June 3rd, 2012 at 4:49 pm
As the sun finally broke free from the clouds on an Arkansas Saturday (June 2), Wakarusa’s crowds spent the afternoon soaking in the rays and music from an eclectic set of performers. The temperatures created a buzz that could be felt throughout the festival grounds, and clothing came in shorter supplies as a result of the midafternoon sun. Someone stationed at the southern tollbooth told me that a fairly steady stream of cars were still pulling in to the venue in Franklin County until about 8 p.m. By then, however, much music had already taken place. I saw several shows, and some notes about each of them follow below.
The festival continues through tonight (June 3) on Mulberry Mountain.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, 2:40 p.m., Backwoods Stage
I caught about half of Jason Isbell’s set, and I wished I’d caught more. Isbell is a heck of a songwriter, something he proved when he was a member of the Drive-By Truckers and with his three records as the leader of the 400 Unit. He played mostly from those latter three albums for a smallish crowd, with a highlight provided courtesy of the sad and desolate song “Alabama Pines.” When he reached into the DBT catalog, he did so for a song with an even dimmer outlook on life, the hauntingly beautiful “Goddamn Lonely Love.”
The Lumineers, 4:20 p.m., Backwoods Stage
When an unknown band releases their debut album in April and just two months later the crowd is already singing every word to every song, it says a lot for the band. That’s precisely the passion generated by Denver-based band The Lumineers, who performed for about 500 fans, about half of which danced in view of the stage. The band is self-described as front porch folk, but it covers other genres, too, such as country and rock. Although they recorded as a trio, the band was a five piece in a live setting. They delivered the goods, moving between their best-known song, “Ho Hey,” to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The band pulled off all of it well, and much of that is due to the magnetic presence of lead singer Wesley Schultz. The band compares themselves to bands such as The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. The comparisons are accurate, and The Lumineers may well be on the path to stardom themselves.
Del McCoury Band, 8 p.m., Outpost Stage
As we continue to lose bluegrass heroes, Del McCoury remains, a perfectly dressed remnant of another time. And, another element of perfection remains – his voice, a high, lonesome call that meshes perfectly with his songs. Joined in the band by two of his songs, McCoury does not play often. It’s a treat every time he does. Songs such as “Nashville Cats,” which featured five performers, five voices and just one microphone, prove why McCoury is held in such high regard.
Primus, 11 p.m., Main Stage
I didn’t stay for much of Primus - I’ve seen them live fairly recently and I wanted to make it back to camp early. But what I did hear of Primus is exactly what fans have come to expect. Les Claypool beats the crowd into submission with his amazing skills on the bass guitar. His playing ability and speed are rarely match. It’s also hard to rival the band’s legendary weirdness, which was on full display Saturday night.