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Published: 2012/06/05
by Rob Slater

Doc Watson Tributes, West Coast Musician Sit ins and Weather Delays Mark Wakarusa

Music fans from all corners of the country descended on Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, AR from May 31-June 3 for the ninth edition of Wakarusa Music Festival, and little did they know that Mother Nature had a surprised, unannounced set to play for them on the final day. Many will remember this weekend for what happened on Sunday, when severe thunderstorms and high winds producing tornadoes threatened to ruin the finale. However, the memories of the first three days: the collaborations, covers, and energetic performances, are not overshadowed by the sheer chaos that ensued on Sunday.

With the weather clear and sunny for day one, the tone was set with several notable performances, the highlight of those being the Weir, Robinson, and Greene Acoustic Trio. Taking the Main Stage, the Grateful Dead guitarist flanked by Black Crowes’ frontman and singer/songwriter Greene set off on a 90-minute journey through heartfelt acoustic compositions that commanded the crowd from start to finish. Working through Grateful Dead numbers “Bird Song,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Throwing Stones” and “New Speedway Boogie,” the band had the packed house swaying and dancing well into the night. Also working in a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy” along with The Beatles classic “Dear Prudence,” the set had the perfect vibe to start the festival and lead into the late night activities.

Collaborations were also a theme on this first day, as Jackie Greene joined California rockers ALO for a version of “Lady Loop.” Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth also lent some of his violin talents to Tea Leaf Green’s late night set in the Revival Tent.

While the fun was had on Thursday night during Pretty Lights, Tea Leaf Green, and a host of other late night sets, Mother Nature was planning her preemptive strike on Mulberry Mountain. An unexpected cold front moved through on Friday, bringing frigid wind and heavy cloud cover, forcing attendees to bundle up. That wasn’t enough to stop the music, however, as the best lineup of the festival took to the stage, starting with the always reliable Royal Family Ball featuring Soulive and Lettuce. As Eric Krasno and Co. get ready to release their new album (_FLY_ to be released June 5) the funk powerhouse warmed up the crowd perfectly for the Friday night headliners.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros were next in line to bring their energy to the stage, and rarely do they disappoint in that category. Front man Alex Ebert was all over the grounds during their 90-minute set as the band ripped through tracks from their wildly popular debut album, Up From Below. Classics like “Home” and “40 Day Dream” wowed the crowd, setting the stage for more folk from The Avett Brothers. The brothers paid tribute to the late Doc Watson toward the end of their set with an a capella version of Watson’s “Down in the Valley to Pray.”

As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, Umphrey’s McGee took the stage for the first of their two scheduled sets. Kicking off the late night activities, the Chicago jam kings went through huge jam vehicles such as “Wappy Sprayberry,” “In the Kitchen,” as well as a monster version of “Der Bluten Kat” which featured elements of “The Linear” wedged in between both huge sections of the aforementioned “Der Bluten Kat.” The nearly two hour performance left the crowd satisfied and energized for their potential late night endeavors. Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Brendan Bayliss didn’t get enough during his band’s set apparently, as he took time to sit in with longtime friends New Monsoon, who were without their lead guitarist. Big Gigantic saxophonist Dominic Lalli also found himself on many stages before his band’s scheduled set, as he appeared with Break Science as well as his former The Motet on Friday evening. (Umphrey’s McGee bassist Ryan Stasik also tried his hand at Relix intern and slang a few subs in Relix booth while Toubab Krewe stopped by for a short set for potential subscribers.)

As we head into the penultimate day, survival mode began to kick in as the wear and tear of the weekend started to take its toll. Mother Nature spared her subjects for most of this day, as the clouds dissipated and the sun greeted the eager souls of Mulberry Mountain. The afternoon stanza of performances featured the likes of G. Love & Special Sauce (who performed a mean cover of Biz Markie’s hit, “Just a Friend”), Fitz & The Tantrums, and what has been hailed as the best set of the weekend, Gary Clark Jr. As the good music got an early start on this day, the weather would soon worsen as we moved into the evening sets.

Thunderstorms would interrupt Big Gigantic’s late night set, but that was not before the likes of Keller Williams and The Del McCoury Band paid tribute to Levon Helm with “Up On Cripple Creek,” and Umphrey’s McGee backed up Primus as both bands delivered two sets worth the price of admission. Umphrey’s broke out their reliable Talking Heads cover “Girlfriend is Better,” and moved through classics, “Hajimemashite,” “Plunger,” and the show stopping “40’s Theme” while Primus dropped 75 minutes of heavy rock featuring a ton of material off of Green Naugahyde. The rain would move in shortly after Big Gigantic took the stage, forcing the festival to shut down before all of the late night activities were through. Score one for Mother Nature on this night, and unfortunately, her fun was just beginning.

Fans awoke on Sunday morning to find marble-sized hail and severe thunderstorms plaguing the last day of Wakarusa. The morning session was spent tying everything you owned to the ground to prevent it from blowing away, and attempting to stay dry for the remainder of the day. While most were unsuccessful in this quest, the skies eventually cleared, and the music served as a distraction and therapy for most who had been through the inclement weather. Reggae bands SOJA and Slightly Stoopid eased the mood initially, drawing some of the biggest crowds of the weekend before Matisyahu took the stage for his set.

The reggae themed day was a perfect combatant to Mother Nature’s fury earlier in the day. The people needed a calming force, and bands like Slightly Stoopid, Matisyahu, and Keller Williams were able to provide them with that, ending Wakarusa 2012 in grand fashion, proving that Mother Nature is no match for the power of music.

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