After what seemed as never ending weeks filled with grueling anticipation and mundane work, the day had finally arrived for a huge truss of music fans and friends alike to pack up gear and enjoy one of the greatest experiences any freedom possessing human being can do; attend a music festival. Our gathering of choice went by the name Wakarusa, which I’ve found from random internet sources to translate in some native american cultures as “ass deep,” or “knee deep,” which one could facilitate in the meaning of the festival as knee deep in rain soaked Ozark clay or ass deep in music, amazing people, great times, and fun.
Our caravan experienced a little bit of trial and tribulation on the way down south, including but not limited to a faulty car-topper, a close call with a extremely bubbled out tire sidewall, unhealthy consumption of fast food, and bumper to bumper traffic in St. Louis city proper. We made it through though, and with nothing but the Missouri Ozarks visible in all directions , all 4 cars staggered across the Arkansas border onto dark, winding hillside highways, through occasional small sleepy towns which served as speed traps for patrolmen, and into line with thousands of festival attendees, just in time to beat out a nasty southern late spring storm that would halt all operations at the gate that night after the storms arrival.
The gate that we arrived at had no radio reception, making my credentials and clearance into the grounds forfiet. If it wasn’t for the fact that the girls I rode with had the ability to work their distracting collective charm on the security checking wristbands, I would have been soaked by rain walking miles to the opposite gate that apparently had the credentials list. Everything worked out positively enough to elude to a camp set up with plenty of group effort, and after the land-snatching skirmish that setting up camp was, our tribe had sufficient shelter, chill space, and was ready for anything Wakarusa would throw at us.
Thursday started and ended hot and heavy, with the southern sun saturating the mountain top with rays of sunshine, evaporating last nights rain and setting a muggy and hazy air on top of the mountain. With more festival attendees showing up by the minute, pedestrian and vehicle traffic choked the mainways of the grounds and made the mile hike up the mountain to the convention center arduous. After rehydrating myself and finally picking up my credentials, I decided to head to the revival tent located a half mile back down the hill to catch Keys and Crates’ mid-afternoon set.
I’m glad to say that the trio was my first musical experience at the festival. The vibe inside the tent as well as the shade was a welcome difference to the humid barracks that our main stage camping site had become. I walked into the middle of them playing around with the same sample used in Jay-Z and Kanye’s Otis record, and watched as they worked through a set saturated with heavy hip hop beats, dance tracks, and improvised jamming that made the crowd move. After the set I walked back to the site to find the crew raging and socializing with our new neighbors, which included people from New Mexico, Oklahoma, Maryland, Mississippi, and Texas. Everyone surrounding us seemed very friendly and the good vibes and Southern hospitality flowed throughout the early afternoon.
After partying a while, everyone at camp set out on different paths. Some of us went down Shakedown Street, which was the staple merchandise center of the festival, conveniently located about a city block from our camp. By noon on thursday at least 30 different vendors were set up and ready to go, selling anything from hoops to gems to glassware to sun dresses, and almost everytime I walked the avenue it was abuzz with customers and salesmen alike. My favorite atraction: The Music Bus , which allowed any festival attendee to grab an instrument of their choice and make noise.
I met up with my friends Matt and Mike who had been unfortunate enough to be held back setting up camp by the storm the night before. Never the less, they were still in high spirits when we walked away from their camp. The two friends happen to play in the band Amrita as a bassist and drummer, and when they first caught word of the bus their eyes lit up in excitement. We all climbed on the bus and the enjoyment of hearing them lay down Chicago style jazz and blues bass and drum lines to
audiences passing by was awesome! People came and went with cheers and dances that influenced the beats spewing out of the old Blue Bird bus. After returning to camp, Amrita’s guitarist Pat and another guitarist named Mike were gathered, and the crew that is Amrita basically took over the bus to litter shake down street’s late afternoon scene with blues, jazz, funk, and belting guitar rock riff’s and line’s. After this I took a short walk and caught a couple songs from Lance Herbstrong’s set at the Grassroots Stage, but more on that stage later.
