The Wakarusa Festival– near Ozark, Arkansas and atop Mulberry Mountain– kicked off Thursday.
Unfortunately, due to other real world obligations, I didn’t make it down until Friday afternoon. At first glance, it seems like attendance is a bit down from last year, maybe due in part to a little bit of a weaker lineup. But the lighter attendance meant it was easier to get around, shorter to wait in lines, and just more comfortable for everyone in general. Plus, the weather was about perfect, upper 70s and low 80s, a little overcast.
I rolled into the campgrounds and found a spot underneath a tree, threw up my tent, snagged a coldy, and headed for the stages. I was just in time to catch Split Lip Rayfield on the second biggest stage, the Revival Tent. And it was kinda nice to be under the big top since a light mist had started falling.
Split Lip came out and, like the old pros they are, tore the place up with their lightning fast picking and hammering on the one-string gas tank bass. The percussive thwap of Jeff Eaton’s manic plucking filled the air in the tent and inside my lungs. I could actually feel the sound waves moving my arm hair. Yeah, it was pretty loud.
The crowd on hand was full of familiar faces from the Lawrence scene who happily sang along and hollered when Eric Mardis gave a shout out to the late Kirk Rundstrom, then launched into Skol Bandits followed by Used to Call Me Baby.
Great start to the fest for me. I couldn’t wait to head out into the mist to catch some more music.
Next stop was the Satellite Stage, which is several hundred yards into the woods, to catch Lyrics Born. Unfortunately when we got there we found out the stage was running about an hour late, so I had to abort that mission to head back to the main stage to see Soulive.
And it was a good choice.
Soulive’s horns blasted clean funk rhythms to a smaller crowd than they deserved. The band was so tight it could have been a recording, even the monster alto sax solo that brought the crowd to life. From there, the band jammed a bit into an extended slower guitar vamp outro that fused some Stevie Ray-esque blues with classic jazz fingerpicking.
Soulive would end up being probably the best set of the day. Or at least top two.
Back to the tent, coldy refill, then on to the Blitzen Trapper show. I watched a few songs there until I heard the main stage going nuts, so I decided to roll over there to see what was up. Turns out, that was a good choice.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (all 11 of them) were on stage, dressed in their old timey hats and following their shaman, Edward himself, who was leading the crowd on this backwoods revival. The band was killing it, too, with each person seemingly carrying their own weight. Sometimes when you get so many different instruments on stage some can get lost in the mix and become largely unnecessary. Not so with the Zeros.
Each shaker, every accordion, every little violin note seemed to fit right in there without making the sound too repressive and crowded. And of course, the charismatic leader was crooning his butt off. Toward the end of the set he ventured out into the crowd to the dismay of several large security dudes who were tasked with following him over the barricades.
The only issue with the sound- really the only sound issue of the day- was when the PA clipped a few times. It wasn’t all that noticeable, but it did happen three times before it got sorted out.
I wonder when Ed and the Zeros will have a new album out. I’m definintely looking forward to that.
The headliner for the night was the Avett Brothers, who took the stage about 20 minutes late to a decent crowd. They sounded super clean and polished, almost too much so. Almost like bubblegum-y, pop-y, Disney, you know?
They gave a shout out to the late Doc Watson, saying "We learned this one from Doc," before launching into a country-tinged barnburner that got the crowd going.
All in all, though, I must admit I was a little disappointed with their set. It just seemed way too formulaic, especially after Edward Sharpe brought the house down with his wildman act.
And that, my friends, was my Day One. Not too shabby if I say so myself. I’ll have more when I get time to pound out some more. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @MattyKCC for updates, pics, and other fascinating info.