I spent a little time on the MOUNTAIN; I spent a little time on the hill. -WAKARUSA 2013
October of 2012 my good friend Lezlie and I decided to take a trip to Mulberry Mountain, Arkansas. There, we attended the annual Harvest Festival, that was being hosted by Yonder Mountain String Band. I’ve been to many festivals and concert events of all types, but this one was special. Snuggled in on the top of a mountain everything I love about a good music festival was present, the smell of the festival food in the air, the good vibes coming off your neighbors that have come also for a musical experience, the vending strip that forms “the shakedown”, the booze, and of course the great musicians I come to support or whom I leave newly acquainted with. More importantly, the Harvest Festival site is also shared by a much more diverse, and larger scale festival held towards the end of May entitled, “Wakarusa”. After being completely sold by the majestic scenery of Mulberry Mountain and my jam grass experience at Harvest, it was decided I would return the following summer for the majors, aka “WAKA”.
After viewing the initial line-up for “Waka”, I was sold. Two major players respected on the jamband circuit are headlining the festival, Widespread Panic and The Black Crowes. The third headliner is enough reason for me to return to Mulberry; anytime you can see Yonder Mountain String Band actually on a mountain -Do it.
Widespread Panic and The Black Crowes are returning, this year, from long awaited hiatuses from touring. Widespread Panic has already given us a hint of what is in store on their spring tour with their return shows on New Year’s Eve 2012 followed by a run of shows in Mexico. Panic opened up the New Year’s Eve show with a rare Last Dance>Vacation>Last Dance and sent us out into the New Year with blistering covers of John Lennon’s “The Ballad Of John and Yoko” and “The War Is Over (So This Is Christmas)” assuring us that the boys have not lost their touch and will entertain us all at this year’s Waka. The Black Crowes have returned as well, this time adding the multi-talented musician Jackie Greene to their rotating line-up of guitarist, whose place was most recently held by Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars. Greene performed with lead singer of the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson, and singer/guitarist of the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir in a series of acoustic shows as a trio last year. The chemistry between Robinson and Greene is certainly a spectacle to behold.
During Harvest Festival last year Jeff Austin, lead singer/mandolin player extraordinaire, of Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) announced the band would soon be returning to his home town of Chicago to begin work on their fifth studio album. With Mulberry Mountain and Waka the perfect place to debut some of this new material we may be in store for yet another special YMSB show. YMSB, much like their predecessors and now peers, Widespread and The Crowes, push their live shows to the absolute limits. In the spirit of all great jam bands, they never play the same show twice. At any moment during one of their often traditional bluegrass songs, a twist or turn can occur that takes the song moving in a new direction becoming infused with rock n’ roll, the improvisational spirit or jazz, reggae, or even a hint of Jerry Garcia. Whichever songs the band choose to embrace, they are guaranteed to get you fired up and your feet moving. Each member contributes to the show singing original material, introducing new covers, and taking turns playing epic leads on his perspective instruments -mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass, and acoustic guitar.
While the headliners may have my attention. I urge anyone attending the fest to enjoy not just the three big-name bands, but the up and comers, their fellow festival goers, dancing, hooping, body painting, and everything else that the festival will have to offer, including taking a second to pause and take in the beauty of Mother Earth that surrounds the Waka site. With acts like EOTO, Shpongle, Moon Taxi, and Agori Tribe things are bound to get crazy and hopefully a little weird, but one thing is for sure; Waka is going to be a good time. See you at the late night shows – Happy Festing!