People with weekend passes were enraged when they arrived to the front gates only to be turned away due to road conditions, with no chance of a refund, and the people that were inside were growing restless as their favorite bands were canceled. The show must go on, however, and the people got just what they needed Saturday.
Day Three, June 1
In its 10 year history, Wakarusa has seen its fair share of rain. As the festival is located in the turbulent Midwest, one could only expect as much. However, only the past five years have been spent in the "Natural State." Named after a tributary of the Kansas River, the festival's humble origins began in Lawrence, Kan. in 2004. Held in the beautiful Clinton State Park, the festival began as a small celebration of around 5,000 people and included a heavy lineup of local bluegrass and electronica along with some veterans of the genres. Clinton State Park was a great location for the event, aside from one thing -- the fact that the grounds were held on a state park meant that rangers and authorities could make their way in to check things out on any given notice. This led to a search for a new, bigger and better venue on private property that would meet the needs of the festival while maintaining the natural scenery. The switch was made to Mulberry Mountain in 2009, and the festival continues to be hosted on this site to this day. There are no signs of changing any time soon.
Deep in the valley forests laid another smaller venue with just as much character as the Satellite Stage. The Backwoods Stage, while the smallest of the five stages, provided just enough space for the weekend's bluegrass bands and the hootenannies they brought with them. The wooden and worn structure with a tapered roof had the feel of an old Wild West saloon and accented the sounds of acoustic guitars, fiddles and upright basses quite nicely. When the electronic music of the Satellite Stage and the mud of the main stage got tiresome, Backwoods was the place to retreat. With the sun finally shining its light down on the valley, Langhorne Slim took the stage. Front man Sean Scolnick of Langhorne, Pa. came armed with a good old-fashioned six string and a gang wielding a banjo, upright bass and a drum kit to help bring some Americana music to the people who needed writing essays it.
As the hoedown commenced, the crowded audience stomped and cheered in a way that had not quite been seen yet at the festival. For the first time all weekend, there was no worry of weather -- neither cloudy skies nor biting breeze, just a noticeable jubilant energy in celebration of the agreeable weather. The victoriously melodic bluegrass jams was the perfect anthem to this newfound bliss.
As the sun set, a crowd began to form in front of the main stage as Gogol Bordello put on an energetic show that provided the perfect gypsy-carnival soundtrack that suited the scene that was Wakarusa. The energy and fortitude of lead singer Eugene Hutz, fiddler Sergey Ryabtsev and the rest of the crew was contagious as they sprinted around stage, throwing guitars, spilling wine in an incredible spectacle.
Earphunk played its tribute show, Daft Phunk, soon after at the Technaflora Outpost. The five-piece band brought blue jumpsuits and glowing rave sunglasses and played behind a vail of fog and laser lights that made for an absolute sensory overload along with their renditions of all the Daft classics. The big finale for the night was the trip hop producer from Oregon, RJD2; however, due to scheduling confusion, he was unable to perform -- much to his fans' dismay. This was his second year missing his performance.
Saturday was a welcome sigh of relief as the first truly great day of weather had a great line up to match it. People were able to enjoy the sounds and sights, (while not necessarily the smells), and for just a little while forget about their mud-drenched tents and sleeping bag waterbeds. With any luck, the final day of the festival would be just as good.
Day Four, June 2
With the previous day's sunshine allowing the muddy roads to dry just enough to drive on, many people decided that four days rolling around in the mud was a little much. As cars lined up to leave, the tourists were thinned out and the crowd became more and more pure with diehard festival-goers. Things were going to get strange as the final acts of the weekend prepared for their performances.
By the fourth day of any festival, the reality of the situation truly sets in. After what feels like four life times, the property begins to look not unlike a landfill as the grounds keepers are unable to keep up with the litter strewn throughout the land, much to the horror of the Earth-loving hippy. The debris hosed out of Porta Potties for four days running coats the ground and tests any immune system, while the fried brains of the hardcore partiers make for the most unpredictable and unbelievable behavior. There's nothing quite like a day four of a festival; human nature is reduced to its rawest form after being worn away by the elements and the substances, and if you can get past the smell, it's truly an experience that everyone should have at least once.
Waka 2013 saw a great lineup to be played out on. Icona Pop, a Swedish best-friend DJ duo, surprised the crowd at the Revival Tent with an energetic and sexy performance. With pop lyrics mixed with electronic beats, the girls alternated from jumping around stage singing their songs to hovering over their machines creating heavy house-synth sounds. One of the crowd favorites for the weekend, Snoop Lion, exhaled an iconic cloud of smoke as he walked out onto the stage after a dramatic introduction explaining his supposed reasons for his recent rebranding. While it was exciting to see the Boss Dogg in the flesh, the performance was less than great as he mumbled and missed lyrics to such classics as, "All I Do Is Win" and "California Girls."
The finale at the main stage for the weekend was the Brazilian electronic artist, Amon Tobin, truly a sight to see. Starting his set off perched inside his giant blank-white wall, illuminated and visibly conducting his computerized stomp-esque sounds, Tobin disappeared and morphed from man into machine as the blank wall became a giant canvas for unbelievable, mind-bending visualizations. His hour-and-a-half set of sensory overload allowed the masses to expel every last bit of partying they had left in them. After he stepped out of his box and took a bow, some people spent the rest of the night at one of the last two shows, some people left to clean up their campsites and get ready for the drive home tomorrow, while others passed out on some of the dry patches to be awaken in a confused state by cleanup crews in the morning. One thing was sure: when the sun came up the next day, you didn't have to go home, but you couldn't stay on the mountain.
In any other situation, Wakarusa could have been designated a disaster area with the conditions of a third-world country. But with all the harsh realities of Waka and any other music festival, there is a wonder to them. There are very few places left in the world where so many people can come together, live together in peace and happiness, enjoying the universal language of music and an endless library of drugs to escape the grips of reality for just a little while. Friendships and families are formed at these places that can either be ultimately just a memory or may go on to be continued at the next festival.
In this closed off, isolated society in the Age of the Internet, a lot can be learned from these gatherings. The only catch is you forget more things than you learn, so if you ever find yourself in the depths of a music festival, remember to take notes -- and keep your notebook dry.
All photos by Mike Gualdoni.