Continued from Wakarusa Day One.
All photos by C-Style Photography.
The sun rises on day two at Wakarusa
Friday at Wakarusa started early. While most were still crawling out of their tents (or still inside, begging the sun to hold off for one more hour of rest), the kind folks behind the annual Wakarusa Chompdown were hard at work cooking for weary campers. Conceived as part of Wakarusa 2007 by online Wakarusa forum members, the Chompdown started as a way “to gather together and enjoy a good breakfast; a chance to meet each other and just get a good healthy meal in.” With each year gone by, the unofficial breakfast get-together has grown in size and attention, including an interest for regular involvement from Shreveport, LA gypsy rockers Dirtfoot.
Peace, Love, Chompdown
Approaching the wooded upgraded camping section (near the Backwoods Stage), a single file line wandered between trees, around vehicles, and trickled almost all the way out to the main road. Throughout the morning, 518 people waited in line for a free breakfast provided entirely by donated food from Chompdown supporters; that’s the official guest book count, though it’s estimated there were likely a couple hundred who didn’t sign in. My party came not to eat, but to see Dirtfoot… but we definitely watched with envy as the patient campers exited the line with plates full of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and tons of fresh fruit.
Breakfast at The Chompdown
We had made a flag for the Dirtfoot flag contest wherein the winning banner would receive a personal campsite performance from the band. We arrived in time for Dirtfoot’s closing set, just in time to show off our masterpiece. In the end, we didn’t score the grand prize, but felt equally as lucky to be called on stage with our flag as the band rounded out the end of their Chompdown show. After the performance, I spoke with J Bratlie, banjo player and vocalist for Dirtfoot. Read the full interview here: Dirtfoot at Wakarusa
Dirtfoot’s annual Chompdown performance at Wakarusa
Dirtfoot fans dance with the band’s homemade tin can shakers
Our Dirtfoot flag
My interview with J concluded with just enough time to cross festival grounds to catch Mountain Sprout in the Revival Tent. Like Tyrannosaurus Chicken, Mountain Sprout is also from Arkansas and on the Mudstomp Record Label. As such, their jammy bluegrass holds a certain southern charm that’s as much hillbilly twang as it is finger pickin’ good. Their honest subject matter includes songs about the seasons, growing tomatoes, running out of cigarettes, sticking it to the man, and (my favorite) the dry counties of Arkansas.
Their genuine rustic personalities were on show between songs. One member of the band addressed the jerk who brought a megaphone by telling him he sounded like a “ro-bit” (i.e. a robot) and another member, sounding rather puzzled, added, “That sounded like a drive-thru speaker.”
Before closing their set they gave nods to other bands on the lineup (“Stick around to see Cornmeal. And Split Lip <Rayfield>. There ain’t really much reason to leave this spot right here.” and suggested the audience buy a live recording of their set if they liked what they heard. “We have children at home,” one member reminded us. “They need money for beer and cigarettes,” another added. It was the perfect lead-in to their concluding song, the title track from their latest release Habits To Feed.
Grayson Van Sickle, banjo player for Mountain Sprout
I didn’t take Mountain Sprout’s advice, though; I chose Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue in lieu of Cornmeal & Split Lip Rayfield. And boy, was I sure glad I did. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon on Wakarusa’s shade-less Main Stage, the seven-piece New Orleans funk band was well worth enduring the intense sunlight and ridiculous heat for. The sun’s rays were so intense, in fact, that I even watched a young man ignite a bowl of weed with nothing more than a magnifying glass.
The instrument makeup of the Orleans Avenue is, by its very nature, funktastic and hip: two guitars (an odd-looking bass and electric), two rhythmists (percussion and drums), and two rumbling saxophones (baritone and tenor) all accompany the leading man on trumpet, trombone, and vocals. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews kept the show lively with frequent interjections of Ohhh’s and Uhhh’s and recurring stand-out trills on both his trumpet and trombone. “Can we take it old skool for you?” he asked the audience. Met with enthusiastic cheers, Trombone Shorty sang a jazzy, soulful intro the perked curiosity before diving headfirst into a grand cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.
Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue
After that, they performed a song whose title I do not know, but remember thinking that it could have been described as a mix of Cab Calloway’s “Hi De Ho” and the instrumental “Flight of The Bumblebee”. Whatever the song was called, it ended in an astonishingly long, single-breath trumpet trill that seemed to go on forever. “Was that all one breath?” I had to ask my neighbor to confirm my disbelief.
“Can we get funky like James Brown before we get out of here?” Shorty asked the drenched-in-sweat crowd. They approved and he moved into “Sex Machine”, riling the people into a dance frenzy and temporarily helping them to forget the wicked temperatures surrounding their fatigued bodies.