When the evening arrived, I found myself walking back down shakedown towards the main venue gates snaking around the huge line to catch a couple of acts. I caught a good portion of The Motet’s set at the revival tent, and am glad to say got my funk on a little bit that night. When the funk stopped, I picked up and started sprinting towards the Main Stage for Pretty Lights. The crowd was building bigger by the second, and I wanted to solidify a spot in the photo pit. This was made even more difficult by the addition of hundreds if not thousands of random blow up beach balls, dinosaurs, sex dolls, etc…
With a few bumped elbows and sweaty excuse me’s I made my way to the front of the stage just in time to catch Derek opening with the intro to “I Know The Truth” and throwing the whole crowd a curveball by dropping one of his classic tracks: “If I Could Feel Again.” His set was definitely what everyone has grown to expect with a PL set: an onslaught of audio and visual extremes that have the power to raise every hair on a humans body. Other notable and surprising tracks dropped during his set included a shout out to an injured Derrick Rose accompanied by “Sirius,” the Allen Parson’s Project tune that doubles as the Chicago Bulls’ intro song. Walking back from the main venue, I heard a lot of mixed opinions about his set, and even some saying that he didn’t deserve to be a Main Stage headliner, which I still don’t understand…the man is one of the most successful touring producer acts of our time, and his visual light show accents this prowess with dominant skyscraper structures set ablaze with colors.
After being optically and audibly attacked for over 2 hours straight, I met briefly again with our crew and some other Chicagoans we had stumbled upon during the set. Drinks were made, substances consumed, laughs were had. Part of the crew decided to chill for the night, and I had successfully persuaded some of my cohorts to check out the Grassroots satellite stage for some late night debauchery. This stage and the music spewing out of it was my welcome substitute to sleep for the next two nights. The atmosphere and aesthetics of the stage were amazing: you walked down a steep hill into a gully adorned heavily with hanging shade ornaments, which reflected the sun and the stage’s lights in entertaining fashion. Marty Party’s set here was the straight dope. This dude murders everything he touches, playing that gritty, dancey, dirty house party brand of thugstep that makes women dance like they are getting tipped and dudes nod their heads until their fitted cap falls off. Couple notable drops included a remix of A$AP Rocky’s “Bass,” and his classic remix of Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck.”
NitGrit took the helms and kept the party going well after his 3:30 a.m. start, and half way through his set I looked around and realized I was surrounded by unfamiliar wooked out faces and took a stroll back to camp to see if I could assemble a crew of peeps still willing to rage for VibeSquad’s sunrise set. Upon returning to the stage, I realized that the security at the gate had completely stopped giving a fuck along time before, and my lysergically-inclined friend and I gallopped into the gates and down the hill, following fiendish packs of balloon-equipped super late night wooks with our water bottles full of whiskey and ear to ear smiles in plain view. VibeSquad crushed it, dropping huge tracks such as “Kaleidoscone” and “Funkwear” for fans that stayed up all night to show love towards Aaron Holstein’s crunked out productions.
The next morning was rough. This was the first realization I had pertaining to the fact that camping music festivals are just triatholons in disguise, designed to test all the limits to one’s consumption of music, socialization, substances, and the elements. I woke up with a ringing in my ears, a distaste for human interaction, and a cough that only ungodly amounts of cannabis smoke and a pack and a half of cigarettes could produce. After wallowing in my grief for a short period, I decided to tag along behind a couple of friends to hit up the venue side of the festival and grab some grub and beer.
After filling my stomach and numbing my headache, we headed into the Outpost stage to catch Snarky Puppy’s set, which in turn was rescheduled. Instead, we were delighted to catch the Monophonics, San Fransisco’s own heady psychedelic soul-funk band laying down beats that couldn’t have matched the atmosphere any better. Everyone in attendance seemed reluctant to show energy towards the band in the beginning of the set, but sure enough the funk took a hold of the crowd unexpectedly, much like the slowly creeping onset brought to ones mind by LSD.
Their performance of “High Off Your Love” was definitely a highlight of the festival for me, and being able to vibe off all the people hearing and finding out about this band for the first time in a live setting made it that much better. The over 2 hour set that they played for us ended with applause from everyone in attendance, and with the weather molding the day into a cool, comfortable, and overcast one I was confident that the good times and great tunes were still on the horizon.