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Wednesday, 08 June 2011 13:38

Concert review: Wakarusa Festival ranges far and wide, June 2-5

Grace Potter at Wakarusa Grace Potter at Wakarusa Jim Bruce
Written by Jim Bruce

Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival has a well-earned reputation for bringing together a wide variety of acts from all across the musical spectrum. Whether it's reggae, rock, bluegrass or dubstep Waka brings it all.

This year featured over 120 different acts on 6 different stages. Situated on beautiful Mulberry Mountain just outside Ozark, Arkansas, I don't think you could find a much better spot to hold a festival.

Day One:
I start off by seeing the kickoff act Totojojo, a young band out of Joplin, Mo. that I think we'll be hearing more from. They have a bouncy island feel, the perfect way to start a festival at this beautiful site. Since this is the first day I decide to see as many bands as possible, because I know my energy level will go down as the weekend progresses.

North Mississippi Allstars Duo are the first act I see on the Main Stage, and as always Luther Dickinson does not disappoint. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals are up next. I have been wanting to see them for a while now and again I'm not disappointed.

I hurry over to the Revival Tent to catch Buckethead and there he is in all his KFC bucket glory shredding like Slash. Man! This place will keep you on the move. Back to the Main Stage for Michael Franti and Spearhead, easily the best set of the day. The show ends with at least 50 people from the crowd dancing on stage! Still on the move I hurry over to the Outpost Stage to see Cornmeal. Allie Kral always delights with her energetic and enthusiastic fiddle playing. I head back over to the Main Stage to catch Umphrey's McGee who seem to have taken a turn towards harder rock since the last time I've seen them. Time for bed, tomorrow will be the longest day of the festival.

Day Two:
This is the big for me. I start off by seeing Cornmeal again, this time in the Revival Tent. I've loved these guys since I first saw them busking on Shakedown Street at Camp Zoe five or six years ago. I head back over to the Main Stage to see Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Funky horns that just provide a massive groove. Up next, JJ Grey & Mofro. I'm in the photographers pit when I hear someone calling me from the stage "Hey Jim get up here and introduce the band." It's Chris Delucchi, JJ's long-time sound man. This is a big thrill for me. Introducing one of my favorite bands in front of this huge crowd. The temperature is around 100 degrees and JJ turns it up even hotter. Andrew Trube, Mofro's guitarist, nearly saws his lap steel in half. What a show!

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings follow, bringing their funky New York soul to the mountains of Arkansas. I have to hurry to get to the Revival Tent to catch Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, another band I've been wanting to see for a while. They give a very hot performance from a tight band. Back to the Main Stage to see My Morning Jacket. The jury is still out for me with them, but is was a strong set.

It's getting late now and it's time to get in to the deep water, Dark Star Orchestra performing the Grateful Dead's performance from 11/11/71 in Atlanta, Georgia. I stay until 4 a.m. I must sleep now.

Day Three:
I start with Rebelution -- conscious reggae with wailing saxophone. I stay at the Main Stage to see Galactic; I missed them yesterday and I'm not going to let that happen again. If you like New Orleans funk and groove it doesn't get any better. I believe drummer Stanton Moore is a human metronome. Chicago's Family Groove Company is next on the Outpost Stage. It's nice and shady here so I decide to hang around and see Marrakesh Express, a CSN tribute that just seems to make it feel cooler.

I need a break from the heat so I head for the air conditioning and a nap, if you don't get your rest at these things you won't survive.

Feeling rested and refreshed I head back to the Main Stage to see Ben Harper & Relentless7. They open with "Burn One Down" and that seems about right. Midway through their set they bust into Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" followed by Neil Young's "Ohio". This is one of the best shows of the festival.

Day Four:
Not much gas left in the tank today. I know I don't have much energy left so I decide to save what I have left for some highlights. The crowd seems much smaller today or maybe everyone is in the same shape as me. John Brown's Body pumps the rhythms in the Revival Tent where it's nice and shady. I just can't take the sun today, but can't wait to see Toots & The Maytals tonight. The wait was worth it, to be able to see a legend like Toots Hibbard in a setting like this is truly an amazing experience.

So with a heavy heart I head back to camp bringing my 2011 Wakarusa journey to a satisfactory close.

Wakarusa once again provides a wonderful experience both sonic and scenic. I want to give big thanks to Emily Ginsberg for providing a great environment for media coverage and Jason Stanek for his photography also Don Crawford of Gibson Guitars for letting me use his bus when I needed a quiet to call KDHX.

All photos by Jim Bruce (save the photo of Jim, which is by Jason Stanek).

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