In the 11th year of the annual Wakarusa Music Festival; the headliners brought attendees from far and wide, but music may only have a small part as to why this festival remains so successful. Nestled into the tree-filled hills of Arkansas, Wakafarians would once again realize you can plan a pretty picnic, but you still can’t predict the weather. The bowl-like shape that the festival embodies creates an incredible view over the entire grounds from the top of the mountain, but this bowl-shape is not ideal for any water run-off after rainfall as the festival grounds into “Swamparusa” yet again. We look back at Wakarusa 2014 from the starting beer to the finish line…
Wakarusa provides patrons the choice to arrive as early as Wednesday which certainly helped with traffic congestion. The attendees that took advantage of this were not only able to arrive early and set up camp, but were treated by several Wednesday night shows including Manic Focus, Twiddle and That 1 Guy. Manic Focus’ groovy funk-style bass music was just what the crowd needed to gear them up for the next four days of the festival.
Thursday was a day that was absolutely crammed with above-par talent that put on above-par performances. Dopapod set things off for most fans on the first official day of the festival. The jamtronica band rocked only six tracks, including “Bubble Brain” but each one was blessed with minutes of delicate transitioning before the next. This band had no problems getting the people in true waka-mode at just 1:00pm on the first day.
As with most festivals, attendants were given several choices on genre through the entire weekend, which proved to be re-assuring. D.V.S.* was only the fourth artist to play the Satellite Stage all weekend, but the tracks played were just as fresh as the stage he was playing on. The EDM artist keeps himself out of “button masher” stereotypes by keeping a guitar by his side the entire show. His compositions form a melodic journey relying heavily on instrumentations and organic sounds; something anyone can jig to.
Next up was Nahko and the Medicine for the People at the Revival Tent. Nahko’s music cannot be categorized by genre but only by purpose. Every Nahko song seeks to help soothe the soul and bring each individual closer together, and this set was no different. The turnout exceeded what the band had expected, as they stated with joy several times throughout the show. Towards the end of the show, Michael Franti came out and joined Nahko & The MFTP on a collaboration of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” that made the crowd go crazy.
The collaboration was especially cool because Michael Franti played the Main stage just a little over an hour after he was up on stage with Nahko. His show was as uplifting as Nahko’s in the sense that we were also putting two feet forward towards the issues we’re dealing with on the global frontier, issues that our mainstream media fails to cover. The motivational music the crowd was being hit with on the first day was just perfect to get everyone on the same page so we could move forward with the weekend as a wholesome group.
At 10:30 STS9 hit the stage with new bassist Alana Rocklin front and center, embracing the recent changes the band has gone through with an hour and 45 minutes of bangers including “Circus, 1…2…3…,Totem and Bigs.” The crowd received them exceptionally well, particularly when they used the same Etta James lyrics that Bassnectar uses in his song “Feeling Good.
Break Science kept it live over at the Revival tent where fans could enjoy the hybrid band’s tracks that rest between organic and synthetic but always remain electric. Wakarusa is probably equally thankful to its Late Nights and its headliners for its popularity and longevity as a festival. The options seemed endless Thursday night as the crowd stumbled from show to show getting intoxicated on The Werks, Keys N Krates, 3LAU and especially Wick-It The Instigator.
Friday started off with the same rainfall as every other day but ceased before most fans headed down to catch the first big name of the day – Lettuce. Lettuce is purely a funk band that jams out with some incredible horns and percussions that molded the crowds’ bodies into their first dance session of day two. At the same time Lettuce was playing; Random Rab, Wick-It and Robert DeLong were all performing on other stages.
Dr Dog delighted with over an hour of rocking numbers on the main stage before STS9 and Nahko and the Medicine for the People’s second sets began. The Flaming Lips were headlining the Main Stage so no one was anticipating a decay in the action. Their set included all the bells and whistles everyone expected as well as a couple extra pre-show shenanigans. One of which was a wedding. Wayne Coyne married two of his fans before the show began on stage, a moment that will never be forgotten by a great portion of the people who witnessed it. By the time The Flaming Lips actually began performing (25 minutes after the set was supposed to begin) people were distracted to the point of separation between themselves and what had been considered a headliner of the weekend by many. This was a disappointment to say the least.
