Summer is in the air and it smells like Wakarusa 2011
Summer to me means only one thing, Festival Season. When I think about summer all other thoughts, emotions, and connotations are completely overshadowed by the thought of music festivals.
I can still remember my first festival like it was yesterday. It was a little festival, about 2,000-3,000 people in attendance. The festival was located at a place called Deerfields, outside of Asheville, NC however, it has since been relocated to Miami, FL. This festival was called Trinumeral and was held on 9/9/09. The festival started a day after my birthday (September 8th), was located less than 2 hours away from me, and boasted a stellar lineup for such a small festival. I knew it was fate for this to be my first festival. I managed to score a ticket as a birthday present however I was unable to convince anyone to go with me. I ended taking my first festival adventure on my own and I could not have made a better decision. I immediately made friends with everyone camping near me and was indoctrinated into the festival culture. I even remember the exact moment I realized that festivals would become an irreplaceable part of my life. It was the final night of the festival and I was sitting on a hill waiting for Pretty Lights to take the stage. While sitting there a man in his forties walked up to me and sat down. I turned to greet him and he looked at me and smiled. Before I could even say hello he had already started to speak. “You have found it haven’t you?” he said, I looked at him blankly for a second and before I could respond he spoke again “Your own little piece of heaven. You found heaven on earth haven’t you?”. At that moment he stood up and walked off into the crowd. I knew instantly that he was completely right and I had found my own little piece of heaven. I never understood how he knew it was my first festival (or maybe he didn’t) but that’s not really the point. The fact of the matter is truer words could not have been uttered to me at that moment. To sum the weekend up simply I had the time of my life. I left the festival with not only a new appreciation for music but an appreciation for the festival community as a whole.
After Trinumeral I had the “festival bug”. I spent the entire school year waiting for summer so I could go to my next festival. All year I had intentions to attend Rothbury 2010. The Rothbury ’09 had one of the most impressive lineups I have seen to date (The Dead and String Cheese Incident together, I mean come on!). Not to mention Rothbury had Sherwood Forest (if you don’t know what this is I recommend you Google image search “rothbury sherwood forest”). Sadly that plan would never come to fruition because there was no Rothbury in 2010. As such I was forced to come up with an alternative festival to attend.
In the end I settled on Wakarusa. Wakarusa 2010 boasted a pretty impressive lineup including: Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Disco Biscuits, Railroad Earth, The Machine, Lotus, Umphrey’s Mcgee, STS9, Bassnectar, Tea Leaf Green, Pimps of Joy Time, Big Gigantic, Eoto, Black Keys, Widespread Panic, Slightly Stoopid, JJ Grey & Mofro, John Butler Trio, and many more. This lineup was clearly worth the 14 hour drive from Boone, NC to Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Arkansas. For this festival I was able to convince five other friends to join me. Two festival veterans, three newcomers to the scene, and myself loaded up two cars and set out on what we all knew would be nothing short of an epic journey.
We arrived at the festival grounds almost exactly at midnight on Wednesday night (Thursday morning). The line to get into the festival grounds was surprising short considering the festival sold out. It was around 2 a.m. before we actually entered the festival. On our way into the festival grounds we were greeted by the famous “Welcome to Wakarusa” sign:
Once we entered the festival our evening proceeded as follows:
2 a.m. – We were in the festival grounds and setting up camp
3 a.m. – We had finished setting up camp and were already drinking beers with our neighbors
4 a.m. – Everyone was asleep so we could prepare ourselves for the upcoming four day extravaganza
8:30 a.m. – Our tents began to become miniature saunas
9 a.m. – Everyone in our campsite could no longer sleep due to the heat
The first day of the festival we spent a large part of the morning walking around getting acquainted with the festival grounds. We checked out all five of the different stages. After that we spent a little over two hours walking around Shakedown ST and decided to head back to our campsite. It wasn’t until I sat down under our shade tent that I realized how truly hot it was. We all returned to the campsite covered in sweat. None of us had the strength or energy to go out dancing at any of the stages. It slowly dawned on me that this was going to be one long and hot weekend. Luckily our campsite was located maybe 50 feet from the main-stage area. As such we were able to hang out with our neighbors and enjoy the music from the comfort of our campsite. I must be completely honest, the first day of Wakarusa had me fearing that the heat might be enough to ruin this festival (of course I could not have been more wrong).
When the sun began to set I could feel myself getting a renewed sense of energy. I knew that it was time for me to emerge from my campsite. Obviously all of my friends had the same idea as me. We gathered ourselves together and headed into the main-stage area. Right as we entered the field Robert Randolph & the Family Band took the stage. I still consider them the “true” start to my weekend at Wakarusa and they kicked it off with a bang. Everything before this set was merely a precursor to the real show. Robert Randolph got the crowd to groove and jam like no other. They started it off slow and built the energy of the show up as the sun went down. By the time the sun had fully set they had embarked on a full on groove filled journey that had the whole crowd dancing.
