Wakarusa 2012 Review:
Music festival lovers may have tried to resist the natural allure of the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, or even their friends’ raving reviews about Wakarusas in the past. Veterans and newbies alike, no matter how broke or how far away they lived, could have tried to resist a number of Wakarusa Music Festival’s many charms. The amazing musical line-up and promise of good times, however, was undeniable. Breaking out their festie gear and recruiting all their friends, festivalgoers headed to their ultimate destination, Wakarusa 2012.
Arriving early Thursday morning for check-in, travelers sluggishly stepped out of their cars, careful not to disturb the mound of camping equipment that overflowed into their seats. Gathering the snack wrappers and fast food bags that littered their car floors, many of them stretched and yawned after a long journey. After a brief vehicle search, they extended their worthy wrists to receive their reward— a colorful, cloth Wakarusa 2012 bracelet. With anticipation, they drove down the last stretch of road, past a breathtaking overlook of the mountains, and to their campgrounds.
Guided by friendly staff, the main camping area was organized into perfect rows of car-side camping. Making the most efficient use of space, campers were pretty well packed together, forcing festivalgoers to get nice-and-cozy with their neighbors. Since the music didn’t start until noon, some set up camp and chose to nap while others ventured into the whimsical, festie-land they would call home for the next four days. With acres and acres of woods, tons of vending tents, an infamous waterfall trail, and a Ferris wheel, Wakarusa had plenty to keep everyone entertained between sets.
After their slumbers and wanderings, attendees prepared to face their biggest Wakarusa dilemma—overlapping sets. Studying the schedule and venue map they had oh-so-conveniently received at the front gate, music fans prioritized. Fortunately, main camping, the Main Stage, the Revival Tent, and the Kum & Go Outpost were all close together, making traveling between sets very convenient here. The Satellite and Backwoods stages, however, were a short walk away and their music did not carry to this main campground.
Large groups of friends became smaller groups, couples, singles, and then large groups again as set interests changed. No one seemed to mind, though, as everyone had their way. The best part was that friends would reconvene at different points to brag about one artist’s performance or another, making everyone’s Wakarusa experience unique.
Personally, I enjoyed a short nap and lunch to the tunes of Keys N Krates and Lyrics Born, which crisply carried over to our campsite. I let my food settle before setting off to the Satellite Stage for Phutureprimitive, a DJ who was highly recommended by friends. Paired with one female’s sensual hoop-dance performance, Phutureprimitive’s beats served as the perfect warm-up for the weekend. Fans got their feet moving on the woodchip dance floor as they sang along to his remix of the song “Mad World” from the familiar film Donnie Darko.
About 15 minutes before his set ended, the crowd began to thin as Railroad Earth started at the Main Stage. This was where the party really got going. With whiskey flowing and feet stomping, Railroad Earth unleashed the true, let-loose kind of atmosphere everyone had come to take part in. Despite the heat of the fiery, afternoon sun, Wakarusa goers swung each other left and right, stomping their feet and waving hands in the air.
The intense energy carried on as the sun set to the melodies of Weir, Robinson and Greene Acoustic Trio. The crowd showed their love with waves of spinning LED hula-hoops and uninhibited cries. Fans freed hundreds of fiery lanterns into the night as the famous trio performed a number of Grateful Dead songs. One little girl’s overjoyed face was illuminated by a lantern’s flame as her parents helped her release it into the night. Wakarusa goers could all share in her childlike bliss as the famous trio each treated their fans with a solo. As the music and lanterns floated off over Mulberry Mountain, so did our worries.
The trio finished and the stage crew scurried to set up for the next show, the crowd growing denser. Eager to get as close to the stage as possible, fans packed in for the night’s most talked about headliner, Pretty Lights. Respect for personal space gave way to a push-and-shove mentality as the crew finished arranging his famous light towers. As he opened with “I Know the Truth,” all dancing hell broke loose. People were dancing absolutely savagely, flinging drinks and letting their hungry inner animal out of its cage. It was intense, even for the most experienced festivalgoer.
