Wakarusa is still working out the kinks. That makes sense though. Theres a growing demand for this festival, so figuring out how to make a limited space mountain tops are only so big work with more people is going to be a challenge. For starters, organizers once again tweaked the festival grounds for easier flow from the main stage to the other tents. They also made the main stage a part of the late night Interstellar Meltdown, calling it the Interstellar Sanctum. This meant the bigger electronic acts didnt have to be crammed into a tent. It also furthered legitimized the “festival within a festival” organizers were shooting for when they started the Meltdown.
To pay for it all, this year saw an increase in sponsorships. It was tasteful though, and kept to the festival guidebook as not to change the festival’s look. Besides, it can only mean good things when the festival has Four Loko sponsoring the biggest tent, and a hydroponics company for the other tent.
As for the music, Wakarusas resident bands – Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9), Dirtfoot, Umphreys McGee, and Split Lip Rayfield – returned, and with them a promising smattering of bands from all walks of music. At the top were My Morning Jacket, Ben Harper, Thievery Corporation, and Grace Potter. In the middle though were the equally hopeful Minus the Bear, Mumford & Sons, Ghostland Observatory, and Bassnectar, to name only a few. The rest was a steady helping of dub, noodley jam bands, and electronica of all styles pumping until sun up. Im still not sure when people slept.
Temperatures reached into the high 90s, the humidity was uncomfortable and sticky. The much cooler nights helped tremendously though. It also was nice to see that Sunday, normally the day most people choose to leave, was fuller than in years past. This kept the festival alive a little longer. Really though, it was just another gorgeous year atop Mulberry Mountain.
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, June 2nd
Dirtfoot – Revival Tent – 1:30 p.m.
There are a number of bands that have become an annual part of Wakarusa over the years, and Dirtfoot owns them all when it comes to participation. This year saw the Shreveport, LA natives performing three sets over the weekend, and just for good measure, they also played each morning at a fan-hosted breakfast nook, called Chompdown on Wilderness St. For Dirtfoots second set over the weekend, the band started by debuting a preview of its recently released Live and In Prison DVD. Shot in an actual prison, its a mini-movie featuring a live performance inside Louisianas Wade Correctional Center.
Together, they played as loud and as hard as they could. The music translated very well from the tent to the main stage, filling the airspace with boisterous riffs and off the wall saxophone lines. The set threw out dirt-stirring punk rock rambles, tying it up with a tight country backbone. To close things out, the gypsy punk anthems got the crowd shouting along with Break My Bones, My Girl, and Bad Train Sick. And to think they did this all weekend.
Minus the Bear – Revival Tent – 5:45 p.m.
For an “out of place pick”, Minus the Bear certainly made themselves at home, complete with a packed Revival Tent giving them much love. Starting with Knights, the set started with the hook heavy work of earlier material, working everyone up for the back end of the set that focused on the newer, more melodic material. They also threw in a track from the bands recent free EP. The song translated heavier live, full of the band’s trademark glitchy guitar stops. By the end of the song, Jack Snider and Dave Kusdon were on all fours twisting the feedback into one whirl of an outro. The new work all received some fanfare, and the band ate it up, stating numerous times how excited they were to be on that stage. Maybe they were just being nice, but they certainly didnt hold anything back.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Main Stage – 6:15 p.m.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals‘ reputation held strong during its early evening set. Hits like Ooh La La came off heavier and dirtier, pushing back the radio-friendly chorus for a real rock show. The biggest highlight came with Sugar, which included a quick segue into The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, before looping back into Sugar for a blown out finish. The band looked sharp in all black. Potter was her usual sexy self, being playful with her band and flirting with the crowd, offering one-liners like, You know its a good show when you got the panties rolling out. This was just another gig for the band, though, sticking to the formula of staying genuine and looking like theyre having a great time. Here though, they actually were.
Umphreys McGee – Main Stage – 10:15 p.m.
Staple of the festival scene (and hosts of their own), Umphreys McGee too know how to play to the moment, and this moment saw them as Thursdays headliner. The thing to note about Umphreys is that they come with two types of sets. The rock set for the day shows, and the fusion set for the night shows. With a big production light show in tow, the group went for the jammier blend of big arena rock, mixing in electronic odds and ends. The long extended songs flowed together, with some reprising 10 minutes later. The only exception to that came with the new track Puppet String. The song brought out heavy Tom Morello-style riffs with a rattling bass bridge into the verse.
