Wakarusa, a diverse music festival where they say music meets nature. They were right about that! 20,000+ people camping on the mystical Mulberry mountain, in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Not only was the location new and extremely beautiful, but our crew got to be there all week volunteering before it started! Getting to do pre-festival volunteering really opened up more experiences to us since our work and play was separated. We were surrounded by like-minded goal driven individuals like ourselves that wanted to contribute in any way they could, and that was bound to be a good time.
“Waka” as most call it, started on Thursday June 4th. We were assigned to work Tuesday and Wednesday, so we arrived Monday right before the sunset to set up camp with the other volunteers and got to relax a little before the two days of work. Where volunteer camping was set up was probably the best camping location at any festival I have ever attended! We were camped on a hill overlooking The Outpost Stage and the Revival Tent. The artists playing at Outpost stage were heard better and could be seen from camp, rather than those playing in the Revival Tent, that could not be seen or heard very well. We witnessed a few sets from our campsite, from jam band Play Dead to trap & bass artist Bro Safari! Here is a video from my campsite during Bro Safari’s set.
There’s a lot that stimulated my amazing experience at Wakarusa, but three things come to mind more than anything. The raw nature, the raw people, and the raw music!
I was raised in Colorado for the majority of my life, where I lived I was gifted with being able to go into the National forest often, with it being only a 5 minute walk from my home. I was always surrounded by beautiful nature. When we were planning our way to Arkansas, I was having my doubts on how the location would look, and was picturing flat plains and dirt. As soon as we started ascending the Ozark Mountains where Wakarusa was held, I was astonished with how gorgeous and mountainous it could be! The forest was so dense and scenic, but different than the trees in Colorado. Wednesday night after our last shifts Tauk played a set for the staff and early arrivals at the riverside stage. Located at the base of a mountain and next to a huge field (riverside GA camping, had to take a shuttle down the mountain to even get there.) not only was the stage surrounded by trees but the fact that the river is accessible while music is playing was pretty damn cool! Only downside to the beautiful nature at Wakarusa was the extreme humidity with the gnarly heat. There was a morning we woke up and everything inside of the tent including ourself was moist. But from recent stories I have heard, I would rather be miserable by the humid heat than have Wakarusa be a mud fest. So with that said couldn’t have been more grateful for the weather and the nature that how it was at Wakarusa!
Being camped with and near only volunteers was spectacular because of how respectable everyone was and how everyone there had happy positive vibes. No one was to drunk or in each others face, everyone was happy because of where they were at and who they were with and surrounded by. Everyone looked out for eachother. But the amazing people of wakarusa was definitely not just limited to volunteers and staff, the crowd at this wakarusa was all about family vibes. Everyone I interacted with at wakarusa were all kind hearted music enthusiast’s and genuinely good people. (Since trash after festivals has been a big topic recently, Wakarusa’s trash after artists sets were honestly not that bad, only big names, particularly more electronic based, brought more trash. Yes there was trash, sadly there will always be trash unless someone actually does something. But was it as bad as some other events or festivals I have attended, god no. Photo Credit to Phil Clarkin and Wakarusa)
The good vibes projected by the people working and attending Wakarusa definitely enhanced the experience and was something that ensures me in coming back again next year.
What impressed me the most though, was the insane amount of amazing music! Everyday was stacked with artists to see that left us leaving artists sets halfway through that way we can catch more music. We saw 40+ sets of music that weekend… And never have I walked so much for a festival (even the recent Electric Forest, although that place is fucking HUGE!) But I believe that is because there were days that the music started at like 10am and music thursday- saturday night lasted till 6:15 am. Music was going on nearly all day every day and with the way wakarusa set up the artists schedules, we were all over the place in both the venue and the musical genres.
With how much was going on at Wakarusa, it’s hard looking back and not writing pages on pages about the festival. Especially with how much amazing music there was, so I will try my best to keep it brief but full with our exciting experience.
