It seems like only yesterday we were reporting on hidden cameras in trees, tactical squads barreling through campgrounds on ATVs, roadblocks, and unconstitutional searches and seizures at the then relatively young Wakarusa Festival at Clinton Lake State Park on the western outskirts of Lawrence.
Those were the days, weren’t they folks?
Following Kansas’ crazy crackdown on the fest, owner Brett Mosiman decided he’d had enough. Really, what other option did he have? Kansas drew a stupid line in the sand, forgoing the millions of dollars in revenue that Wakarusa brought to the state, not only through usage fees and the like, but also through sales tax on the food, gas, booze, and other items that the 20,000 odd attendees purchased in or around Lawrence.
All to bust a few dozen hippies. Dumb.
Mosiman packed up his tent and headed to friendlier pastures- about 40 minutes east of Fayetteville – and looking back, he says it was a blessing in disguise.
“Mulberry Mountain was the best thing to happen to Wakarusa,” says Mosiman. “It is hands down one of the very best festival sites in America. The mountains and nature, the hiking and biking trails, the waterfalls and float river are just all spectacular. Add in 6 stages, 150 acts and nearly 200 sets of music and it is truly an incredible weekend.”
However the veteran KC/Lawrence-area promoter isn’t resting on his laurels – he’s constantly looking for ways to improve the site. For example, after last year when rugged storms and heavy winds ripped through the mountains causing a muddy mess, Mosiman sunk resources into infrastructure to improve drainage.
“We have also added a stage and other amenities down at the River camping which will make that a very neat scene,” adds Mosiman.
Really, the river already is a neat scene, where overheated music fans can go and float around for a bit in the shallow cool water. And word is, there’s much more on the horizon in the next few years, like a gondola running up the mountain perhaps and a swimming pool backstage for the acts.
With everything that went down in Kansas, and with his Waka-baby growing up into a strong and successful teenager in Arkansas, you can see how Mosiman could be bitter. But he doesn’t really have time for that, instead focusing on what made Wakarusa a success in the first place – the music.
“String Cheese hasn’t played in 10 years,” says Mosiman of this year’s headliner, “so their 2 huge sets will be epic. There’s also lots of great first timers like Black Joe Lewis, J Roddy Walston, Rusko, Walk Off the Earth, Mowglis, Reeignwolf, Infected Mushroom, Murder By Death, Robert DeLong, Twiddle…”
Other top-notch acts on the bill are The Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe, Dr. Dog, and Xavier Rudd, to name a few.
With all that musical firepower, though, Mosiman has managed to keep Wakarusa a mostly family affair. Not an easy task in today’s world of big-time, music promotion machines.
“Maybe it’s how remarkably we have kept it true to it’s nature,” he says. “Even though it has grown so much – it still has a grass roots, non-corporate feel.”
Perhaps that’s why thousands flock to the mountaintop in the rolling Arkansas forest every year – an organic feeling of community where the amenities are plentiful, and the vibe is more bonfire-in-the-woods than bumper-to-bumper car camping.
Oh, and of course, the music.
Check out the varieties of ticket packages here, and I’ll see you on the mountain June 5 – 8.