Wakarusa is a music and arts camping festival nestled deep into the heart of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Each year tens of thousands of a wide variety of people make the pilgrimage up the winding pathways to Mulberry Mountain. Wakarusa is a large festival (Capacity is 30,000 people), but nowhere near as large as mega fests such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, and even our own Jazz Fest (easily over 100,000 people). It's a complete synthesis of a large crowd with the comfortable experience of a smaller, more intimate festival. The satellite stage, about a half a mile from the main venue, is a secluded area where many electronic and smoother sounding bands play. This stage is sheltered by trees, and near the entrance Nature Dreamweaver (Artist) builds his N.E.S.T. (New Earth Sacred Temple) for the fifth year in a row. This nest is filled with art installations that he creates completely from nature, and it is strictly non-smoking to avoid disrupting the area.
Camping can sometimes be a drag, especially if you are packed in like sardines with 15,000 people car to car for as long as the eye can see. Luckily Wakarusa offers two campgrounds, Westwoods and Riverside, that are about a two mile walk or a 15 minute shuttle ride to the Main Venue campgrounds. The Westwoods campground, if you can believe it, is shaded by large trees which makes for sleeping during the day doable. Riverside, again bear with me, exists alongside of a river for easy access to a bath if the music got the best of you the day before. I prefer to camp Main venue just because I like to pack in as much music as possible, but if these places were closer to the fun everyone would camp there.
The main attraction for Wakarusa that doesn't deal with music or art has to be the waterfall. If you have the willpower to traverse a mile or two hike straight down hill (and then back up), you will be rewarded with a fresh water waterfall with perfectly temperate water. Dozens of festival goers will be splishing-n-splashing in the natural pool that the waterfall pours into, so make sure to watch your trajectory if you intend on jumping off.
The other main headliners include Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, The Roots (Jimmy Fallon's Tonight show Band), Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Umphrey's Mcgee, Slightly Stoopid, and many more. This will be the first festival show for Ben Harper and his band since they disbanded in 2008.
Wakarusa is one of the closest festivals to Louisiana, next to the Hangout festival and others in major cities of Texas. This is another appeal for people indigenous to the region, as well as familiar music. This year New Orleans very own Galactic alongside Macy Gray are main headliners. Galactic also has two other sets besides their show with Macy Gray, so you'll have plenty of opportunity to get to see them funk it out. Other hometown heroes such as the Revivalists and Gravity A are playing at the festival as well, so if you catch yourself missing home you can go hang out with your fellow New Orleanians
Wakarusa, like Jazz Fest, is a family friendly festival. I have been the past three years, and each year I see more and more families with small children enjoying themselves at a show. The feeling of community and well-being at Wakarusa is abundant, making it even more inviting for these families to journey back the next year.
Wakarusa is a Native American term that translates into "ass-deep," of course, back then this described the depth of a river. Now, in its 12th year, some have come to know Wakarusa as a way to define the depth of an experience. Wakarusa is the ultimate four day jumpstart into summer, and after you will feel inspired and fresh, although you may not smell it. So, if the summer humidity and rain is getting you down, plan a trip for next weekend to the lush mountains of the Ozarks, you will not be disappointed, and you may discover you love another festival just as much (or perhaps more) as Jazz Fest!
Other music to look out for:
- Captain Green - Local Baton Rouge band, playing a primetime set (9:00-10:15), Captain Green will be something you won't want to miss out on. With an arsenal of horns and melodic rhythms there funky nature rivals bands like Lettuce and Earphunk.
- Dirtfoot - A Dirtfoot show can easily be described as "a dose of gypsy punk country grumble boogie". If anything, one of these words must appeal to you, so if you find yourself at the festival and can part ways with the Galactic show for a few minutes, go give these Shreveport boys a listen at 7:45 in the outpost tent.