Blogging from Wakarusa 2012: Final Performances
The campgrounds were rumbling early Saturday afternoon to the sounds of Balkan Beat Box coming from the main stage. This year my campsite was located with the media and staff camping in the trees behind the convention center, offering a chance to hear the bands playing main stage from our tent, and a view of the ferris wheel through the trees. My camping party had decided that the sunny Saturday morning was our golden opportunity to hike down to the waterfall along the Ozark National Forest trail. It’s a bit of a tradition to jump from the cliff where explorers are gathered around the pools. The strenuous hike takes a few hours, but it’s absolutely worth it, even when the water is as low as it was this time. Everyone gets to relax near the cool water and admire the natural beauty.
When we re-emerged from the waterfall trail we were refreshed and grateful. The access to the trail is right near the main stage, so we listened to Fitz and the Tantrums as we grabbed some drinking water and caught our breath. They looked mighty fine and brought a very soulful yet fun sound to the heat of the afternoon. I felt like I should be dancing, but my feet needed a rest from the hiking, so I watched some hula hoopers and spinners party down to the music of the organ while Noelle & Fitz worked the audience.
Fans of World Music will want to give a listen to Tinariwen, who have complex and beautiful beats and rhythms in their musical package. I really enjoyed their Saturday set at the Revival Tent; sounds of expression and the joy of sharing music with new friends. Surrounding Revival Village are the food vendors (if someone asks if you want Sriracha hot sauce on your pita, the answer is YES) and the ferris wheel. I took a ride with my sweetie just as the sun was setting over the mountaintops, taking in the view of all the campers and stages. From on top of the ride, Wakarusa seemed much smaller. I was informed there were 20,000 people there at that moment, but it still seemed like they were all my neighbors and that the festival was a block party just for us.
Also in the Revival Village is the Outpost Tent. The Outpost is accurately named: the surprising talent that emerges here will make you wish you were camped out right underneath. I saw some fans set up a camp away-from-camp next to this stage and reserve their spot for most of the day. Saturday began with some refreshing Bluegrass acts: Head for the Hills, Mountain Sprout, and Hot Buttered Rum, who have all earned their status as Wakarusa favorites. The second half of the afternoon brought out the real legendary acts that had the more experienced ears of the festival showing up by the dozens.
At 5:00 or so I rushed over from my campsite to try to catch the end of the Emmitt-Nershi Band, but I was not counting on the long line leading into the main stage area. As I got there, the bands were changing over, and the Travelin’ McCourys featuring Keller Williams were setting up onstage. The Outpost tent was overflowing with listeners when they began with covers of familiar tunes, played with supreme skill on strings and accompanied by vocalized sound effects from Ronnie and Keller. This was really a treat to watch. They have a playful musicality as a group and can improvise around the melody and still meet up together to continue the conversation. I wished each song could last just a little longer. The collaboration was awesome to witness.
In a window of five hours, three consecutive bands had the talent of Jason Carter’s fiddle on the Outpost Stage. He was back with The Del McCoury Band, and Del greeted Ozark with “Waste of Good Corn Liquor,” and a smile. Then a brief picking and bluegrass history lesson, and then a Bluegrass Break Down. It was absolutely perfect. So much greatness in picking and something undefinable that Del’s presence brings to the stage.
The Del McCoury Band was a favorite of mine this Wakarusa. Of course someone with 50 years of talent and accollades is going to be a crowd-pleaser, but I was awestruck and loving every minute of it. I have never seen so much talent on one stage.
Sunday Keller Williams fans and were lucky enough to get their scheduled last-day performance again at the Outpost. A few other stages were rained out off and on as the weather appeared or let up. For every band I discovered, I knew there was another one that was probably great, playing on another stage. I was trying really hard to catch The Infamous String Dusters and Quixotic, but I’ll have to give them another chance sometime. I am just grateful to the musicians that I was able to give my attention to, because they fascinated me all weekend and kept me dancing.
Wakarusa ended the way that it started: with some rain that really wasn’t enough to keep the most determined of musicians and fans away. With hail and tornado weather, my campsite was in disarray by Sunday. We considered leaving early, but unpacked our tent to stay for Sunday Night. This year shows were scheduled for later on the lineup, so even when we drove into town to avoid a hailstorm, we had time to drive back and catch a few final acts under clearer skies Sunday Night. Next time I will just leave my tent up and bring lots of tarps to help with the rains because they always pass. And Wakarusa will be there ready to dry you off and plug you in to more music at Mulberry Mountain.
I had such an amazing time at Wakarusa 2012. Thank you for this opportunity, No Depression. And I hope some of you make it to Waka 2013, or Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Festival. The campgrounds, the people, and the bands are like no where else on earth.