More music. More bands. More attendees, and they just kept trickling in on Friday

June 5th, 2010 at 9:36 am

Umphrey's McGee. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media

Yes, if there is a word for this year’s Wakarusa, which continues through Sunday (June 6), it might indeed be more.

Groups such as Black Joe Lewis, Umphrey’s McGee, STS9 and so many more performed here at the festival, which might have drawn as many as 22,000 music fans to the sloping hillsides of the Mulberry Mountain area on Arkansas 23. I met folks from states one would expect to be a draw, such as Georgia and Louisiana, there were plenty from elsewhere, and I talked to folks from both Montana and Hawaii (yes, that Hawaii).

While most of the crowd arrived on Wednesday night and into Thursday, a steady stream of folks made their way on Friday, too. Thursday saw a little congestion, but there was less to worry of on Friday. The antics are well underway.

We’re only halfway through, but folks could have seen a man dressed as a tree (he won a costume contest) hula hoopers in every direction and, on a hot day, plenty of dirt, sweat and bare skin.

And, of course, plenty of music. Black Joe Lewis was electric onstage. So was JJ Grey. So were a lot of other acts.

Technical difficulties prevented us from catching music until the afternoon.

We started with Austin, Texas blues revivalists Black Joe Lewis, dressed in black and white and ready to rock.

The group, complete with a three-piece horn section, tore through covers of songs by The Stooges and Freddy Fender in addition to their own songs, notably “I’m Broke” and “Sugarfoot,” which audience members kept screaming for until it was played.

Perhaps two thousand people braved the peak of the afternoon sun — on a day that was brutally warm — to see the show.

JJ Grey

A lot of them stayed for Florida’s JJ Grey and Mofro, the group that followed Black Joe Lewis on the mainstage. JJ Grey also brought a horn section, and the group played what might be best described as swamp boogie: a muddy blast of soulful, muscular rock ’n’ roll.

JJ Grey complained that the heat was affecting his guitar, so he put down that instrument for a while and played harmonica instead.

He played several songs off a record that he expects will be released in August, but he also played several tunes off of earlier releases, tunes such as “Lochloosa.” He quipped that he likes playing at Wakarusa because it gives him a chance to rhyme with the title of that song.

He also played a cover of “Hoochie Coochie Man,” before slowing it down with a new one of his own, “King Hummingbird.” That was a minor hiccup: fans don’t come to festivals to hear slow songs, they wanna rock. He later obliged them with “Orange Blossoms” and “She’s On Fire,” but not before telling a 5-minute long story about a woman’s backside first.

He was energetic live, as always, and the strengths of those behind him made me think that all bands should have a horn section.

Which had me in a mood, apparently, so I skipped the technically proficient and altogether great bluegrass band Railroad Earth for Dirtfoot, which has a saxophone player. They group is from Louisiana, and they call what they do Cajun grumble boogie.

It’s a strange thing indeed, as a combination of acoustic guitar, banjo, drums and saxophone is destined for failure.

They treat their version with enthusiasm and wit, and some 800 or so fans surrounding the Backwood Stage to dance along with them and shake tin cans full of dry beans — provided by the band — along with the beat.

Back at the mainstage, Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee put down a thick groove of jam rock. The crowds in the mainstage area had swelled by the time they arrived, and perhaps 5,000 or more were gathered when they took the stage just before 8 p.m.

Those who were there were treated to a barrage of sounds and, as the sun dropped over the mountaintops, a light show to match.

Speaking of a light show, the group that played after Umphrey’s, STS9, might be as well known for their visual product as what they do onstage.

The traffic at the gate to enter the mainstage area was so great it took a full 25 minutes to pass through the bag check.

Thousands were there to watch STS9’s electronic-tempered groove, which does not contain vocals.


Their light show extended far into the crowd, well beyond the region of the stage.

And it all continues today. Groups such as Widespread Panic, The Black Keys, and Zappa Plays Zappa all play today.