Surviving Wakarusa

Surviving Wakarusa

wakarusa 2 nw dailyBy Nick Brothers

The mountain beckons. Next week Mulberry Mountain, located on the Pig Trail between Fayetteville and Ozark, will transform into Wakarusa for it’s 11th season, and 6th in Arkansas.

As of last week, officials expected to have about 18,000 festival goers this year, with about 150 artists and about 200 sets over the course of June 5-8.

If you haven’t bought tickets yet, you can still buy a full event pass for $204, three-day pass for $139, two-day pass for $109 and a Sunday pass for $59 — all of which can be bought at and are subject to tax and fees. If you plan on staying overnight, you have to buy a camping pass as well, and the only cheap option that isn’t sold out is Riverside for $39, plus fees and taxes and RV Riverside for $199, plus fees and taxes.

The festival originated in Wakarusa, Kan., by the Wakarusa River (which roughly translates to “Ass Deep,” according to the festival’s website) as a small-time indie and Americana music festival. Jefferson County, Wakarusa’s origin, ended up rejecting the festival, so organizers moved to Mulberry Mountain in 2009.

Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned festival aficionado, the graphs and lists with this guide are meant to leave you with some ideas and plans on how to approach the wild fun that is Wakarusa.

First off, you’ll be under stressful conditions. It’s likely going to be hot during the day. You might smell terrible, get a sunburn, face exhaustion and dehydration if you don’t keep them in check and you’ll probably be pretty tired after the first day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Let’s begin.

Conditions may be stressful, but don’t stress. The amount of fun you’ll have (check, allow yourself to have) will totally counteract any rough stuff you face. So enjoy yourself, let go of your inhibitions, dance like a wild thing and meet some new people!

One piece of advice, just go with the flow. You’ll see some strange people, and they may even talk to you. Casual agreeance, e.g. “yeah man,” is the best way to be at Wakarusa. I don’t mean to sound negative, because the festival becomes this great close-knit caring community. Just leave any negativity at the gate.

Before you go, be sure to practice setting up your tent and watch some how-to videos if you need. Visualize your campsite. Where will the food go? What are you sleeping on? Where am I storing my valuables? Don’t be afraid to ask for help either, there’s sure to be someone nearby who would enjoy helping out.

If you spot some bad news, like a person face down in the ground or a fight, the easiest way to help is to find a safety officer. They wear neon orange and yellow shirts that read “STAFF” on the back. They aren’t looking to get anyone in trouble, and they’re there to help and offer crowd control, said Jonathan Koegh, director of Wakarusa security.

“It’s all about safety and minimizing traffic flow,” Koegh said. “Every year we learn something.”

Because of storms last year, Waka staff added in more drainage to divert flooding. If it storms like it did that year, a hard top vehicle will be the safest place to run to in the event of a storm happening. Waka staff also added cell towers on wheels or “C.O.W.’s” to help with cellular service issues, said Brett Moisman, the director of Pipeline Productions and Wakarusa.

If for any reason you need assistance, for example you need a locksmith or towing, there is 24-hour security who can help, and EMTs are on site to help with any medical emergencies.

The music at Wakarusa is all about being at a big party. There are lots of loud, fun bands to see.

If you’re curious about what some can’t-miss bands are besides the headliners, Moisman recommends checking out:

• J. Roddy Walston & The Business (rock n’ roll)

• Murder by Death (folk-rock)

• The Mowgli’s (pop rock)

• Reignwolf (alternative, blues)

• Cherub (pop, dance)

• The Floozies (funk, electronica).

The labels don’t do any of the bands justice, but if you’re looking for a new band, think about checking these guys out. Be sure to check out the full lineup at

Good luck and have fun out there, but most importantly, don’t worry about a thing. You’ll have a blast.

