packed, from many dancing feet to people lying in hammocks. Next, we caught The Polish Ambassador’s second set of the weekend since we had missed his first one. As usual, he was wearing an eclectic-colored jumpsuit and had an amazing lightshow. We changed the pace by walking into the middle of Snoop Lion’s set on the Main Stage. As we walked in, we heard that he was singing, yes singing, Katy Perry’s part of “California Girls”. It was apparent that he had decided to perform some old school Snoop Dogg tunes just for us, including “Gin and Juice”. Oh and he lit up a giant blunt, smoked it and then passed it over to a photographer. (Not me, by the way).
To close out the festival, we left Snoop for Gramatik over at the Revival Tent. This set is most likely my favorite from the whole weekend. Not only did Gramatik bring it, along with his guitarist, but GRiZ also came out for a few collaborations under the nickname Grizmatik. As if that was not enough to make the crowd go wild, including myself, Cherub came out to sing along with Gramatik. The two groups had just ended a tour together so their performance at Wakarusa may not have been a huge surprise, but it was definitely a wonderful way to end my first Wakarusa.
Highlights: Sunday was the best day in my opinion and favorite set overall for the festival was Gramatik, especially once GRiZ and Cherub joined them.
Words by Lauren Stanaitis | Photos by Lauren Stanaitis & Ashley Steeley