The next band to take the stage was The Disco Biscuits. This meant that a quick return to our campsite was necessary. The sun had gone down and it was time to bust out the glow sticks and light up toys. By the time all of my friends and I had finished getting ready we were so brightly lit up you could have seen us from outer-space. At that point we were fully prepared enter the insanity that was the Disco Biscuits crowd. Multiple people dubbed us the “glow stick family” and asked to take pictures with us. I loved the attention that we got. I loved seeing people smile as they walked past me. I loved when people asked me to dance in front of them. But most importantly I loved the amazing jams played by The Disco Biscuits. They had the entire mountain dancing like never before. I thought Robert Randolph had gotten the crowd to groove but it was nothing compared to the Biscuits. This was hands down the most epic Disco Biscuits set I have seen to date. When the set started I had full intentions of leaving before the very end to catch The Machine. However they took me along for a musical journey that made me lose complete track of time. I ended up watching their whole set and could not have made a better decision. They closed the amazing set with a beautifully done rendition of “Feel Good Inc.” by The Gorillaz.
Now it was time for me to head over to the Outpost and Revival Tents for The Machine/Lotus. I started out by watching The Machine because of my love for Pink Floyd. They kicked the set off wonderfully with some lesser known classics like “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”. After about half an hour I had enough of the mellow nature of The Machine and was ready to continue grooving and dancing. Luckily for me the Outpost and Revival tents were less than 100 feet apart. As such I meandered from the Revival tent to the Outpost tent to watch some Lotus. The contrast between The Machine and Lotus became immediately noticeable. The majority of the crowd at The Machine was sitting down just enjoying the chill vibes and lasers. The crowd at Lotus was getting straight rowdy. They had my booty on the dance floor getting down until almost 3 a.m.
On my way back to our campsite that night I discovered what would be one of my favorite sites at the whole festival. That was the Grassroots California tent, located right in the middle of Shakedown St. After music ended on the main stage each night they pulled out speakers and had local DJs playing Dubstep until sunrise. It was a perfect little halfway stop on the journey back to my campsite. I made a point to dance here for at least half an hour every night of the festival.
Once again on Friday morning by 9 our entire campsite had already been awoken by our wonderful friend the sun. This is what tent city looked like from our campsite:
We cooked some breakfast with our neighbors who were quickly becoming our best friends. After that it was time to prepare for one of the best days of the festival. The lineup on Friday included Railroad Earth, Umphrey’s Mcgee at sunset, STS9, Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Tea Leaf Green, and EOTO.
Umphrey’s Mcgee set the stage for an incredible night. They started out with melodic jams behind the setting sun. Once the sun had fallen and the night set in they turned it up a notch. They could sense the crowd was ready to party and they were glad to oblige. They jammed out in the astounding manner that only Umphrey’s Mcgee can manage. One of my favorite things about Umphrey’s Mcgee sets is their amazingly unique covers. For this particular set they pulled out a loving rendition of “Time” by Pink Floyd. Now that the mood had been set it was time for other bands to take the night way.
After Umphrey’s Mcgee I darted on over to the Outpost Tent to watch some Big Gigantic. This was my first Big G show and I was more than impressed. There is something so beautiful about the simplicity of this Duo, comprised of a Drummer and a DJ/Saxophonist. It is the perfect combination of electronic beats laced with organic saxophone lines and some awesome drumming. This was my first Big G show and I was completely blown away. Their show was so good I have been to four more Big Gigantic concerts in the past year, all because of this one show.
I unfortunately had to cut Big G a little short because I also had to catch my first ever STS9 show. Little did I know that I was about to be given a fantastic treat. After a couple songs they paused the show and said they had a special guest joining them on stage. Who might this mystery guest have been? Well it was none other than Dominic (The saxophonist/DJ) from Big Gigantic. I not only got to hear Dominic bring the funk on his saxophone with Big Gigantic, now he was on the main stage with STS9. He jammed with them for two of the best STS9 songs I have ever heard. There is just nothing that speaks to me like horns on top of jam based electronic music. All was right with the world during this STS9 set. I had just caught an amazing Big Gigantic set, STS9 was jamming hard and strong, I got to hear Dominic play with STS9, oh and Bassnectar was about to come on next. I literally could not have asked for anything more. I had full intentions of skipping out on the STS9 encore to get a good spot for Bassnectar. But alas the festival Gods had other plans it seemed. As I was about to exit the main-stage area STS9 began their encore. Of course it happened to be my all time favorite song “EHM”. They had Mulberry Mountain straight bumping like I had never seen before. The lights, the music, the mountain were all coming to life on this amazing evening. Their encore drew me in and I enjoyed every last second of my first STS9 show.
This was a big night of firsts for me. Right after STS9 I went to go catch my first ever Bassnectar show. Since I stayed for the whole STS9 set Bassnectar was already playing by the time I got there. The tent he was playing under was completely packed. I couldn’t even get inside and ended up standing to one of the edges. But have no fear because Bassnectar was here! While I may not have been able to get the best view of his visualizers I was not that concerned. Until this point in time I had never heard such heavy pounding bass-lines. I could literally feel the ground shake to the beat of his music. Once the beat dropped at the beginning of his set he didn’t let up for over an hour and a half. He took the crowd for a non-stop emotional journey through multiple genres and styles of music. Say what you will about Bassnectar but the fact will always remain that no one can ever work a crowd quite like he can. The highlight of this show for me was without a doubt his remix of “Dream On” by Massive Attack. You can view the official video here (which includes some footage from his Wakarusa show).