The Essentials

  • Drink Water. More water than you can fathom. Drink it like a fish. Wear a water backpack, like a Camelbak, if you have one. You will sweat, and then you will sweat more, so staying hydrated is key. Clean water can be found all throughout the festival grounds. Be prepared for lines during peak times, though. Remember, alcohol actually dehydrates you.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray.Apply liberally. You’ll want to re-apply sunscreen about every two hours.
  • Eat well, and eat right. You’ll need plenty of energy for the festival. Pack some PB&J’s, sandwiches and fruit in your cooler (keep in mind you’ll likely need new ice daily), or partake in the wide variety of food vendors there. Just don’t forget to eat!
  • Find time to sleep and take naps. There are a lot of late night sets that just about go to sunrise. Because of the heat, most people wake up at about 9 a.m. So just pace yourself, and don’t push yourself to exhaustion.
  • Make or find some shade.Bring a canopy to put over your tent, and hang out in the shady woods on the perimeter of the campground and take a breather.
  • Hygiene. Wakarusa isn’t a beauty pageant, but if you don’t want to pay $10/shower or $25 for a bracelet to go as much as you want, you can buy a solar camp shower from Walmart or Academy Sports. They cost about $10, and you just have to fill the bag up and hang it up. Wet wipes make for a quick way to freshen up. Also, wear some deodorant if you aren’t against it.
  • Bring enough cash. There will be ATM’s, but it’ll be easier on yourself to not have to worry about them. Vendors will want cash, too.
  • Bring extra clothes, bathing suits and shoes/boots. Last year’s Wakarusa was a perfect example of why. It stormed a lot, and it made the campground a huge mud pit. Expect to get whatever you’re wearing very dirty.
  • Pack some toilet paper. It’s a safe bet whatever port-a-potty you use won’t have any.
  • There are general stores if you need them that sell this stuff.


Bring a flag or inflatable for your campsite. This will help you find your tent in the sea of campers. A lot of people carry extendable flags with them so their group can easily spot them out and about at shows.

Go see a band you’ve never heard of. Who knows? Maybe they’ll become your new favorite band and go on to become huge so you get the privilege of saying “I saw them here first.” It’s safe to presume every band there is at least “good,” but they may not appeal to your taste.

Set up an iCal or Google Calendar schedule. On the Wakarusa schedule web page, you can add events to your personal calendar. Once you sync them with your smartphone, you’ll be set with your own personal schedule without the hassle of pulling out the music pamphlet every time.

Get to know your neighbors. I’ve talked to several seasoned Wakarusians. They all have wonderful stories about how they met some of their best friends at the festival. Besides, you’ve already got something in common — you like music!

Bring a spray water bottle and SHARE. You will be considered the bee’s knees if you do. Guaranteed the easiest way to make some new friends, and it provides a “cool” deed to your fellow Wakarusians, as well as yourself.


Carry around such a big flag it blocks the view of fellow attendees. C’mon. Don’t be that guy. Be courteous of those around you. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s one of those things that you might not realize you’re doing during a show.

Overindulge. Wakarusa is all about setting a pace. There will be a ton of music and activities going on, but I recommend you focus on a few things at your own pace. For example, you probably won’t want to hike to the waterfall in the morning and then stay up until 5 a.m. dancing all night in the same day.

Do anything you aren’t comfortable with. No brainer, right? Well, there will be a lot of opportunities to try a lot of different things. There’s definitely drug use going on (which, well, is illegal). Don’t take candy from strangers, but also don’t judge those who do partake. Different strokes for different folks.

Bring Glass Bottles or Pets. It’s the rules, man. Don’t try to sneak your pet in either, if security finds a pet in your car, you will be turned away. Therapy dogs are permitted with proper documentation, though.

Don’t stress about your phone or internet connection. Embrace the festival, not your screens.

Top 5 Things to Do and See At Wakarusa

1. Check out the Mulberry Mountain waterfall. It’s about a 1 hour and 30 minute round trip, but it’s worth it.

2. Take a free bus ride down to the Mulberry river. There’s the Riverside Stage new this year, so you can jam out while chillin’ in the river.

3. Attend the free unofficial Saturday morning breakfast at Chompdown at the RV campgrounds. Bring a food contribution and your patience for the long lines or lend a hand.

4. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel. At about 12 stories tall, you’ll get an amazing view of the festival.

5. Go see the Technaflora Costume Contest and Parade Friday, June 6, at the Revival Tent. Join in, too, the winner of the contest gets free tickets to Waka 2015!

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