Continued from Wakarusa Recap: Day Two.
All Photos by C-Style Photography.
By the start of the third day at Wakarusa, I had a pretty good sense of the festival overall. I encountered a lot of kind people during my stay at All Good last year and came back telling Hoosiers that the West Virginia festival attracted some of the realest hippies I’d ever met in my life. But there was something different about the crowd at Wakarusa; their mentality was much more selfless and the people were, as a whole, more approachable and ready to make new friends. My foot was not once stepped on without an apology and my eyes never met another pair that wouldn’t smile back.
As much as I despised Summer Camp last year for its ludicrous search-every-bag policy as patrons enter the campground on foot, I did appreciate being able to roam freely from stage to stage without crossing security each time. Like most festivals, Wakarusa’s model follows the latter and mandates a quick search of each bag upon entering a new staged field. Their staff was generally relaxed, though, and there was rarely a line or major confiscation. Except for that one round, bald guy who liked to hang out at the south Main Stage entrance; that guy took his job way too seriously.
The festival grounds were spacious enough that I never felt like there were too many people for the venue, yet all the stages were within a 10-minute walk of each other; 15 if it was the afternoon in the radiating heat of the sun. Vendors of both materialistic items and consumable food products were aplenty. There were fun things to do in addition to catching live music, but not so much that you felt like you were missing out on major fun by not participating: morning yoga and hooping, a costume contest, drum circles, a community chalk board, and whimsical, slightly-frightening, over-sized costumes depicting a fairy, a wizard, Hunter S. Thompson (third from left in photo below), and a couple other figures I couldn’t identify.
I kicked of my last day at Wakarusa with a healthy dose of funk catered by Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The set was opposite Galactic on The Main Stage, so the crowd was sparse by comparison, but it was still sweltering hot inside of the Revival Tent. I remember watching the fella next to me dance around with 1/3 of a bag of rapidly-melting ice that he sporadically rested on the shoulders of his friends to cool them down. I bent over and pointed to my head, to which he graciously obliged and let the chilly, cold water drip onto my scalp. It’s the little things.
The band is fronted by Big Sam Williams, an iconic trombonist, and supported by Andrew Baham on Trumpet/Vocals/Keys, Takeshi Shimmura on Guitar, Chocolate MILK on Drums, and Eric Vogel on Bass. Big Sam and Baham held down the front half of the stage, woo-ing the ladies with their sultry, suave dance moves when they weren’t blaring their horns. The set was full of fun cover songs that kept the attentive spectators involved from start to finish, including the classic Black Crowes song “Hard To Handle” and an entertaining medley of Cee Lo Green songs.
Later in the afternoon I conducted an interview with Ben Samples (one half of Colorado-based DJ duo Fresh2Death) and caught the beginning of their womp-tastic set on The Satellite Stage. From there, the destination was The Main Stage for Mumford & Sons, but not without a quick stop at The Backwoods Stage first where The Ben Miller Band was getting ready to play. Remember their trombone player with the pierced nipples who played with Rachel and Bob (of Tyrannosaurus Chicken) on the first day of the festival? Well, this time the whole band was present, as well as Rachel and Bob returning the favor of sitting in. I didn’t stay long (Mumford’s Saturday night performance was one of high profile in Wakarusa-ville), but I was there long enough to confirm my growing suspicion that damn-near every band on the Mudstomp Record Label was one of fine quality and southern charm.
I don’t believe there was a single person on the mountain that didn’t make it to The Main Stage for Mumford and Sons’ sunset performance on Saturday evening. It was the second day of their tour and they couldn’t have been more pleased to be in Arkansas. After two nights of hardcore raging and three full days of sweaty daytime sets, Mumford and Sons’ comforting music, peaceful vibes, and charming accents could not have come at a better time. Most attendees sat on the ground to unwind and recuperate to the sweet and, soothing sounds of the folky four-piece from London. But when they gave a thankful and appreciative introduction to their closing song, “The Cave”, everyone stood to watch in awe. I still get goose bumps every time I watch this clip.
Like Mumford and Sons, it was also Ben Harper’s first time performing in The Natural State. He thanked Wakarusa for having him, exclaiming “I could not think of a better time or place for my first show in Arkansas.” Upon mention of his son’s fondness to The Razorbacks, the crowd began to recite The University of Arkansas school chant.