Following them on the Main stage were Israel’s Infected Mushroom and their unique psychedelic dance tracks along with the even more unique visual set-up they deliver. Friday night’s overlap may have been the worst of the weekend as Infected Mushroom, The String Cheese Incident and Minnesota were all playing simultaneously. Whichever choice the fans made this night rewarded them as all three acts put on a memorable show.
SCI started off firing on all cylinders rattling off “Valley of the Jig” & “Joyful Sound.” Minnesota played a couple newbies along with several tracks off his massive EP “The Astral Projection”. Infected Mushroom stayed on their own end of the spectrum with the bounce tracks they transitioned into psych-dub tracks accompanied by never-ending visuals that kept anyone who wasn’t dancing more than entertained.
Friday’s Late-Night shows included European dubstep phenom Rusko, Wakarusa/ Lawrence hometown favorites The Floozies, Ott. and the up and coming trap producer HeRobust. Rusko and HeRobust didn’t stand out by any means and did not meet the expectations that were set by the fans who attended. The Floozies on the other hand kept everyone entertained with a grouping of classic Floozies tracks and their infamous remix of “Shakedown Street” by The Grateful Dead. As the second day of the festival came to a close fans could return to their campsite filled with music and memories to help rest and recover for the second half of the festival.
On headliner Saturday, everyone on Mulberry Mountain woke up unbelievably ecstatic for the music they would witness that night; and not a single soul left without feeling the total power of music. By the time Xavier Rudd and Up Until Now had hit the stage, most fans had at least began trickling down the hill towards the entrance. Lines were never too chaotic at the bathrooms, entrances or food vendors proving that the resources that Pipeline had arranged for were more than ample. The Mowgli’s put on what most would consider a sub-par performance as they lacked the enthusiasm the crowd was desperate for.
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros were up next on the Main Stage and began frolicking through the crowd almost as soon as the first song started. The absence of Jade bothered the crowd to confusion as to why she wasn’t there. She did not join the band for this tour and without her the band has not nearly the talent and heart. As the Edward Sharpe set began to wind down, the Cheese-Heads were getting wound up and rowdy, the sun was beginning to set and the evening was shaping up just perfectly.
SCI took the stage just after 8:00pm and kicked off the night with “Can’t Wait Another Day” which is the seventh track on their newest album Song In My Head. Their first set concluded in about an hour with the last song being one of the smoothest SCI tracks, “Colliding”. The band returned from set break determined to give the fans of Wakarusa one of the best nights of their lives. They played favorite after favorite: “Let’s Go Outside,” “BollyMunster,”“It Is What It Is” and “Rosie”. But as everyone had expected, Wakarusa treats were in store like Jason Hann spitting off his rendition of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem and a MASSIVE jam-off that the band would later refer to as a “Big Waka Jam”. Just when all the Colorowdies and Cheeseheads were beginning to fret it wouldn’t be played, the three song encore ended with“Colorado Bluebird Sky” that always sends the crowd into a dancing, smiling frenzy.
As they wound down their set, Umphreaks had already began camping out for the show that was set to take place in the Revival Tent. This was the first Umphrey’s McGee set of the weekend and it seemed they knew that people might exit early to catch Bassnectar on the Main Stage because the opening 30 minutes were absolutely breathtaking. The fans who could only catch the first part sure spent that time wisely as the band proved why they would be rocking the Main Stage on Sunday’s primetime slot.