The comfort of home, 11 hours away from Indianapolis
Frequent breaks at the home base were undoubtedly the key to a successful weekend in the Arkansas heat. After an hour at home for dinner, drinks, and a change of clothes, we were back on the dusty trail to the festival grounds. I took a short cut through the fence by the Outpost Stage and unknowingly stumbled into the middle of a Spoonfed Tribe set, probably one of the best mistakes of my life. The avant garde jammy rock’n’roll quintet from Arlington, TX maintain strange individual names such as Egg Nebula, Jerome 57, Sho Nuf, Kabooom, and Goofahtts. With scratchy vocals that remind me of That1Guy, edgy rock segments akin to Umphreys, and a flute-playing member (for good measure), Spoonfed took me completely by surprise and instantly gained a new fan.
When I took that shortcut, it was because I was trying to catch Lucero on The Revival Tent. I made it in time for a few songs, but walked away feeling unimpressed. In pre-festival research, I’d taken a liking to the raucous country rock band from Tennessee, but was disappointed in the translation from album to a live performance. The heat inevitably played a factor, I’m sure, but the Lucero I saw was ultimately not the boisterous rock’n’roll band I had perceived them to be.
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings were playing on The Main Stage, anyways, and that was not a show I would allow myself to miss. The entire ensemble had dressed to impress; Jones was in a black and white fringed dress and almost every single one of the Dap Kings wore dress slacks, button-up tops, ties, and jackets, despite the 90+ degree temperatures during their early evening set.
Daper-looking Dap Kings
Watch below as Sharon Jones breaks it down during their performance of “Soul Train”.
As I headed back to camp for dinner and an evening re-coop session, I overheard The Heavy at The Revival Tent covering The Doors, “Five To One”, but didn’t have time to stop. Less than an hour later, I was back on foot and headed to The Satellite Stage. I caught the end of Radiohiro & MC Zulu, a worldly-sounding DJ set anchored by bass, sprinkled with a touch of Bollywood, and textured by MC Zulu’s unmistakable reggae dancehall vocal raps. For the set’s last segment Zulu took a seat on the front of the stage, let his feet dangle below him, and thanked Arkansas for having them. “You, and your big-ass moths…”
It was no mistake that I arrived at the end, rather than the beginning, of Radiohiro & MC Zulu’s set. I was also jonesing for some Ana Sia and, conveniently, she was up next on the schedule. I got to know her at Summer Camp last year and was confident she’d be ready to tear it down for her Wakarusa fans. “I’ve got something for everyone,” she said before the music kicked in. “I’ve got the hard shit for the people who like the hard shit and I’ve got the pretty shit for the people who like the pretty music.”
Ana Sia says hello to her Wakarusa fans
She immediately started with the former and I instantly had flashbacks to her Summer Camp set last year where I claimed to have never been beaten so hard by a sound before. The DJ table was uncovered, allowing us to see her lower limbs move back and forth as she performed. Ana Sia’s happy feet indicated she was having as much fun as we were in the audience.
The best surprise of the weekend came when I decided I had a few minutes to spare before heading to The Main Stage for My Morning Jacket. The Backwoods Stage was en route and I had Scythian(pronounced sith-ee-yin) marked on my schedule as a band to check out, time permitting. The Washington D.C.-based band is comprised of four cross-functional, classically-trained, multi-instrumentalists whose arsenal includes violin, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, bass, guitar, percussion, and accordion. A major contender for the best set of my entire weekend at Wakarusa (it’s always hard to pick just one favorite), Scythian is a band that has it all: adorable, abundant smiles; a Celtic-flavored sound atypical of music festivals; a wickedly lively show that engaged fans from start to finish; and a fun mix of instruments on constant rotation throughout the show.
Approaching the stage, Scythian introduced “Hutsulka Ksenia”, an enchantingly beautiful Ukrainian love song, and announced that Robert Berliner of Hoots & Hellmouth would sit in on the tune with them. From there, they played some rowdy jams featuring the fiddle and mandolin that put smiles on everyone’s faces and moved their bodies to dance.
Aware of the fact that their use of an accordion sets them apart from a lot of bands, Scythian also gave proper attention to Danylo Fedoryka. “The accordion was only recently voted the most un-sexy instrument by Maximum Magazine,” one of the band members announced as Fedoryka strapped on his own accordion and quickly proved otherwise.
From there, the band blasted into a madly exciting medley of familiar songs and guilty pleasures that must have lasted more than ten or fifteen minutes. Included in the mix were “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa, “(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew, “Jump Around” by House of Pain, the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song, and “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie… all by a Celtic folk rock band.
