As we rode down to Ozark, AR from Chicago, IL one thing was pretty apparent, rain was on festy tour too. Clearly the flood at Summer Camp Music Festival wasn’t enough moisture for one festival season, Mother Nature decided to make her presence felt at Wakarusa as well. Before the festival had even officially started there were tents being tossed, domes being flipped and cars getting mucked without a live note of music to be heard. Festival organizers did everything they could to ensure that all the people coming in were getting in the safest way possible even if it meant having to put everything on hold for a few hours.
Things really felt like they were on the right track when Yonder Mountain String Band took to the main stage. There’s not too much more that says Wakarusa then a good old fashioned newgrass stomp session courtesy of the boys from Yonder. Nobody seemed to mind the mud as everyone was just happy to hear what they came to Arkansas for in the first place, live music!
After that we came across some serious funky business in the revival tent. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was laying down that smooth soul funk that only Karl Denson can give to us. He had the entire crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. All the ladies wanted him and all the men wanted to be him and were also taking notes. Towards the end of his set he took a moment to carefully instruct all the gentlemen on how to come correct to a beautiful woman and then brought it on home with his signature sax play. Though the set was very early in the weekend, it set the tone and remained a top highlight of the entire festival.
Zoogma’s set at the Technaflora Outpost Tent can be described as two things, WET and WILD. The crowd was packed and hot as most of the people there had just gotten into the festival in the previous hour and were ready to rage on. Zoogma fed that need and brought down the house with a set chock-full of originals and remixes, old and new. We were just outside the tent on the side and the rain was POURING down, making what was already an intense set memorable. During an original remix of Rusko’s “Everyday” I took a moment to take everything in: The music, the rain, the ferris wheel behind me and everyone was getting down. Wakarusa 2013 was WELL under way and anybody who was out at this set will tell you it was one of the best moments of the weekend.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 was late coming to the stage for their first of 2 shows scheduled for the festival. The rain was still coming down and the weather was starting to become a serious concern again. After about a 20 delay the band finally took the stage and opened up with “Shock Doctrine”. Once again the horns were out and I got to say that “Shock Doctrine” with horns sounds pretty damn good. Tribe was clearly jacked up and excited to play as David Murphy noted in the beginning that they played the very first Waka and it felt so good to be back for the tenth anniversary. “Circus” came on and the usual high-pitched screams could be heard as Tribe played a roaring rendition of the sentimental favorite. The beginning was a little distorted and unquestionably different but as the song went on the beautiful sounds of glory chords found their way into our eardrums and had everyone in a wonderful mood. The rain was drizzling ever so lightly and the mood was, dare I say it, perfect. It would not last though as one song later the band was forced to get off the stage because of incoming weather and their performance on this night was over.
As Tribe left the stage, all festy-goers were instructed to head back to camp to take shelter in the storm. Music would be shut down for the next few hours as the wind howled and the rain and thunder ran its course over Mulberry Mountain. We finally made the trek back to the mainstage for some late night Tipper around 1 AM. Standing behind a massive visually projected light rig, only comprabable to Shpongle himself, was Dave Tipper laying down some of the nastiest glitch known to mankind. The grounds had become a thick “poop soup” like substance after the storm and needless to say, we got dirty. Tipper’s set took us on a journey through the land psychedellic glitch funk as his visually mapped light rig brought us to another dimension. It was a great way to end a hectic day of rain and rage.
Allen Stone took to the main stage on Friday around 4 o’clock and to be honest we weren’t really sure what to expect. The comparisons he has drawn (Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye to name a few) was enough to get me to check it out. Allen Stone has some serious soul and he was more than happy to share it with the Wakarusa faithful. He had the ladies melting with his voice and even got the whole crowd swaying as one during a portion of his set. The highlight had to be when he covered “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. Putting a more soulful touch on it, Stone really made it his own and wowed everyone who was in attendance. Allen Stone wasn’t just one of the best surprises at Wakarusa, it was one of the best sets period.
Of Monsters and Men turned out one of the biggest crowds of the entire weekend and for good reason too. They’ve been on a meteoric rise to fame ever since the North American release of their debut album in spring 2012. They played everything you would have expected them too but that’s exactly what everyone wanted. “Love Love Love” was cold and haunting and gave legitimate chills down my spine. The chemistry between lead singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (who looked like she was having way too much fun) and Ragnar Þórhallsson was amazing and made for a compelling performance. They closed their set with their biggest song, “Little Talks”, and it turned out to be the best part of the set. Nanna left the stage and started running around the crowd looking like she was having the time of her life. With the way Of Monsters and Men seemingly came out of nowhere, she probably was/is. Trumpet player Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir nearly tore the revival tent down with an awesome solo that had everyone hollering in approval. The group then joined together for a final bow and left the stage to a massive ovation. If you ever have the chance to catch Of Monsters and Men, do it. Just do it.
