Photos by: Anthony Verkuilien
Story by: Jacki (Moon) Horne
The lush heart of Ozark, Arkansas hosted the 10th anniversary of Wakarusa Festival on Mulberry Mountain at the beginning of the month.
The annual event lived up to its reputation of being one of the rowdiest festivals on the circuit for a number of reasons: The Untz Satellite Stage kept the party dancing until sunrise every night, the box office stayed open 24-hours-a-day, and the festival’s creative spirit thrived amongst its top-notch production, impeccable lighting design, and imaginatively themed campsites. Wakarusa is also notorious for its world-class lineup every year, as it consistently showcases an eclectic mix of talented artists from all ends of the musical spectrum.
In addition to a diverse lineup with plenty of EDM legends, the festival’s music schedule distinguishes Wakarusa as a cut above the rest, because many artists are double-booked. Some of this year’s double booked artists included festival scene favorites: STS9, The String Cheese Incident, Boombox, The Floozies, Wick-it The Instigator, Cherub and many more. This made it much easier to decide which artist to see when two favorites played on different stages at the same time; it also meant that super fanatics got the chance to catch their favorite artists twice in one weekend.
It’s genuinely difficult to choose favorite moments after four full days of Wakarusa magic at high-altitude on top Mulberry Mountain. It would also have been impossible to experience all the entertainment that the festival had to offer without cloning oneself. However, I somehow managed to compile a list of my top favorite moments, from the EDM side of things and beyond, after this very special 10th anniversary of Wakarusa Music Festival.
10. ill-esha with ProbCause on the Satellite Stage
ill-esha brought the hip-hoptastic surprise of ProbCause to the Satellite Stage with her on Thursday evening to create an unforgettable first night of Wakarusa. The Vancouver-born producer is already a unique euphonic treat to the festival scene as she simultaneously DJ’s sings and plays her quirky keytar during live performances. The surprise addition of ProbCause’s smooth hip-hop flows created an even more unique and textured performance; all of the set’s distinctive elements blended together beautifully and kept the packed Satellite Stage crowd pumped up for its entirety. This stellar surprise collaboration foreshadowed many more exciting cameos to come throughout the weekend.
9. Manic Focus with Surprise Sunsquabi Appearance at the Satellite Stage
Nothing screams style and talent quite like a collaboration between two Untz favorites: Manic Focus and Sunsquabi. John McCarten surprised a packed crowd at the Satellite Stage Thursday afternoon when he welcomed Sunsquabi guitarist, Kevin Donahue and bass player, Andrew Clymer, to the stage. The trio jammed the fuck out to a full crowd, which extended from the stage at the bottom of the hill to the gates at the top, arguably harder than anyone at the Satellite Stage all weekend. I cannot wait to see more collaboration between this rock-star trio in the future.
8. The Festival Guy’s speech during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The Festival Guy’s speech during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was one of the most moving cameos of the weekend. Prior to the festival, the band announced that Jade Castrinos was no longer touring, which struck up curiosity as to how “Home” could still be performed. The packed crowd sang Jade’s parts in chill-evoking unison, then front man Alex Ebert invited Tucker Gumber on stage during the part of the song where the duo usually talks to each other. The Festival Guy shared his story of how Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros brought him to his first festival, which ultimately changed his life by inspiring him to quit his job and dedicate his life to improving the festival scene. This moment was a living, breathing example of the reciprocal inspiration that lives within the festival community.
7. Getting lost in expression at Phutureprimitive’s Satellite Stage Set
Wakarusa veteran Phutureprimitive and the beautiful ritual dancer Caeli La brought another extraterrestrial dance party to the satellite stage on Saturday evening. The dynamic duo created an all-encompassing fearless expression of art, dance and sound that left the Wakarusa crowd completely immersed in exotic bass and inspired to dance like no one was watching. Rain also dropped a new track that left the crowd craving more from anticipated Part 2 of Searching for Beauty in the Darkest Places. What I appreciated most about the Phutureprimitive experience at Wakarusa this year is how it was both high-energy yet downtempo, and bold yet humble all at the same time; an artistic balance between yin and yang was finally discovered through the bass, ritual dance and deeper messages in this Wakarusa performance.
6. Finally Catching Bassnectar After a Long Hiatus
Bassnectar’s presence was definitely missed during his long hiatus last year, leaving much to be desired for his triumphant return to the festival scene this season. The legend Lorin Ashton brought more energy, bass and creativity to the main Wakarusa stage than ever before, making his return well worth the wait. The set’s matching projection mapping and custom visuals were completely out of this world; each track had background visuals to match its vibe to a tee. A true storybook moment of this set was witnessing the entire crowd of thousands sing along to Bassnectar’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” in unison right before the mind-boggling bass drop. While most of his performance consisted of fast-tempo tracks on the heavier bass side, Lorin did bring it down a notch and played his new downtempo track “Ephermal.” I would have loved to hear even more downtempo tracks, but was still left completely fulfilled by Bassnectar’s set on the main Wakarusa stage Saturday night.
5. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips officiating a Wakarusa Wedding
The Flaming Lips are notorious for delightfully eccentric and bizarre performances, which is why the band’s front man Wayne Coyne officiating a wedding in a skin-tight muscle suit a few songs into his set was completely fitting. Wayne brought a shirtless man and his blushing bride onto the stage, along with a giant rainbow and dancing mushrooms, then he proceeded to orchestrate the most eccentric wedding I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. The crowd went crazy when the couple had their first onstage kiss as husband and wife. Festival weddings are unique enough; festival weddings that are officiated by Wayne Coyne are the epitome of eccentric delight.
4. Dancing in the Late-Night Hours to Ott at the Satellite Stage
It’s no surprise that there was actually a line to get into the Satellite Stage area on Friday night during Ott’s takeover into the early morning hours. Ott’s live performance spoke for itself at Wakarusa, as his psychedelic opera sound is completely unparalleled to anyone else in the industry. What I found most notable about Ott is the way his sound is dark, yet completely beautiful at the same time. Additionally, the sonic soundscape producer’s passion was immediately apparent from the front row; the man sprouted an ear-to-ear grin as he danced along with the crowd. Although it was a late night after a long day of Wakarusa-style partying, Ott kept the crowd’s energy at an all time high.
3. Bringing in Friday’s Sunrise with Random Rab’s Satellite Stage Set
Random Rab’s ability to make dark, mysterious and morbid concepts into something beautiful is truly empowering. A magnificent analogy for the central massage of his music is the way his Wakarusa sunrise set transitioned from the darkness of night into the bright future of a new festival day adventure. I’m a jaded festivalgoer, so I usually go to sleep early on the first day, but I made myself stay up all night Thursday in order to catch the magic of another epic Random Rab sunrise; it was well-worth the sacrificed sleep. I would have been surprised by the big size of the crowd that also stayed up until sunrise on the festival’s first night if it had been anyone beside Random Rab. I think I can voice the general crowd’s consensus in saying I left this set on Friday morning feeling both refreshed and alive.
2. Jammin' out with Papadosio
Papadosio is easily the sound that captures the heart of Wakarusa, because the band’s sound flawlessly blends electronic music with classic jam band elements, and a hint of unlabeled uniqueness; this description is also a pretty clear reflection of what the Wakarusa lineup actually looked like. The band opened with beautifully distinctive song “Find Your Cloud” and improvised an epically long version to create an incredible experience. As soon as it sounded like Papadosio had transitioned to a new song, the band would whip it back around and incorporate the distinctive chords of “Find Your Cloud” again. Another uniquely impressive attribute of the Papadosio experience was the band’s ability to make the guitar and bass sound like animals noise correspondence. There is no place I would have rather been more than at Papadosio’s Saturday night set.
1. Catching STS9 with new bassist Alana Rocklin (twice)
Change can be terrifying especially when it comes to a well-respected band like Sound Tribe Sector 9, which is why it was both exciting and nerve-racking to finally see new bassist Alana Rocklin play with the group. I was immediately blown away by Alana’s ability to euphonically harmonize with STS9 as soon as they opened with “Baraka” on Friday night; it was as though she had been with the band all along. The crowd that STS9 drew-in matched the incredibility of the music; there was even a group of stilt-walkers in complete LED costumes walking around during their Friday night performance.
The best part of the Sound Tribe experience at Wakarusa was the fact that it happened twice, because the band had two sets on the main stage. Thursday’s crowd got to enjoy a full light and laser show during the late night set, while Friday was a completely different natural sunset set experience; both performances were beautiful in their own unique splendor. In a world where change is the only constant, and in an industry where women are under-represented, Alana’s ability to rock the fuck out so well with Sound Tribe is a breathe of fresh air. I can’t wait to see more of Alana with the band over the years.
This list doesn’t even begin to capture all of the epicness of Wakarusa 2014, but it does provide some insight on the festival’s diverse offerings. A shadow of doubt did cloud my mind about the festival’s weather conditions on the way to Arkansas after hearing horror stories from the storms of 2013, but my experience at the festival in 2011 was epic enough to take the risk of a few thunderstorms. On the contrary, everything including the weather was absolutely perfect, making this year’s Wakarusa the grandest way to celebrate a legendary anniversary. I was very honored to have been apart of Wakarusa 2014.
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