Scythian performs on The Backwoods Stage
What I had anticipated would be a quick stop at The Backwoods Stage for Scythian turned into a 45-minute hootenanny with one of my new favorite bands. But the scheduling gods were still on my side, as I cleared security and arrived at My Morning Jacket right as the show began. Lead man Jim James, maintaining his signature troubadour sense of style, wore a scarf draped around his neck and white furry boots that could have passed for a male version of furry go-go dancer leg warmers.
The show was a satisfying mix of old and new, leveraging on fresh material for their recent release but also paying respect to established fan favorites. Yet another band to acknowledge the insects native to Arkansas, James vocally noted the giant Luna moth he’d seen earlier, shared a folklore story about the breed, and then declared that he considered it’s presence at the festival to be a good thing. “What a blessing it is for all of us to be here tonight,” he said.
Jim James, My Morning Jacket
With an hour to kill before Bassnectar, my party reconvened at camp for the night’s final resting spell. Shit was about to get wild and we knew it. It was the first show of the Interstellar Meltdown on Friday, which is also the first night of the weekend when all of the festival ticketholders are finally present. And all were ready to rage.
The Main Stage at Wakarusa is flat with no hills in sight, which was odd to me considering we were on top of a mountain. The concert field offered no special vantage point to take in what is so often referred to as a “glow stick war”- the breathtaking explosion of color and energy is a certainty at any Bassnectar show. There was, however, an abundance of sticks and signs with words, glowing objects, and toys attached to them visible from any location within the massive collection of people. There was the glowing jellyfish, the bouncing Mega Man (who I heard was also at Summer Camp), the dinosaur, a monkey, and handful of other wizard sticks with odd, funky trinkets attached to them.
Strings of inflated black-and-white spikes hung high above heads, creating an aerial perimeter of the front third of the crowd. The lit-up decorations that looked like warped, over-sized garland from The Night Before Christmas acted as a point of reference, more than anything. “We’re on the left side, just in front of the spikes,” my friend texted me mid-show.
When the madness stopped, it had really only just begun. It was a sight to behold watching the massive blob of people move in a heard-like fashion from the Intersteallar Sanctum (i.e. The Mainstage, afterhours) to the Outpost Stage where Skrillex was playing. The futuristic Satellite Stage would have been a fitting location for his performance, but I assume proximity to Bassnectar’s set took higher priority. Dark Star Orchestera’s four-hour show had been (unwisely) scheduled on the second-biggest stage of the festival, forcing Skrillex (one of the weekend’s highest-attended and most energized sets) to the third-biggest stage.
Maybe it’s because Skrillex was on a significantly smaller stage. Maybe it’s because that stage was under a tent. Maybe it’s because it was my first time seeing Skrillex, and my I-don’t-remember-th time seeing Bassnectar. But my final verdict was that Skrill’s Wakarusa show was dirtier, more buckling, more intense, and more uplifting than Bassnectar’s. The energy inside the Outpost Tent was sky high.
Skrillex never stopped bouncing from start to finish. He constantly tucked his long hair behind his ears, only to have it fall out and flop in his face seconds later from violent, vigorous dancing. Skrillex played a lot of his recognizable, famous productions, but ran them through such a rigorous distortion process that there was no sense of “just hitting play” on previous pieces of work.
Here’s a video from the outskirts of the tent. Listen to the extreme manipulations on Skrillex’s remix of La Roux’s “In For The Kill”, as well as the audience singing along and the shower of glow sticks at the drop.
A glow stick graveyard, post-Skrillex
Caught up in the insanity of the Skrillex show, I looked down at my watch and realized I had less than 30 minutes left to catch Ghostland Observatory. At 3 in the morning, my energy was fading fast and my air mattress was calling my name. But I wanted, no… needed to catch Ghostland. I excused myself from the Skrillex action, questioning if I was making the right decision, and walked back to The Main Stage.
In the Bassnectar aftermath, I found The Insterstellar Sanctum to be a total disaster zone. Remnants of guzzled beers, flung glow sticks, and various pieces of clothing littered the field with a disproportionately small amount of people remaining. Less than an hour prior, the space had been filled to capacity, but Ghostland’s crowd didn’t extend much further than the hanging spikes near the stage.
Their light show was better than most I saw all weekend. Striking beams of light combed the sky with lasers that rotated through the gamut of color. The effects were awe-inspiring and easily one of the most talked about visual performances at Wakarusa. Ghostland Observatory’s electro punk duo is especially unique, combining the pair’s attraction to electronic beats with a love and respect for rock’n’roll. With vocals reminiscent of The Kills, space-age productions paralleling Daft Punk, and a magnetic eccentricity akin to David Bowie, a GLO performance is an experience unparalleled to any other live electronic band out there.