I made my way through the thick wall of raging dancers to Perpetual Groove’s set just in time for my favorite song, “Three Weeks.” Standing on the outskirts of the crowd, I quickly realized what many Wakarusa attendees hadn’t expected—it was cold. I tried to dance off the chill as I enjoyed Perpetual Groove’s set, only to retreat back to camp once they had finished. From what I had heard, Wakarusa was unbearably hot and the cooler evenings were a relief, so I didn’t pack warm clothes. I was one of many, and we all regretted it.
Taking an hour break, I closed out the night with one of my favorite bands, Papadosio, before rolling myself into a burrito of blankets and falling asleep.
My fellow Wakarusa attendees and I awoke the next morning to a sticky, humid Friday of rain. Many fans braved the weather, adorned in ponchos and carrying umbrellas. Some enthusiastic girls were even rowdy enough to wear mud. Despite the weather, the music continued and the Heartless Bastards brought the setting sun.
Next up was, in my opinion, the best set of the weekend, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. This band brought everything that festivals are about to Wakarusa: good music, good people, and good energy. Their set was all about love and a genuine performance that made my heart swell. The sense of unity and family between friends and complete strangers was nothing short of magical. Everyone sang along to “Carries On.” Even those who clearly did not know the words were eager to participate. The energy and love of the crowd was mutual, and the band let it show. Alex Ebert even jumped into the crowd and shook hands with fans as he walked the divider, showing his excitement. I was brought to tears as people clasped hands and hugged during their popular song, “Home.” The performance was emotional, pure, and gave me a smile that would not leave my face the rest of the night.
I caught the beginning of Railroad Earth’s second set and returned to the Main Stage for The Avett Brothers. After Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, I wasn’t sure that anything else could impress, but The Avett Brothers blew the audience away. They ended their amazing performance with “Down in the Valley to Pray” in memory of Doc Watson (inspiring tears once again) and a new song. Everyone went crazy and some just stood in awe as they left the stage.
After these intense, emotional performances, Wakarusa goers were ready to boogie as they let loose to Umphrey’s McGee and Girl Talk, who even through a dance party on stage.
The dancing insanity continued through Saturday with Balkan Beat Box and the unique tunes of G. Love & Special Sauce and The Lumineers. Bluegrass lovers continued to feed their obsession with The Travelin’ McCourys feat. Keller Williams and The Del McCoury Band at the Kum & Go Outpost. Meanwhile, Umphrey’s McGee took the Main Stage for a second set, inspiring plenty of Umph love for the masses who showed their appreciation with bobbing rage-sticks and glow toys.
Up-and-coming band, The Werks, followed at the Backwoods Stage with their Ohio-grown grooves as Primus set up at the Main Stage. As predicted, Primus delivered a wonderfully weird set, matching their music with a perfectly strange mix of cartoon images. A giant, glowing octopus surfed the crowd as Les Claypool brought out his Whamola, adorned a mask, and treated the audience to “Mr. Krinkle.” The audience, of course, responded with mouth-gaping stares and wide eyes.
Mother Nature continued to unleash her fury with hail and rain the next day as crews took down the Main Stage. When all had cleared, Wakarusa goers reappeared from their shelters, stopping to study the dime-sized hail and heading to the Revival Tent. If Saturday was bluegrass day, then Sunday was definitely reggae day as SOJA, Slightly Stoopid, and Matisyahu ran the show.
EOTO and The Floozies closed out the festival with one last party as the campgrounds began to thin. Even the proud Sunday crowd was starting to slow from full rage to hippie sway as The Floozies’ set came to a close.
Some left that night, but many of the exhausted Wakarusa goers waited until morning for one last Wakarusa 2012 sunrise. They got rain instead. Packing up soaked equipment and taking their soggy, I-have-to-go-home-now attitudes to their cars, all left Mulberry Mountain with memories. We stopped at the overlook to admire the mountains, wondering just how far the melodies, those lanterns, and our worries had drifted. We’d be back next year.