The BNF Bassheads were in full force Saturday night for Bassnectar’s return to Mulberry Mountain, totems, glowsticks, and pretty much every LED toy you’ve ever seen awaited Lorin’s 12:30 set/ The EDM powerhouse now travels with a massive array of LED screens that cover his entire fortress and are jam packed with crazy visuals that keep his fans second guessing all night long. Bassnectar started off slow and built the bass together with a few “light” tracks before he dug into the madness, this was the rollercoaster we would ride the whole set. Bassheads recognize that a lot of the songs that are played are picked on the spot and are live-transitioned into what is already playing. This creates a bond between himself and his fans that allows him to control the tempo at which they are dancing and how they’re about to be dancing. After several huge whompy tracks we approached what was supposed to be the end of his set. He turned his bright lights towards the fans, took a “Family Photo”, then announced “I fully intend on going into Overtime”. Which sent the crowd into complete chaos; ready to exert the adrenaline that announcement had just fueled.
Bassnectar treated the crowd with a multi faceted set that featured a couple of enormous singles off his new album Noise VS Beauty and even more remixes and features that rocked the crowd until after 2:00am. Saturday Night’s Late-Night was yet again full of tough decisions, for the Bassheads there was Cherub, DJ Snake and Lorin’s accomplice ill Gates who played one of the better sets of the weekend (including a 10 minute drum pad freestyle that he dedicated to the moth that had landed on one of his electronics). For the jam fans there was Papadosio in the Revival tent which rocked out till after 4am with their psychedelic, electro-sampled jams that keep crowds entertained with ease.
Sunday received worse rainfall than any other day of the festival as fans began disappearing through the festival exits, and as music continued to play most of the crowd was unsure if it would let up. Fortunate Youth caught a lot of extra traffic due to the fact they were playing in a tent through the rain. They took full advantage of this situation by playing an incredibly groovy reggae set for everyone to relax, dance, rest or nap to; whichever remedy was calling your name at the time.
By the end of their set that had eased the pouring rain into a sprinkle and allowed fans to surface from the tents they had been hidden inside. BoomBox’s second set of the weekend landed them on the Main Stage as the rain lingered. BoomBox is a hybrid band that keeps fans in a constant dancing rhythm the entire time they’re on stage. The best part was they scared the storm away!
For the first time in their Wakarusa career’s; Jason and Michael of EOTO took the Main Stage. Glide got the chance to sit down with Jason and he said that EOTO is “the improvisational, super creative, in the moment zone” where himself and Travis can get up onto stage and just “have fun” whilst making some pretty crazy dance tunes. He also mentions the rest of their summer is “reserved for playing festivals.” EOTO’s set on the main stage was a creative journey full of fun lyrics from Jason, whompy dub beats and was topped off with a drum solo that fed the fans the electric boost they needed to finish off the festival with as much energy as they brought the first day.
Without moving a muscle Wakafarians were able to enjoy Umphrey’s McGee’s second and final set of the weekend. This set didn’t start off as hot as the set from the prior night but with their new album coming out June 10th, they played several tracks of it as well as the transitions and guitar solos Umphreaks have come to know and love. The hour and a half the band spent on stage was a great way to end the jam sessions the weekend had provided from such a variety of improvisational artists. With Sunday being the last day of the festival, the schedule was a little lighter-packed and had smaller crowds, until The Floozies came on. The electronic-hybrid duo of brothers from Lawrence, KS played for over two hours that could have kept going, no matter how tired the attendees were. The last set of any festival is always a bittersweet one as it indicates that it’s time to return home, but The Floozies made sure we didn’t feel that sadness until after their set was over.
Wakarusa 2014 was yet another perfectly organized festival put on by Pipeline Productions. These guys really know how to treat fans and how to make them want to return year in and year out. From the organization top to bottom, to the production crew and all the way down to the volunteers; everyone was treated with fairness and respect. The lineup that was put together wound up working out perfectly but, as mentioned earlier, this festival isn’t about the music but rather the people. When a festival chooses a location it’s not only choosing what community it will support with its business, but also the people that will or won’t attend. Bad intentions can be weaned out with inconveniences and in this case, it makes almost every patron worthy of interaction and conversation. The people of Wakarusa really know how to treat one another and provide the closest-to-perfect festival environment that fans can find.
Photos by Brian Spady