Report from Wakarusa

The Set List

By Brian Washburn


Generally speaking, the sequel hardly ever lives up to the original. Sure, there are the few exceptions — “The Godfather II,” “The Dark Knight” — but usually they are duds. For further reference, see every “Scary Movie” after the first and/or any of Axl Rose’s rejuvenations. But the sequel to last year’s first Wakarusa Music Festival held at Mulberry Mountain was not a sophomore slump. In fact, it not only lived up to the hype of Mulberry’s first Wakarusa gig, it surpassed it.

Those attending last year’s festival thought there would be no way to top last year’s inaugural romp. This year the weather reached more than 90 degrees every day. Camp spots were placed so closely together it was almost impossible to set up some bigger-than-usual tents (plus, it was a pain to make pathways through the tents to find a road to take you to the different stages). And let’s not get into the excessive, ridiculous trek past the main stage entrance to the will-call ticket line where you had to wait for almost two hours late Wednesday night and Thursday morning. But even with those few blunders witnessed and experienced at Waka 2010, the benefits greatly outweighed the costs and Wakarusa might have begun to settle in to its true identity of one of the nation’s superior music festivals.

Once you’ve attended your first Wakarusa, you’ll understand the transformation everyone goes through while there. It is not just a mountain in the Ozarks, or a music festival boasting more than 20,000 people in attendance.

No, Wakarusa is a whole different world apart from the “normal” civilization the majority of us currently reside in. To put it bluntly, the world of Waka is more like a commune filled with campers who confide in each other, complain about the heat, trade/buy substances or just discuss the day’s shows and see if everyone is having a good time.

Unique, one-of-a-kind costumes, an abundance of glow sticks, art showcases, unshowered bodies, out-of-control raves and a plethora of other situataions many will have to see to believe, all give Wakarusa this identity it has grown into over the past couple of years. And with the bands and artists the festival plans on bringing in, Wakarusa does not appear to be switching its image any time soon. Although most were gathered in the packed field to see the main stage headliners throughout the four-day festival, there was always a smaller band on another stage in a tent that seems to steal the show (See: Pretty Lights, Waka 2009).

This year was not any different and it came in the package of San Francisco DJ Bassnectar who managed to make every person in the tent end up dancing and bumping during his more than an hour set Friday night. His hard-hitting, hip-hop/techno beats had everybody on their feet and their hands in the air moving in synch with the music. Bassnectar epitomized half of what the Wakarusa music festival is supposed to be about: an enormous group of music lovers moving in sync with one another at a late night set having the time of their lives — whether that time is because of enjoyment or other substances. The other half of what makes Wakarusa, Wakarusa was found on the main stage each of the three festival nights with bands such as Widespread Panic, The Disco Biscuits and STS9. The mood of these extensive sets focused in on a more mellow and, at times, trippy experience for those crowded around the main stage.

Even though most enjoyed the three-hour set by Widespread (the festival headliner that did not disappoint) and the Disco Biscuits (the festival’s surprise enjoyment of the entire weekend), STS9 did not live up to the usual hype. STS9 performed a slow tempo concert with a light show that could have either been straight out of a Jimmy Buffett concert or a jazz festival. I couldn’t decide which. Even though STS9 are a huge crowd pleaser, their performances are more enjoyable in a close, intimate setting, such as George’s. The heat might have prevented Waka-goers from watching many of the bands slated to perform during the scorching heat, but up-start rockers The Black Keys put on a hell of a rock show during the heat of the day Saturday. The band brought their rock energy and grungy attitude, and lit a fire under fans despite the weather. Wakarusa’s mission statement most likely would have something to do with creativity and originality. However, many artists chose to perform covers and some should have stayed with their original form.

Steel guitarist extraordinaire Robert Randolph along with his Family Band covered “Papa was a Rolling Stone” (with an intermission in the middle to do an instrumental version of Gaga’s “Poker Face”) during their lively and fantastic set.

Umphreys McGee performed a basic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” and Blues Traveller attempted Radiohead’s “Creep,” which might go down as one of the worst cover attempts ever. It was sloppy and not worth the audience’s time. Wakarusa might just be about the music to some, but it is much, much more than that. It is a completely different world where, if you have a year’s experience under your belt, you understand the comings and goings of the four-day camping experience. You understand the people, the dealings and, for four days, live in a universe where the music rules, people are helping people and nothing on the outside matters. Wakarusa 2011: Bring it on.

Brian Washburn is the founder of DBW and is currently working on a way to revolutionize the music industry.

Categories: LIVE! In NWA