Wakarusa really out did themselves with the first day of music. There were definitely times that we had to choose an artist over another, while that was hard to do, we saw a crazy amount of music for that weekend, and we definitely started that off strong with seeing ten sets of music that day. It is difficult trying to compact the vast range of music that was heard that day into a paragraph. But how the stages were arranged with the artists set times, the schedule I had was perfect for me. Started the day at the satellite stage that was nested back in the woods with a lot of hammock area. This was where the bass was heard all weekend long, with it being mainly a electronic / dj only stage and lasting till 6:15 am, it definitely brought a crowd of people determined to party till the sun rise. After staying at that stage for a while we ventured to Marchfourth! My friend Hunter had told us that this was a band to see, and he was so correct! This marching band broke down some sick songs into marching jam band epics. Check out this video of Marchfourth!’s cover of Nirvana – In bloom. Marchfourth!
Also in the video shows the overhead installations that I helped put up for volunteering. After hearing the marching jam band we went out for several hours of amazing jams! Ranging from reggae jam to heavier based jam with Umphries to beautiful grateful dead music to the oh so unique, electronic, but jammy Gigantic Underground Conspiracy. This was an amazing orchestrated set compiled of talented artists, and to see what I witnessed there was definitely unique and a blessing. I heard some of my favorite Big Gigantic tunes but changed the fuck up (finally) and obviously the set had a lot of jam base to it because of Conspirator ( who are two members of disco biscuits) and the underground orchestra. They closed out the main stage first night and what a way to leave the main festival grounds to travel to the bumping electronic stage where we walked in on a heavy bass artist, Minnesota. His quick transitions and unique trap/ experimental bass music made the crowd grove as one until the end of his rowdy set. Ending the first night of Wakarusa was an artist of truly tasteful and different electronic music. Combining the violin and his electronic music, Govinda brought the weirdness out in everyone until the sunrise.
Day two of the festival, and after an eventful first night, we thought we should start off with a classic jam band that we missed the night before,Twiddle. This was a beautiful location, nested in the woods with a stage that was designed to look like an old wild west building. Following the jam, we ventured back to the electronic stage, where we caught a very vibe felt set from Thomas Jack. This was not only the only video from Thomas Jack, but was my only video this whole day due to phone being dead.
Watch here : Thomas Jack
Following the needed tropical house, we went back to the Backwoods stage where we caught the end of a bluegrass band named Mountain Sprout, I wasn’t expecting to catch their set, but definitely glad I caught their high energy bluegrass set. Following them was my one of my girlfriend’s favorite bands, Rising Appalachia. Two beautiful voices to combine together with acoustic instruments. We stayed from the start of their set to one or two songs until the end, and we wish we could of stayed until the end but by that time Chance the Rapper was already on main stage, and that was something we could not miss much of. We traveled a good quarter mile to reach the main festival gates, and as we got closer Chance was becoming louder and louder. His moving words of wisdom was put together in such a fashion with a live band that I couldn’t help but just stare off over the large crowd in awe of his talent and words. I have not seen many rap shows before, but what Chance the Rapper brought was unlike any other artist that I have seen before, extremely unique! As always, there’s a conflict in the schedule, and so we left just in time to see the last 20 minutes of Hermitude, who was at the satellite stage bringing the electronic game to a new level. They used a steel drum live as well as DJ, and played tropical sounds to genres like future and trap, it was really impressive to see them play, and worth the travel. Following the groovy and unique set we ventured back to the main festival area where we basically finished the night with two amazing jam bands. Catching STS9 for their first set of the weekend followed by Umphrey’s Mcgee was absolutely amazing. The jam band vibes at both of those sets was very positive and had great energy, everyone just loves and respects those two bands so much! During the set of Umphrey’s Mcgee, we decided to see Big Gigantic for the fourth time this year… And to say the least we should’ve just stayed back at the jams because what we were wanting was not what Big Gigantic was giving. We wanted to hear new music, different set, just something different but his set sounded exactly the same as the time we have seen him before and before. Because of that we left earlier than expected to finish our main festival grounds music with Umphry’s Mcgee and exotic, acrobatic, aerialist, flow art production put on by Quixotic and their team. Finishing the night at the 7up stage we slowly walked over to that area, tired and sore but determined to witness more music. Just being Bri and I we set up our hammock in the trees in decent view of moody good and watched his set for several minutes until the being exhausted feeling took over and engaged hammock nap mode. I was out cold until the last 30 minutes of the Human Experience where we got to witness yet another beautiful set of music welcome the sunrise to the festival for another epic day of music.