It was the slow burning tracks that brought the bands best Pink Floyd moves, the set hitting all the required points of a modern rock jam show. Umphrey’s is a band built on the live experience, so it makes perfect sense why they now have moved to the headliner status. By midnight, the audiences collective ears were ringing.
The Shpongletron Experience – Main Stage - 1:00 a.m.
When a performer brings a show labeled as an Experience, the bar is prematurely set high before they even take the stage. With an 18-foot structure to play from, this horned devil head of scaffold and projection screens built anticipation throughout the day as it sat shrouded on the main stage. When show time came, what was delivered was a collection of screen saver visuals and house lights that wasnt so much an experience, but another Shpongle DJ set on stilts.
That being said, his high energy blend of classic electronic beats and world Spanish, West African, and Brazilian etc.- rhythms sounded organic in the open air. This was the first year the main stage was used for late night sets, and from 18 feet up, Shpongle sounded great and kept the night hot. Next time, though, bring the band.
Friday, June 3rd
Cornmeal – Revival Tent – 1:30 p.m.
Cornmeal was back this year with another two sets of genre bending New Grass. The early afternoon set was the second for the weekend, and the group opened fast with Mississippi style blue grass. The set was kicked up though when the acoustics turned electric and all tradition went out the door. The fiddle wailed with distorted guitar solos for quite the wild blend before pulling it all in for a rock jam outro. For all the New-Grass bands out there, Cornmeal have found a way to stand far out by being as eclectic as possible with the simple instruments they have. This set only showed further how underrated they are in the scene.
Split Lip Rayfield – Revival Tent – 3:00 p.m.
Friday afternoon in the revival tent was all about the bluegrass, and as the third band in that hard picking line-up, Split Lip Rayfield brought things back to basics – and turned up the speed. The picking and strumming was fast and unrelenting, that gas tank bass adding punk rock ingenuity for an extra thud from the strings against the steel. The harmonies sounded great, and the musicianship kept loose. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just another carefree set.
Lucero – Revival Tent – 6:00 p.m.
Midway through the set, vocalist Ben Nichols admitted he didnt think Lucero was a festival kind of band. Listening to the set it was easy to see his point as Lucero, in the simplest of terms, is a bar band. They channel Springsteen in the song writing department, turning life into poetry relatable to anyone in a tough spot. What they wouldnt realize until later was that this kind of music is perfect for the festival setting. What’s more, Lucero carry a southwest twist to the rock they write. This makes their sound much bigger than the chord by chord alt country that is at the base. Along with Nichols’ rock growl and enduring subtle twang, the band sounded great. The set list itself started pre-planned, but was quickly thrown out for fan requests. The entire back half of the set was just that in fact. The crowd was small, but quite loyal, making for one intimate show.
My Morning Jacket – Main Stage - 10:30 p.m.
Its difficult to keep coming up with new ways to say just how incredible a My Morning Jacket set is. The reputation that precedes them is in every way true, and has been hyped appropriately. The set this past Friday was no exception as the band showed that they are a worthy headliner, and not just the undercard anymore. Its about time, too.
Opening with Victory Dance, the band launched into the first two tracks from their latest LP, Circuital. They made sure to mix in older favorites as well, hitting Im Amazed early on. The tried and true material was jammed out into extended versions; in fact, Patrick Hallahan shined bright here, as he massacred his drumset during a few solos. However, despite a few far reaching addition, it was the new album that took over the set. New single “Holdin’ on the Black Metal” arrived early on, Outta My System and Circuital could have filled a stadium, the songs translating even better live, and First Light blasted into a prog-rock freak show to close it out in a monumental way.
MMJ is a band that has grown with the festival scene, so all of its material is meant for the big open air stage. It was psychedelic, ethereal, and rocked hard for a full two hours. The thing is, with the way the audience and the band were feeling, they could have played for another hour easily. Satisfying is the key word here, and what more could there be for a headlining set?
Bassnectar – Main Stage - 1:00 a.m.
With MMJ going over the set time by 30 minutes, the rest of the night would be pushed back. It was a minor detail though and one that no one seemed to mind. Besides, this was one of the more anticipated late night sets of the weekend, and by the time Lorin Ashton came out, the field was filled like he was a headliner in his own right. These days, Bassnectar is much too big for the dance tent, as it seemed the entire festival had shown up to see the set. Ashton also noticed the sea of neon, and with an opening Wu-Tang sample, the hour-and-a-half of womping bass was on.
