Nothing like our favorite East Coast Rock n’ Roll woman to get us started on a weekend of amazing music, art, and performance. Thursday evening kicked off when Grace Potter and the Nocturnals took the stage, letting the crowd know “It’s all downhill from here ladies and gentlemen, so here’s to misbehaving! Alright, I don’t know if you picked up on it, but we’re not really into the behaving side, so lets do some stupid shit this weekend, okay!” and that’s about exactly what we did. After a weekend filled with rain, mud, and tornado scares at Summercamp music festival, I was looking forward to Wakarusa for what I remembered to be clear blue skies and lots of sunshine.
I was pleased to find out the festival gates opened Wednesday evening and there was quite a line pouring down the side of the mountain. The energy in the air was crazy, especially considering the festival wasn’t supposed to begin until Thursday afternoon and vendors on ‘shakedown street’ made a killing before they were even officially open. The 4 day festival seemed more like 5 days if you count the ridiculousness that took place that night, and by Friday evening we were all looking at each other saying “we still have two more full days of this!”
Grace Potter‘s performance left me wanting more and to get up on the stage and belt out rock and roll the way she does. While sexy and soulful, this small town Vermont band admits the festival circuit has really allowed them to take off in a new direction and give their fans what they want. After giving us words of wisdom for the weekend, she went into one of my favorites “One Short Night” where she had no problem dancing around in heels and putting on quite the show. Eliot Lipp’s live set followed, where Colby Buckler, (Two Fresh‘s drummer) effortlessly played alongside Eliot‘s beats to create a bouncing, modern sound. Colby has his way with the drums and opening his talent to new artists has caused quite a stir in the music industry. I honestly believe this guy is going places and allowed Eliot to show another side of his music, leaving the audience with a new found respect for him. Be on the lookout for his new track “Cookin”, first played at Wakarusa. On to Beats Antique, where their first time in Arkansas caused a reaction as unique as their sound. The venom of Zoe Jakes seeped into the pores of all who watched as she held us in breathless suspense, mesmerizing the crowd as the music of David Satori and Tommy Cappel on drums brought it all together. Beats Antique took their beats from orchestrated gypsy music to more of a digital spin and they played a bunch of unreleased tracks, most of which are still untitled. Their Glitch Mob remix shook most to their core and one fan admits “The antique of your beats turned me into a grape from the core while you just served glitch mob their own imitated organs for breakfast – riotous cover!”
After that set, which I would say was one of my favorites, we had nothing left to do but make it to the most anticipated Shpongletron Experience. Many east coast fans who speak Shponglese already had the pleasure of checking out the Shpongletron at Boston’s new favorite club the Royale. Simon left the overflowing crowd in sensory overload while dancers and LED hoopers blended into the visualizer that graced the 25 foot structure.
Due to the heat on Friday most Waka festival goers hitched a ride to the nearby river to cool off and possibly get in a nap before STS9, which came back strong after David Murphy‘s brief hiatus due to heath issues from the beginning of their summer tour. Their Grateful Dead cover “Shakedown Street” left the crowd screaming “NO FUCKING WAY!!! ” as they danced around in pure enjoyment. ANA SIA’s set at the Satelitte Stage gained her a lot of new fans. This San Francisco DJ was amazing and left us wanting more, more, more, but she could only play for so long. We all got down as this cute girl with a lot of spunk threw out unexpected fire beats into the packed crowd. Festival mainstays Galactic threw down their usual funky horns, and the energy on stage and in the crowd was much more intense then usual. After the set we got in line to get on the ferris wheel. Who at Wakarusa didn’t want to be on that ferris wheel at one point or another? Getting a good look at mulberry mountain and the sprawling campgrounds really put everything into perspective.
As we were at the top, The New Deal began to play, which left me happy as a clam. Their first and last time in Arkansas seemed quite sad even though they totally killed it. The fact that this band is breaking up is still news to most people and I am pretty sure everyone agrees they shouldn’t stop. Bassnectar also played during The New Deal‘s set, which left us running back and forth between the Main Stage and the Outpost Tent. Lorin‘s “Pink Elephants” (oh YES, pink elephants!), which was introduced at Snowball music festival, has now become his and our new favorite. Everyone got down even though the set I felt was a little all over the place. The crowd was defiantly the biggest and most packed having to open up the VIP area for everyone because the fence would have been knocked down otherwise. And if you had the chance to catch any of Skrillex you heard most fans practically joking around about how much they loved the guy as they fist pumped the sky. He chain-smoked cigarettes and loved the fans throughout his set, telling us “You guys are sooo cool!” which we all thought was fucking hilarious, especially when Eliot Lipp repeated it during his set later that evening. For whatever reason we all have a love/hate relationship with Skrillex, maybe because he made a sudden jump into the electronic music scene and created a fan base in no time.