After that I finished my night out with a little more dub-step, compliments of EOTO and caught a little bit of the late night Tea Leaf Green set. Both of these sets were impressive in their own respects but were a little overshadowed by other bands that evening. Of course on my way back to the campsite I also made a little pit stop at the Grassroots California Tent. Once I had my final dose of dub-step it was time to call it a night and prepare for the next day.
Friday night was hands down the longest night of the festival for me. I didn’t end up calling it a night until around five and I wasn’t actually asleep until almost six in the morning. This proved to be a bit taxing when our campsite became the temperature of the face of the sun by 9 a.m. Obviously I was no longer able to continue sleeping and was forced to face the day. With only about 3 hours of sleep I knew this would be a long day. As such I ended up spending most of the day attempting to rest/nap under our shade tent.
Once the sun began to set a little it was time for me to gather my remaining strength and party the night away. On Saturday I kicked the festivities off with some Slightly Stoopid. Their high energy party music is exactly what I needed to kick start my evening. Not to mention I loved the horn section. After their show I felt energized enough to truly conquer the night.
After seeing Slight Stoopid it was time for me to catch my first ever Widespread Panic show. They were actually one of the main reasons I settled on Wakarusa. Widespread Panic is my second favorite jam band of all times (right behind String Cheese Incident). They of course did not disappoint by any means. They jammed for nearly 3 hours straight without a single set break. Not to mention the light show was by far the most impressive one of the entire weekend. They had everyone of all ages dancing and grooving. It was nice to see a band that spanned across all generations that everyone could properly enjoy. It was also nice to see a band with little to no electronic influence. While I will admit I am a serious fan of the emerging electronic music scene I still love good old jam bands. I also respect the fact that if it wasn’t for jam bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, SCI, The Dead, etc we wouldn’t even have a music festival scene. Widespread Panic re-affirmed my faith that the jam band scene is very much alive and well (and with good reason).
After Widespread Panic it was time for one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend. The late night Umphrey’s Mcgee set. As I mentioned before my favorite part of every Umphrey’s set is their cover songs. For this particular set they combined “Come Together” by The Beatles with “Over Me” by Nine Inch Nails. The only word that could describe this song is astounding. The second highlight to this set was a 30 minute, high energy jam session titled “Ms. Tinkles Overture”. It was as if they built off of the energy from their show the night before were just continuing an earlier set. Their was no gradual build up like the night before. Instead they plunged straight into the music with more energy than a tornado. They kicked my Friday night off with a thunderstorm and ended my Saturday night with a full on hurricane.
I ended up calling it a pretty early night since I got such little sleep the night before. After Umphrey’s Mcgee it was time for a short stop at the Grassroots tent and then I returned to my campsite. My friends and I sat around our campsite and chatted for a while. As much as we all hated to admit it the festival was coming to a close. We only had one more day left and then our adventure would be over.
On Sunday morning we awoke and discussed our options for the day:
1. We could pack up and leave during the afternoon
2. We could stay and watch John Butler Trio and leave at midnight after his set was over
3. We could stay and watch John Butler Trio and leave Monday morning
We all really wanted to see John Butler Trio so we decided to stay. One of our friends had work on Tuesday morning though so we opted to leave after JBT finished. We all decided it would be a good idea to pack up our campsite before it got dark. As such we took everything down and packed it all back into the cars. We then watched That One Guy get some foots stomping out at the Backwoods stage. As a one man band who plays his own custom instrument his style is so unique it can only be described as That One Guy.
Finally after spending 94 hours on our little slice of Heaven called Mulberry Mountain the final show had arrived. It was 10p.m. and John Butler Trio took the stage. We had been waiting all day for this show, really we had been waiting all weekend. This was the coup de grâce. The final act that would be the culmination of our entire trip. The sole reason we delayed a 14 hour car ride home. We all had high hopes for this show. All six of us were standing front and center when he took the stage. Close enough we could have reached out and touched John Butler’s hand (and did when the show ended). All I can say is that I could not have asked for a better close for the weekend. I have seen few artist sing and play with such passion. It was clear that John Butler loves what he does for a living and wishes to share that passion with the audience. Nothing could compare to John Butler’s nearly 20 minute long version of “Ocean”. As we all know all good things must come to an end. So it was with sweet sorrow that John Butler played his last song and we slowly returned to our non-existent campsite to prepare for the long journey home.
We made great friends, we listened to great music, and we had the time of our lives (oh and we lost our car keys on the final night). Each of us found our own little piece of heaven in one way or another on this trip. That is why we all intend on returning this year. Even if I don’t win this contest I have full intentions of returning to Wakarusa. Music festivals have become an integral part of my life and I would relish the opportunity to give back to that community.
Thank you for your time,