Worst part of having music go till 6am is not really being able to sleep much because this year at Wakarusa, it was hot! We got as much sleep as we could, but with the artist schedule we had organized we only had 9 hours from 6 am till our first set of day three being Late Night Radio. The fast paced jamtronica set us off right and set the day up with high standards, and the high standards were met instantly when we saw The Dirty Heads on main stage. Getting out of the hot sun early, we ventured to the revival tent to see the whole set of Nahko and the Medicine for the People. Strong lyrics based on real world issues backed with creative styles of playing instruments left me wanting to hear more and more, but the hour and fifteen minutes passed by in a blink of an eye. Following one of the better sets of the weekend we went for a music change up at the 7up stage with an iconic deep house artist, Destructo. Here he played a variety of electronic hits, from classics to unreleased beats. Here is a video of Destructo dropping his new song: Destructo
Because It was at the 7up stage on the walk back Bri and I had to stop back off at camp while Hunter ventured to see the opening of the Roots. While we were at camp we picked up food and our rage totem and started back to the Roots, but while on route we got stopped by three guys. Our ragetotem had a flag on it representing Black Tiger Sex Machine, one of the artists we were going to see later on in the night. Coincidentally the people who stopped us jokingly asked us about that logo on the flag and proceeded to tell us it was them. They introduced themselves, took a picture with us, and then went to get dinner and get some sleep before their sunrise set. Following that unique experience we got to top it off with the iconic band, the Roots. The fast paced reggae band broke musical barriers with their innovative ideas of combining their instruments together, such as the drummer was playing a crazy fast rhythm, that the bassist and guitarist kept up with in such a fashion! It was truly something else to see! Yet another truly unique experience to witness was following that set with Glass Animals. Another diverse sounding band that has its own musical taste, and they definitely gathered a crowd. It seemed like the majority of Wakarusa was at this stage, and because of the oversized crowd, we were forced to the back where there was bleeding of music from another stage, truly unfortunate but still a good experience. After that, it was the headliner of the festival, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. I personally had not heard his music before this, and after seeing him, I definitely grew to like him and respect his music. His smooth voice and rhythmic instrumental band was beautiful together, but a little to slow for my taste. But still we stayed the whole set to respect the fact that he was the top headliner of the weekend. Following that started one of the worst conflicts of the weekend, STS9 at the Revival tent and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at the Outpost Tent. Having seen Sound Tribe the night before we caught the first half of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead epic set! They brought it hard and were relentless with their amazing covers of the Grateful Dead, unfortunately people that we had met up with at the festival earlier that day urged us to move to the main stage to catch Major Lazer. So in spirit of seeing as much music as we could, we figured to give Major Lazer a chance, but within 15 minutes Bri, Hunter, and myself could not handle anymore of the shitty festival trap and hype man shit. Honestly, I didn’t even see anyone behind any decks or anything like that playing music, and I just wasn’t feeling that after seeing several bands bring it hard with their coordinated music. We left to catch the remainder of STS9 which was the perfect replenishment for our ears. Seeing the band members of Tribe bring their groovy and bass heavy electronic jams was what was needed for all of us that night. Tribe and Joe Russo’s set’s ended at the same time, and there was a 30 minute break until Savoy came on in the tent. We decided to wait in the Revival Tent for Savoy and wait for them to come on rather than go back to the main stage, and it was definitely the right decision. Savoy is always the right decision. Their distinct laser sounds match perfectly with their beautiful 9 laser rig that the brought.
