Getting to Wakarusa by way of the winding Arkansas roads really made me think this festival is in the middle of nowhere. And that’s a good thing.
As I passed streams and rounded sharp corners, passing farm houses and lumber mills, I wondered if I was heading the wrong way. Nope, there’s the Arkansas State Police command center, set up about a half a mile outside the festival grounds.
Must be on the right track.
When I finally reached the top of the mountain the trees opened up and for miles it was tents, stages, and yes, the huge ferris wheel. The grounds are set up rather conveniently, with some shade to be had for camping if you try hard enough to find it. But the majority of the festival-goers were simply herded into the middle, a big open field with stages surrounding it.
Once we got in and set up camp, I decided to take the obligatory stroll around the site to check everything out.
Overall, everything seemed to be running pretty smooth. No horrendous lines for bathrooms, beers, or even to get into the stages. I meandered around, checking out a few of the smaller stages. One act that caught my attention was Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses. Bigham plays southern country rock, and has one of the graveliest voices I have heard, especially for a 20-something looking guy.
Another loop around the festival grounds and it was nearly time for the biggest name of the weekend, My Morning Jacket to take the main stage.
My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James hit the main stage Friday night wearing furry white moon boots. He wasted little time with chit chat, opting instead to whip the Wakarusa crowd into a frenzy with pounding bass and screaming guitars. I could feel the sound flapping my eyelids back as the band played through a bunch of favorites off past albums while mixing in a few new ones off "Circuital," their latest album that was just released a day or two earlier.
James acted the part of the ultimate showman, throwing himself about the stage and abusing his guitar like it had done something bad. His trademark reverb vocals echoed over the thousands who had gathered in this remote field in Arkansas, mainly just to see this band. Simply put, My Morning Jacket murdered it.
They never eased up, or slipped a little softer or slower one in. They were loud, hard, tight, and, to be honest, a little painful at times. But in a good way.
The highlight of the show for me came near the end, as the echoing, repetitive guitar line of "Gideon" swirled around the mountain top. The intro seemed to go on forever, with layer upon layer of guitar lines piled on top of each other. Finally, Jim James pierced the night sky with his high pitched wail, raising his hands in the air and beckoning the audience to give just a little more.
Which they did, happily.
As My Morning Jacket left the stage I couldn’t help but wish that they were one of the several bands booked to play two shows at this year’s Wakarusa fest. Hell, I would’ve been glad to see them play back-to-back. They were that good.
As I wandered back to the campsite through the dark, stumbling across tents and lawn chairs, I was thinking, this trip was worth it the minute My Morning Jacket took the stage.