Karsh Kale delivered a very eccentric set at the Grassroots Stage. Going everywhere from dub to trance to house, he managed to keep everything in a steady flow so nothing ever felt too forced. With every new sub-genre he brought into the fold he would also keep it together with the tribal sounds and tendencies that he’s known for. It was one of the more different sets at the Grassroots stage of the whole weekend and went to show that you could always find something you’d like at Wakarusa.
Umphrey’s Mcgee came out at 7:45 and raged into the sunset, opening with a new song “Le Blitz” we knew were in for a special one. It was a heavy set as the guys packed just the right amount of Umph Love into their two hour set. Closing it out with a cover of “Eminence Front” into their classic jam “Pay The Snucka” was a treat to say the least, throw in an EPIC Rage Against The Machine Cover of “Bull On Parade” and you’ve got one helluva show! Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
Boombox played their 2nd set of the weekend at the Outpost Tent and if you weren’t dancing you were probably going to get stuck. At this point the mud had definitely become a task to walk through but that didn’t discourage anyone from shaking their groove thing to the funky sounds of Boombox. This set seemed to be a little more on their electronic side but you’ll get no complaints here, Boombox is Boombox. The “House Jam” got everybody lifted as if we were about to take off in a spaceship. It was a solid set from start to finish as Boombox always seems to deliver, can’t wait for their new album to drop!
Now I would love to go on for the next paragraph or two about how amazing Sound Tribe’s set in the revival tent was. It would make me so happy to just go on and on about how the boys threw it down to make up for the night before. The crowd was more than ready for it and honestly people expected it too. We’ll never know as Mother Nature, once again, had other plans. After about a 15 minute delay a woman came on to the stage and instructed everyone to go back to their camp sites and seek shelter. A roar of boos greeted the poor woman who was only doing her job but that didn’t matter to all the fans who had just got robbed of another Tribe set, again. In retrospect it was the right decision as about an hour later a huge rainstorm came down on the festival and winds were approaching 60 miles an hour. There would be no more music till midday Saturday. Wakarusa was shut down completely for the time being.
Festival designers know that if they bring Widespread Panic to a lineup, the gathering will follow. Panic’s Waka set was no different as the collective energy of panic heads gathered this year to catch another round. Panic played true to their style choosing easy, nostalgic melodies that lifted our heads up as our feet sank into the mud. The humming guitar lazily sang out lingering notes as John Bell’s soulfoul folk voice sang lullabies into the night.
One of the more special and unique sets of the weekend came opposite Widespread Panic when Earphunk performed as Daft Phunk, a two hour set completely dedicated to Daft Punk songs. With Daft Punkdamonium running wild all over the world this was a very smart decision by Wakarusa to book this and it ended up being a lot of fun. Songs from every Daft Punk album were covered, even the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Although Daft Punk is not scheduled for any summer performances, (wtf Punk??) Earphunk nailed every disco key jam and funky bass line to the D. The show was hilarious with the band synchronized in matching blue silk track suits, hipster glasses and lasers up to par with Dr. Evil standards. It was a smashing good time. The set ended with “Get Lucky” and by the end of it the entire crowd was singing along. Props go to Earphunk for doing Daft Punk justice and putting on an awesome performance.
Umphrey’s McGee took the stage at the Revival Tent for their second performance of the weekend around 12:30am Saturday night/Sunday morning. They came out swinging with a “Mulche’s Odyssey” opener that set the tone for the rest of their set. Their set the night before was much more on the heavy type of jam but the Revival Tent was a funkadelic get down that was only missing George Clinton. They brought out resident Wakarusa musician Mike Dillon to play the vibraphone for an awesome rendition of “Headphones & Snowcones”. They closed their set by finishing “JaJunk” from the night before and just like that it was over. Though they weren’t cut short, that was kind of the feel of the whole weekend. With so many artists starting late, getting cut off early or not getting to play at all, it never seemed like long enough. That‘s not a knock on the festival either, just a testament to everyone’s love for live music.