These lasers are hands down, some of the best I have ever seen, not only are they powerfully vibrant and cover a wide range of colors, but Savoy has these lasers coordinated so perfectly with their music, it’s truly something else to see. After watching their whole set we went back to the campsite, and the way we go is through the staff and volunteer section, so we walked way behind the stage of Bro Safari and watched his set for a little behind the stage and back at the campsite. The night was long and it being day three, everyone was tired and so Hunter stayed back at the campsite while I went out to Black Tiger Sex Machine, to finish the night off with an amazing raging set that lasted till the sunrise. I walked in with my rage totem high, and I see that the place is more packed than any other night. All the night owls and EDM fans were at this set to witness the rage fest put on by Black Tiger Sex Machine, and so I had to struggle bringing myself and the totem to the front for all to see. This three person live electronic group from Canada brings unique beats and song transitions that sets them apart from any other artist. Having their own record label, Kannibalen Records, they seem to play a lot of their artist’s music, and change it up for the crowd to love. Here is a mix (or remix) that Black Tiger Sex Machine did of one of their artists, Snails. (Even though this song was released on OWSLA) Pump This: Black Tiger Sex Machine
Even though it is quick, you can get a small glimpse of the crowd raging at the sattelite stage! Also Here is a remix of Goin Wild that they played that not only got the crowd hyped but defined their set basically. Black Tiger Sex Machine Goin’ Wild
They are all over the place, genre wise, but basically they are hard-electro-house, and god damn are they good at making the crowd rage. Definitely was an amazing way to bring up the sun with music for the final time at Wakarusa.
Here is the sun Rise after the amazing set:
It was rough waking up for the last day, but knowing that this was our last day and that it was going to start with Nahko and Medicine for the People, it was going to be a great day for music. The sun was harsh and direct, staying for Nahko’s set during the day was a challenge, but his music and message is so good, it was a must stay. Heres a video of his day set on main stage:Nahko and the Medicine for People
Following Nahko we went to the 7up stage to bare witness to three nerdy guys killing it on the stage with their jam-tronica beats. They even had the saxophone player from Rebelution, Khris Royal come on for a special appearance that lasted a good 30 minutes. Heres a video for that aswell! (Unfortunately its my last video of wakarusa, but at least it is a decent one!) Greenhouse Lounge w/ Khris Royal
We stuck around the satellite stage leading into the next artist after Greenhouse Lounge to kill time and not to have to move in the hot sun. After regaining energy in the shade, we left the 7up stage to go see an artist that is associated with Nahko, Dustin Thomas. This young man kills it with his acoustic guitar and his moving and inspirational words. He used his music to tell a lot of real world problems such as global warming, polluted water, poaching and more. Truly a great set to see, especially because at some points he breaks it down and does some beatboxing. After that motivational and informational set we ventured to the main stage area where we basically ended our night going back and forth between Main stage and Revival tent.
Being so exhausted we had our lawn chairs and would just sit off to the side and enjoy the music. I saw several bands that I have grown up with hearing and I am so pleased that I could finally cross them off my list. Such as Matisyahu, Lotus, and Rebelution. Ending the main stage was Thievery Corporation who we enjoyed for a little bit but had to go to the bumping tent to see the ever so impressive improvised set by Eoto! Lasers are good as Savoys are going off to these two masterminds jamming off eachothers vibe, bringing the jam to electronica, and playing beats as hard as dubstep! Best way to end out the main festival area, but we weren’t done yet. Even though it was nearly impossible to open my eyes we went to Goldfish to finish our weekend off with groovy a saxophone and house music. We drifted away in a mini nap before the end of set and woke up to the crowd cheering as they played their encore at around 2:00am. Heading back to the campsite was a grueling challenge but once we made it back to our humidity soaked tent, I was passed out till the sun woke us up and as soon as that happened, it was our time to leave that beautiful mountain.
This festival has a lot of respect and amazing music, it was a privilege volunteer working for them and getting the experience that I got. It was absolutely epic and a festival for The Chronic Electronic to visit to next year!