June 1st, 2013 at 6:50 pm
If there was a motto for the second day (May 31) of Wakarusa, it was this: Muddy, but determined.
Rains from the day before inundated the campground areas and, just as importantly, the walkways between the various stages. A puddle of mud covered the bulk of the main vendor area, and those without mud boots ended up falling down or wearing what looked like socks made of mud. I saw at least half a dozen abandoned shoes or sandals along the way.
More than one performer remarked how brave the various attendees were, and they were right. Anyone who was out was either a dedicated music fan or a wanton for punishment. Still, crowds for most of the sets were large, up until about the 1 a.m. hour, when another round of strong storms (perhaps the third the festival has experienced???) blitzed the festival grounds and music was stopped.
It’s hard understanding the breadth of the damage, considering the limitations of cell phone service and internet connections. But in my little corner of the campsite, at least a half dozen canopies were destroyed or upended. One of those canopies, one that belonged to my friend and was set up at my campsite, came unanchored during a particularly violent gust and flew over the top of my tent, eventually lodging in a tree beside my campsite. A camp chair stuck to the outside of my tent for several minutes, until I dislodged it in the middle of a downpour.
Such has been the case for Wakarusa in recent years, but I can’t imagine a worse scenario than the current state of affairs. I’m effectively stuck in my area; so many cars have already been lost in the mud on my access street I know there isn’t a chance for my little sports car. Pipeline Productions, the company responsible for both this festival and the upcoming Thunder on the Mountain country music festival, will have a tremendous amount of work to make the grounds presentable for the latter of those events.
Despite the challenges in getting around, there was much to see in the way of quality live music yesterday. Below is a brief description of what I say throughout the day.
Delta Rae, 1 p.m., Mainstage
I fondly remember my first Delta Rae show. It happened last fall at Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival, and it contained a healthy dose of harmony and magic. The North Carolina band didn’t disappoint early in the day’s events on a much larger stage at Wakarusa. Somehow perpetually on the verge of stardom, but not quite there, they only furthered the wonderment at why they aren’t huge. Particularly, their take on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and their own “Dance in the Graveyard” stood out among a packed 45-minute set.
The Whigs, 2 p.m., Revival Tent
Similarly, I’ve watched Athens, Ga., trio The Whigs before with promising returns. And, similarly, the did not disappoint. The group carries on the banner of Sonic Youth and other noise rock proponents, but The Whigs straightforward approach to rock ‘n’ roll is more on the melodic side of the equation. They are high velocity, and just as high quality.
Deap Vally, 3 p.m., Revival Tent
Perhaps one of the most unknown quantities at the festival were the Los Angeles duo known as Deap Vally. With just an EP to their credit, the group played to a sparse but knowing crowd. Perhaps best described as a boogie in a bra, the somewhat scantily dressed pair thundered through a set of rock music tempered by the sounds of Led Zeppelin but also reminiscent of groups such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes. The group’s loose approach was painfully crafted, and it worked more often than not, including during a brand new song about bad habits.
Allen Stone, 3 p.m., Mainstage
By the time I got to Allen Stone, he was a couple songs into his set. My girlfriend described him as “completely adorable” and a friend described him as “better live than he was on his album.” He turned a soggy Wakarusa mainstage area into a dance party, pitting the different sides of the venue against each other.
Of Monsters and Men, 5 p.m., Revival Tent
Wakarusa’s biggest error of the festival (other than failing to get some mulch down on the muddy walkways, but that’s another story) comes from scheduling the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men to a stage smaller than the mainstage. The group clearly deserved something more than a sidestage based on the size of their crowd, which spilled out in all directions from the stage, extending far beyond the reach of the actual tent covering. For all the buzz surrounding them, Of Monsters and Men didn’t generate the electricity of many others I witnessed throughout the day. The group sounded very similar to their debut album, which fits nicely within the current explosion of earnest folk rock songs adorned with diverse instrumentations. It was a chatty crowd (a sure sign of distraction) but they responded generously to the band’s biggest hit, “Little Talks.”
Son Volt, 6:45 p.m., Revival Tent
Following Of Monsters and Men was another low-energy show, this one authored by Jay Farrar’s Son Volt. Presented with a second dose of sleepy folk rock, I soon found myself wishing for something more. That’s not a hit on Son Volt — I own a half dozen of their albums and have watched them half a dozen times throughout the years, including several very good live sets. But I was sleepy, and I went elsewhere.
ZZ Ward, 7:45 p.m., Backwoods Stage
Elsewhere in this case meant to the backwoods stage, where upcoming singer-songwriter ZZ Ward performed a set of lyrically dark but musically upbeat tunes. Backed by a three piece funk/blues band, Ward impressed with her voice, but also with her versatility. She performed alternately on guitar and harmonica, and her backing band switched between soul and funk and even a turn at the blues during a cover of a Son House song.
Mutemath, 8:30 p.m. Revival Tent
I only caught the second half of Mutemath’s set, but I’m glad I made it there. The band’s version of mostly instrumental, heavy-on-lights music fits in nicely with many other Waka artists, but there’s is reliant a little less on improvisation and more on groove. They found a nice one on Friday night.
Dispatch, 10:15 p.m. Main Stage
Friday night’s headliners came out firing, but on a very subdued level. Dispatch started the evening acoustic, then graduated into heavier jams as the night continued. I didn’t hear much of their set, as I’d heard of the impending bad weather, I wanted to return to camp. I did hear their biggest hit, “The General,” from my campsite, so that was nice. They ended their set about 30 minutes before the rain and winds came and stormed the site.
Music is already going today (June 1) and I anticipate a good day, both music and weather wise. We’ll report back here and via Twitter as the day progresses.