By Nick Brothers
To go along with the Wakarusa Survival Guide, I interviewed some Wakarusaians who have been to Mulberry Mountain several times. Here are some of their stories.
Sweet, Sweet Bassnectar
The air was sweltering with thick heat the night Luke Vo, of Fayetteville, went to see Bassnectar perform at a midnight show in the Revival Tent at Wakarusa in 2010.
The Revival Tent is one of the smaller stages, which made for a more intimate show. Although Bassnectar had been around since the early 2000s, a new electronic musical style that heavily featured modulated bass, dubstep, had just come out onto the underground music scene. Bassnectar’s two EPs in 2010, “Bass Head” and “Time Stretch,” were blowing up with popularity. Bassnectar will be headlining this year’s Wakarusa.
The tent only made for a container of humidity and body heat, but it didn’t phase the crowd — because Bassnectar was killin’ it.
It was Vo’s first time at the festival. Earlier, he and his group ended up becoming friends with a group from Memphis, Tenn., and people all around him and his friends had brought gallons of water and were sharing among the intimate crowd of people in the tent. Everyone was dancing. The music had crazy, repetitive, mechanical, robotic, bass-crazy sounds and Vo and everyone else were so happy to be there.
“It was so fucking hot,” Vo recalled. “Everyone was having such a good time they didn’t want to leave.”
Then, during the song “Teleport Masses,” two of Vo’s friends locked arms and raised him up into the crowd. They bounced him up and down like a trampoline. During the next 20 seconds, everything seemed to come to him at once in a swirl of joy. The rising over the crowd, the new perspectives, the community and friendship and — of course — the bad-ass music.
“I remember seeing everything,” Vo said. “I had never seen the whole stage setup before, just feeling like I was on top of the world. I just couldn’t be happier at that one time and it was just an awesome show.”
In this moment, Vo became a committed festivalgoer.
I’m With The Band
Mary Karsten, of Fayetteville, was trying to find some friends at the RV campsite to say hello and have a beer between shows at last year’s Wakarusa at about 9 p.m. one day, when she ran into one of their neighbors, an older gentleman.
He was sweet, maybe in his 60s, and he was from Austin, Texas. After talking with Karsten for a bit, he told her how he was the father of one of the artists playing at the festival for the first time, Henry and the Invisibles. He was helping recruit people for his son’s one-man-funk-band act. Soon enough, the fedora and aviator sunglasses wearin’ Henry came by and introduced himself.
“I know it’s during one of the bigger shows, but I play on the Backwoods stage soon, you should come check it out,” he said, offering her a flyer. “If you want to hand out flyers, that’d be cool.”
Feeling a little tipsy, Karsten figured sure, let’s do it. Soon enough she met up with her friends, and she told them about Henry and his one-man-funk-band capabilities. They decided to skip Widespread Panic to go see Henry and the Invisibles.
Once they got there, there was only about 50 people when the show started. The music started with a funky drum loop, and Henry took it from there. He laid down every part himself — the bass, synths, guitar, tambourine and his own sultry voice. It was like watching Sly & The Family Stone with one man playing every instrument. This guy could funk all by himself, and he was good.
“I danced more at that show than I did at any other that weekend,” Karsten said. “It makes you get down.”
On a whim, Karsten had discovered one of her new favorite bands. The next day, Karsten ended up finding Henry again and told him how amazing his set was. They later found each other on Facebook and Karsten has since been trying to get him booked in Fayetteville.
Wagon Wheel & Sons
Brett Moisman, the director of Wakarusa, had one of his most memorable moments backstage in 2011, when Mumford & Sons were one of the headliners of Wakarusa.
He and some other staff were in the artist’s lounge finishing up some dinner when Mumford & Sons came in and started their own impromptu jam session, pickin’ along to whatever they felt like.
During the next three hours, the jam session kept growing to the point there were 200-300 staff including maybe five other bands who had joined in to watch and sing along. It was during the headliner concert, but this was the place to be.
Then, they all started to sing “Wagon Wheel,” an unfinished Bob Dylan song made famous by Old Crow Medicine Show. Everyone was singing together at this point, some dancing arm in arm. It was all so emotional, and many of the staff were in tears and smiling ear to ear with feelings of “we did it!”
“It was definitely a goose-bump moment that was magical and that nobody who was there would ever forget,” Moisman said. “That’s what’s so cool about Wakarusa with the 150 artists there, you get see sit-ins and collaborations that you never get to see when they’re on tour.”
Wakarusa embodies more than a music festival. It garners a community that encourages unity and love. Kathy Cain, a licensed minister and medical clinician who goes by the username of cr8urkarma on Waka forums, actually unites people in love at on-site weddings during the festival.
The sun was setting on the Mulberry River when Cain had a young couple say their vows to each other. They were standing knee deep in the cool, flowing water, smooth mud and stones beneath their feet. It was an intimate setting, and only maybe 10 of their friends were in attendance. Even some onlookers on the bank joined in.
After Cain had the couple read each other their vows, she had them bow down.
“Hear the wind and the trees, the leaves,” Cain said. “Hear their approval of this ceremony, their speaking. Feel the water rushing by your legs. It’s infinite and ever changing, just like your love.”
After Cain pronounced them husband and wife, Cain gave them flowers to place in the water to symbolize the water carrying their love down the river. Later, a man came up to Cain and told her the ceremony was beautiful.
“If I get married I want you to do it,” Cain recalled he said. “That wedding brought tears to my eyes and I don’t cry.”