For those who havent seen Ashton, his set is a mix of match ups and samples with unrelenting bass beats behind them. He uses hip-hop just as much as he uses rock, and loves to throw around some Nirvana. Every time the beat would drop, glow sticks would fly, and the neon party hit its peak. The energy was as persistent as the humidity, so when the set ended, Ashton had to come out for a quick encore, just to say goodbye to his biggest show to date – according to him.
Ghostland Observatory – Main Stage – 3:00 a.m.
This would be the latest set the main stage would see all weekend. By this point in the night, the audience had spread out to the several other late night shows going on, leaving a much smaller audience for Ghostland Observatory. No matter, though, as the Austin duo brought out all the tricks to lead the festival into the pre-dawn hours. They too are coming off a somewhat new, much more club-influenced album. The set was perfectly suited for the vibe of Wakarusas late night, and this band is made for only one time of the day anyhow. Lasers poured into the sky as Aaron Behrens and Thomas Turner pulsed out a heavy dose of glamtronica. Behrens was a wild man on stage, popping in and out of the fog and lights to thrust around and hype the crowd with his wild vocals. While most of the set stuck to the pure electronic material, they did bring out the old goodies, and the guitar for the punchy songs that got them noticed in the first place. Ghostland too has become a live force recently, pulling all the production punches so tracks like Sad Sad City can be a visual and audio trip. It was with out a doubt one of the best late night sets all weekend.
Saturday, June 4th
MarchFourth Marching Band – Revival Tent – 4:30 p.m.
Wakarusa has a thing for variety acts. One sneaks in every year and surprises an afternoon crowd looking for shade in the big tent. This past Saturday the festival brought in the punk vaudeville troop MarchFourth Marching Band, for an hour-and-a-half’s worth of big brass funk and ska. Part of the vaudeville came in the form of dancers on stilts hyping the crowd and showing off some impressive acrobatics. The other was in the from of a little burlesque. They had the marching band look, 13 pieces, and the big hats, flags, and dance routines. It was easy and entertaining; altogether, text book funk and west coast ska. Band geeks eat your heart out.
Mumford & Sons – Main Stage – 6:00 p.m.
As the latest “break out” band to be driving in its debut, Mumford & Sons 15 minutes remain in full swing. Coming out in the heat of the day to a swelling crowd, the latest folk heroes played right through their acclaimed LP, Sigh No More. The Celtic bluegrass ballads sounded straight from the album, though they turned up sections for the sake of the live show. People ate it up, sang along, and screamed with the first notes of Winter Winds and Little Lion Heart. It was a hot dusty mess with all the dancing, and the band relished in it. Two new songs were debuted, as well. Below My Feet used the standard Mumford equation of quiet intro into revelry of strums. The other, Lover of Light, ventured into Dave Mathews territory, sounding more like an acoustic pop song. The band is embracing this mainstream success full heartedly, and with a show like this, its 15 minutes will be on for quite a while longer.
Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 – Main Stage – 8:00 p.m.
Ben Harper, in any form, really works best in the festival setting. His tunes are easy going, socially conscious rock. Insert agreeable positive political statements and you have it in a nutshell. As for the Relentless 7, this is Harper’s true to form rock band. Festival anthem Burn One Down opened the show, which, with the haze over the crowd, was very appropriate. From there it was two hours of middle of the road rock, with a few solo acoustic throw backs to Harpers earlier material. The good thing about Harper is the size of his catalogue, and his musicianship. When he lets it fly, it makes for some quality moments. For this band, and this set, it came in the form an electric steel slide. After a glitch in the sound (it went completely down for a quick minute), the band punched back with a solid cover of the CSNY staple, Ohio.
Playing as the sun went down made Harper’s set the perfect time to relax. Hes a charismatic, humble musician who connects with the crowd (gave a shout out to the Razor Backs) and does his job right. In all, Harper with The Relentless 7 provided the pre-game.
Thievery Corporation – Main Stage – 10:30 p.m.
As U.S. ambassadors for world beat electronic music, Thievery Corporations showcase is quite the spectacle. With its rotating cast of vocalists and full live band, the gamut of world sound was covered. While Rob Garza and Eric Hilton sit at the top of Thievery, the live experience is very much so a band effort. The songs have been deconstructed and assembled for the show, improvising and forming each song into its own familiar but new experience.