Later, Harper told the story of how he and Relentless 7 guitarist Jason Mozersky met, explaining that it all started when the lead vocalist of Mozersky’s then-band was working as a shuttle driver for a Texan promoter. When the driver/musician realized he was transporting Ben Harper, he took a chance and asked if he could play him his demo. “Absolutely not,” was his initial response, Ben told us, and then continued, “But I remembered being the guy with a demo and changed my mind. ‘Yea,’ I said. ‘Let’s hear it.’”
I’m not sure what I expected to hear and see, admittedly not coming from a history of familiarity to Ben Harper’s music (aside from the mainstream singles, of course). The show’s repertoire included a surprising mix of indie rock (‘sounds like Minus <the Bear>’ I scribbled in my notebook, noticing similarities in the two bands that I experienced for the first time ever in my stay at Wakarusa). Harper played solo acoustic songs. He played with the full band. They performed bluesy rock tunes and each musician took their turn at inspiring solos. It was a brilliantly scheduled, versatile set that perfectly bridged the gap between Mumford’s folksy sunset show and Thievery Corporation’s hyped-up headlining set.
A fireworks display lit up the night sky somewhere in the distance behind The Main Stage right before Thievery Corporation took stage. By definition, the group is simply a Washington, D.C.-based recording artist and DJ duo consisting of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, but they also employ a large, revolving cast of supporting artists who bring live dance, art, and instrumentation to the show.
Particularly of interest to me was bassist Ashish Vya who appeared on stage with a showy presentation, dressed in nothing but a black bikini-style bottom and his guitar. With flowing hair hanging down the length of his back, Vya jumped around in a magnificent primordial fashion, looking much like a jungle native who’d been captured and released on stage to feed off the energy of the crowd. Seemingly born with magical endurance, his activity level never dwindled and his funky performance was quite impressive.
Rob Myers (one of the group’s 15-member live band) frequently switched between sitar and guitar; an Asian woman recited foreign poetry ending with a single recognizable word (Wakarusa!); two emcees endlessly shouted “Thieeeeevery Corporation!” with strong Jamaican accents; a special thank you was given to the St. Bernards group for looking out for everyone over the weekend; and there was even a story-like introduction to “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter”, a song co-written by Thievery Corporation and David Byrne of The Talking Heads.
Bad attention to the time found me walking into the Revival Tent just as STS9 closed their set later that night. The song (it’s title unknown to me) sounded like I had stepped into an underwater scene from Super Mario Brothers. The show’s triumphant end was energized by an allied crowd who got extra rowdy and emitted cries of happiness in the band’s last minutes on stage. Hopeful for an encore, the mob of people began to shout for one more song but, alas, the band members of STS9 were quickly shooed away as stagehands started to tear down for the next band.
With 30 minutes to kill before Wookiefoot started their 2:30 a.m. set, I moseyed over to The Main Stage to peek at Stanton Warriors. More interesting, though, was my impromptu stop along the way to peek inside of the Grassroots California dome. As I stepped inside with my friends and my WOMP sign, we were greeted with warm smiles from other dubsteppers in full rage mode. We danced. We wobbled. They asked permission to hold my sign, and I was happy to share. “Who’s playing?” I asked an onlooker. “Papa Skunk,” they answered. I thanked him for the info and we moved on to the next attraction.
There were a lot of smaller, lesser-known, up-and-coming bands at Wakarusa. And much like when our own Twin Cats scored a prime time slot at Summer Camp, the dedicated fans of those bands came to support in full force.
Wookiefoot followers are, quite possibly, the easiest band fans to pick out of a crowd, due in large part to the handmade tails they affix to their clothing. The band members were dressed in black light-responsive clothing, surrounded by endless stage theatrics and visuals, and their music was psychedelic and far out, to say the least.
With the exception of VibeSquaD’s sunrise set that would commence around six a.m. on the Satellite Stage, Wookiefoot and Big Gigantic shared Saturday night’s closing time slot- another great scheduling move by Wakarusa. Whatever ragers were seeking to keep going (peaceful, trippy Wookiefoot music or Big Gigantic’s dirty, hard dubstep), there was a solution within reach.