Scheduled next at the Revival Tent was Papadosio. Papadosio’s festival sets are notoriously known for always starting late because of the precision that goes into setting up their equipment and sound. Everything must be in complete sync and total harmony. 45 minutes past when they were supposed to start they came to the stage and opened with fan favorite “Method of Control” and from there on out it was smooth sailing. They debuted 2 new songs over the course of the set, “New Love” and “Dream Estate”. Both were greeted very well by the fans and if these songs are any indication of what the future may sound like for Papadosio, it’s a bright future indeed. Also lucky for everyone involved was the fact that Papadosio was the last band scheduled for the night on the Revival Tent so the festival organizers let them play the full amount of time they were supposed to. Had they been cut off at their originally scheduled time it wouldn’t have been nearly the same. Before they closed out their set lead vocalist Anthony Thogmartin stated “Even though we may act serious, don’t take us seriously. We’re just up here having fun so here’s a fun song to close this out.” “Unparalyzer” hit and the crowd went wild. When it was all said and done the sun was nearly coming up on the final day of Wakarusa and everyone left the Revival Tent on a very, very high note.
Down in the wookie dungeon, also known as Satellite Stage, the tribal drums, serpent horns, and instruments I can’t even name entertained zombie ragers just in the prime of sunrise. Master of evolving energy, Shane Madden, took the crowd as deep as they wanted to go. Whether you can dance or not, Govinda’s slithering horns mixed with belly dancing beats make you move in ways only possible when deep in the groove. Hypnotizing, mesmerizing and entrancing, this set was perfect for those experiencing the early morning light, symbolic of the journey from the nights before. Govinda worked his magic on the eager Wakarusa crowd, a beautiful and final late night/early morning set to reawaken souls from one of the muddiest festivals I can imagine. It was prime.
Cherub brought their brand of poptronica to the Grassroots Stage on Sunday afternoon and it was nothing short of a fun, dance party. The vocals of Jason and Jordan could be mistaken as a number of 80’s pop singers but with their blend of electronic, funk, soul and groove, it all works together incredibly well. They covered “Around The World” by Daft Punk and mixed in a Beatles sample that sounded just plain awesome. They closed their set with their biggest song “Doses & Mimosas”. It’s the song that’s catapulted their career and you can tell they genuinely love playing it and the crowd loves dancing to it.
Snoop Lion came out to a full crowd (as always) and immediately set the tone. Just to be in the presence of Snoop himself is worth bragging about, to see him onstage with a full band is something to check off your bucket list. Playing all the classic hits he had the crowd bumping, rollin up that endo, sippin on gin and juice, and singing to every song. Was it a little bit cliche? Always. Did we get down for Snoop Doggy Dog? Fo Shizzle.
After Snoop we trekked all the way back to the Revival Tent for Gramatik. He threw it down as always, bringing down the house with his soulful funktronica. The tent was hot and the energy was high as Gramatik played into the night. It was a special performance as Griz came out to drop a couple of the now notorious Grizmatik tracks and the boys from Cherub came out for an encore and debuted their brand new collaboration track together. Think old school funk with heavy bass, add in some pop singers and the outcome was spectacular. Expect more awesome and unique collaborations from Gramatik with his new project Extraordinary Magnitude under his brand new label Low Temp.
Amon Tobin closed out the main stage on Sunday night with his ISAM set up. Ever since 2011 Amon Tobin has literally been blowing minds with his massive stage production known simply as ISAM. Wakarusa was really one of the only major festivals he had yet to perform with it at so it made sense that he was here. ISAM has grown over double in size since its debut and just to sit there and stare at it is enough to leave someone in awe. It’s really not a musical performance but more so a visual show with Tobin controlling the whole thing from inside the structure. His encore though featured 15-20 minutes of heavy bass music that proved to be much for some people. ISAM is nothing short of a spectacle to behold and proved it’s still innovative enough to blow people’s minds two years later.
EOTO was given the dubious honor of closing out the entire festival (which they also did the year before). Their set was heavy on the usual EOTO goodness, all things that weeble, wobble and womp. The crowd was absolutely ruckus as they knew this was their chance to get down as hard as they could. The grand finale to EOTO’s set was truly grand as the build that Jason & Travis put together just kept getting bigger and bigger with more drum lines being added every couple of seconds resulting in a massive drop that sent the Wakarusa crowd into a rey jing stupor! It was an awesome sendoff to what can only be described as an epic weekend.
Insane weather? Check. Incredible music? Check. Awesome people? Check. Great vibes? Check. Wakarusa 2013 had everything. The first 2 days were pummeled with rain and the last 2 were beautiful and sunny. Most bands got to play. Some didn’t. One thing remained a constant though, the people. The people are what made this festival. Things got really bad for a moment and everyone could have spun out of control yet they didn’t. Everyone stuck together and even if they couldn’t see some music or lost a pair of shoes to the mud pit, they had each other. We had each other. Hopefully next year Mother Nature decides to take her wrath somewhere else. We can’t really blame her though, sometimes you just ray john a little too hard. Mother Nature wet the bed, or in this case the campground, on this one. See you in 2014. Rage On Wakarusa, Ray John.