Opening with a bouncy sitar, the introduction wove its way right into Lebanese Blonde. The South Asian styles created a very mellow atmosphere to start out with, but the funk-dub fusion that came next is what set off the set with Radio Retaliation and 38-35 making the cut. There is the activist side to the duo, which came out on the anti-IMF Vampires. Bottom line: The show was fantastically eclectic, and a perfect way to kick off the last full night of music.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 – Revival Tent – 12:30 a.m.
Wakarusa wouldnt be the same without STS9 holding down at least one late night slot. This year there were two STS9 sets, an evening one on Friday, and this, the late night set in the Revival Tent. First off, a band this big shouldnt be in a tent. The surrounding space outside the tent was just as congested as the space inside, and it should have been on the main stage. Thats why the festival organizers kept it running later this year, right? Oh well, though, because the night went off, and it was easily the best of the band’s sets that weekend.
Bassist David Murphy has only recently come back from cancer treatment. The fact that hes back on tour playing like the day he left is unbelievable. On stage, he looked great – fatigued, but ecstatic with the swelling reception in front of him. STS9 came out playing the heavy club-ready material, packing a heavier wallop in the beat between the signature spacy guitars and breakneck drumming. Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic came out to lay down a sax line over some steady synth lines for a quick jam, making for a killer collaboration. Given the two are cut from the same cloth, it was a wild few minutes of hot saxophone over a wall of drum and bass. It made a huge impact on the weekend. When STS9 are on, they really turn on, and this was a set for the books.
Big Gigantic – Outpost Tent – 2:30 a.m.
Watching a band grow at a festival is an exciting thing. Big Gigantic have, up until this year, been only a hidden gem in the line-ups of festivals all over the country. This year thats all changing however as the livetronica sound (samples/DJ with live drums) has taken off. This left the small Outpost Tent feeling extra tight as all weekend the hype was swirling about the set. With tons of new material out, there was plenty to get to in the set. Remixes and re-worked older tracks were slipped seamlessly in as every beat drop drew a roar from the bouncing crowd. For just about two hours, the energy never dropped. Thick layers of bass were smoothed out by Lallis saxophone, using it to reprise songs throughout the set, and bring home the remixes. The story here is with the newer material however. Its a welcome step up in Big Gigantics game as theyve fully embraced the audiences love for thicker and more sustained bass drops. The band spent more time on the samples making the new material forward and fresh, and it worked. The crowd ate it up, and Big Gigantic far surpassed the hype.
Sunday, June 5th
The Stone Foxes – Outpost Tent – 3:30 p.m.
The rock scene at Wakarusa is a sneaky one and it likes to hide early on Sundays. San Franciscos seventies rock loyalists The Stone Foxes brought out a storm of overdriven blues rock to a mostly vacant Outpost Tent. It may sound like a sad sight, but the band didnt seem to care as it felt more like a garage show than a festival set. They joked with the 50 people huddled in the front, and it was an intimate treat for everyone. The guitar wailed like Jack White giving psychedelic break downs and solid loud riffs. Theres nothing new about what The Stone Foxes are doing, but they can play, and play hard.
Zoogma – Outpost Tent – 8:30 p.m.
The winner of band with most flyer litter goes to Zoogma. Signs and posters reading, What the fuck is Zoogma?, could be found on posts in the camp sites, and on the grass in lieu to the festival. Why not though, the still mostly unknown band was playing two sets this weekend. It was Sundays set however that got the biggest reception. Zoogma is a young band in the electronic jam scene, taking all its cues from its predecessors like STS9. While the band members are obviously very talented, they have yet to find a niche, but its certainly being worked on. The choice in synth beats helps, going for an 80s pop feel in the hooks and synth tones. Those made the biggest impact, and filled one last need for a sound thats taken over the jam scene, and Wakarusa for that matter.
Ozomatli – Revival Tent – 10:00 p.m.
With the majority of the people headed to get a last fix of bass elsewhere, a thin crowd stuck around for Ozomatlis second set as defacto Sunday headliner. One more time they brought out the world beats and conscious rhymes. The mix of Latin, reggae, and hip-hop is always a safe bet. Throw in uplifting social messages and you have something everyone can agree with. It provided a nice alternative for the overheated electronic sets as more people trickled in over the hour or so. The energy was there, and Justin Poree got a cheer for having just been bailed out of jail from the night before. Getting arrested during a festival? Now thats rock and roll.
That aside, the set took the festival into one more late night, and for those who stuck around, it provided yet another close up encounter with a relatively big band. The last of the fireworks were shot off (not official festival fireworks, just the work of fans with good timing), and so went another Wakarusa.