Editor’s note: Peter Lewis, food and entertainment writer for The City Wire, is attending the Wakarusa music festival north of Ozark and providing a review of a few festival performances.
by Peter Lewis
There were no riots, no inclement weather, and no major scheduling mix-ups. In the world of festivals, that is labeled as a major success.
Often it is forgotten how much weather can affect events such as Wakarusa. The expectations of great weather are not always met. Left up to fate, the results can never be known. After last year's tornado ravaged festival in Kansas, the amicable weather over the weekend was met with a large sigh of relief from the festival staff. A sense of happiness among festival-goers seemed to be triggered by the bright, sunny weather that covered the mountaintop over the weekend. To have had better weather might have been an impossible task, even for Mother Nature.
This sentiment was echoed by Aaron Alt, a restaurant manager from central Texas and Wakarusa veteran: “Last year was just awful. There were tornadoes, canceled shows. ... Everything has just been perfect here so far.”
Despite the several hour drive to the Ozarks (versus the 30-minute drive outside of town), even folks from Lawrence preferred the new location over the old. One such resident, Mike, a cabinetry worker who has attended every Wakarusa, admitted that “it's so much better here.” When pressed about the level of cleanliness given the large audience, he confessed that he had been impressed with even that aspect of the festival experience. Workers were visible between each set picking up any pieces of garbage left by irresponsible attendees.
Wakarusa is an interesting study of society. It was immediately obvious to me that the festival seemed more about socializing, more about interaction than about music. The crowds are highly mobile. It's communal in the most wide-eyed and optimistic way possible. Which, I suppose, is a positive thing, though it could leave some attendees a little disheartened and yearning for something more.
My own thoughts were proved true when I spoke with Rachel Atkinson, a teacher from Texas. When asked for her reasons for attending, she admitted that she “really wanted to see Les Claypool, but more than that I just like being around this scene. There are people from everywhere and everyone is so friendly.”
Perhaps this atmosphere is reflected in the music. While most would refer to the acts as “jam bands,” there was a fair amount of depth to the music offerings beyond that wide genre. The key to (most) all acts featured was the presence of “groove,”which is to say that the music was easy to dance to.
One of the more ironic aspects of the festival was the demographics. While the majority of the festival attendees were most certainly 30 and under, there were significant pockets of adults (and kids, for that matter). This, of course, does not smack of irony. It was, instead, the racial makeup of the festival that I found somewhat ironic. I would venture to guess that close to 99% of the audience was white. Given the heavy focus on “funk” at the festival, I found that aspect humorous.
While there were several bands featuring African-Americans as singers, etc., it occurred to me that everything was occurring through a filter. The “jam” bands were offering funky music in a more tangible way. It's safe. The experiences of the band and the music that pours forth from the band is something the audience easily relates to. A connection is more easily made than it would be with someone like Sly Stone. By no means do I think this is a conscious choice, just a somewhat subliminal manifestation, perhaps. All of us have different experiences, and those experiences shape the connections we make.
In the end, it is those connections we make that are most important. And it was thus, perhaps, that all those eccentric folks were seeking: a chance to make a connection with others in their own way. With apologies to the great E.M. Forster, the epigraph “only connect” may be just as suited for Wakarusa as it was for Howard's End.
OTHER THOUGHTS FROM PETER
5 Things You're Likely To See at Wakarusa:
1. Pale skin and sunburns
2. Hula hoops
3. Dirty feet
5. Questionable Dance Moves
5 Things You're Likely To Smell at Wakarusa:
1. Body Odor (sweaty dancers)
2. Burning plant life
3. Feces (porta potties)
5. More Body Odor
5 Things I was (somewhat) Surprised To See at Wakarusa:
1. Hula hooping lesbians in combat boots.
2. People getting high using a magnifying glass instead of a lighter.
3. An inordinate amount of Greek life channeling their inner hippie.
4. A girl dressed up as Alex from A Clockwork Orange.
5. (Naked) Painted titties
3 Things I Didn't Want to See on Men:
1. Leopard print leotards
2. Lieutenant Dangle Outfits
3. Rotund gentlemen in grass skirts and coconut bras
Peter can be reached at email@example.com