If you could make it out to Satellite and stay up raging the rest of the night, or well should I say morning, then you had the pleasure of seeing both Eliot‘s second set as well as Emancipator. I had the pleasure of live painting for both, which created a visual stimulant for their inspirational audio experience. Emancipator came out with a bit of a hip hop spin on his seductive, jazzy beats. Starting out his set remixing Outkast and throwing in verses from Rosa Parks and “Bombs Over Baghdad”. This was quite interesting, even though most agree his originals are best. I personally thought his new approach should be honored and the way Doug is able to show variety in what he does is impressive. We all had the pleasure of Dominic Lalli (of Big Gigantic) sitting in on the set as well as many others throughout the weekend. The saxophone always gives that twist and energy to the music that everyone is looking for and Dom brings that like no one else. As the sun came up, I realized this is why I love Wakarusa. Sunrise sets create a magical atmosphere and give us something to do all the time, which is not the case at most festivals. Saturday we couldn’t believe we were only half-way through, and quite pleased to continue partying. Most of the Emancipator crowd, considering it was already almost 90 degrees at 9 am, decided to make it to the waterfall, where you could jump off into a deep pool and enjoy being cool for a change. It was definitely a hike but worth every minute.
We made it back up Mulberry Mountain to catch Colorado’s up-and-coming, bluegrass inspired Mountain Standard Time rocking the Outpost Tent. These guys have a sound that makes you wanna dance your heart out, emanating a passion for music. Mumford and Sons graced main stage at 6pm, when it was still unbelievably hot, prompting Marcus Mumford to ask the crowd “is it always this fu*cking hot?!” My response was “almost as hot as you!” These sexy British men brought lots of new tunes, while still managing to play favorite “Little Lion Man” as the entire crowd belted out the lyrics. I thought this was one of the more intimate performances, especially on the Main Stage, because of the way the band charmed us, creating a rapport with their short but sweet statements throughout. I believe Mumford and Sons is going to blow up in the US, and are definitely a band to keep your eyes on.
Thievery Corporation was the next big show of the evening, which was chill and relaxed. Most fans seemed quite impressed, although there were many more people sitting back to enjoy the show than dancing. They had the most special guests join in, which gave a nice twist although most audience members were appalled by bass player Ashish Vyas performing in just briefs. They seemed to have each song relate to a different culture, which allowed for a lot of variation. Some loved this while others were disappointed, happy to move on to Big Gigantic. They absolutely killed it and everyone raged shoulder to shoulder. The Outpost Tent was clearly not big enough for Big G as fans smushed together to catch a glimpse of the charming and talented Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken. Big G, as well as numerous other artists throughout Wakarusa, shared a LOT of new music. I was elated by this performance and rated it one of the weekend’s best. If you could make it till sunrise you were able to catch Vibesquad throw down, a great ending to day 3.
Sunday was a little less crowded, as some festival goers needed to make it back for work Monday morning. If you happened to stay, you got to find out the answer to the “What the fuck is Zoogma?” stickers ALL over the place. I wasn’t necessarily planning on checking this set out but they truly should be considered the new STS9, considering how much everyone was talking about them. It was rough to stay awake the final night, but Two Fresh closed out the evening and the festival with an amazing set. “My Friend the Genius” was the perfect summation of a wonderful weekend and by the end of the festival, everyone agreed that we had surely accomplished what Grace Potter had demanded of us.
Waka will always be one of the best festivals of the summer, its diversity and setting assure it. So if you have yet to make it out to Mulberry Mountain, Arkansas, put it on the top of your list. In its third consecutive year since leaving Kansas, Wakarusa has evolved into a complete experience and the atmosphere created is really special – while leaving, everyone was chanting “WAKA WAKA” and I already wanna go back.
– Allie Olsen
Photos by Allie Olsen & Chit Wood
And check out this sweet gallery of Waka 2011 Pics by Ironside Photography!