Wakarusa | 06.04 - 06.07 | Arkansas

Saturday, 06.06.09

Wakarusa 2009
Having packed most of the bands I wanted to see in the first two days, I was looking forward to a slightly slower-paced Saturday - and to a shower at a friend's cabin, too! Unfortunately, we drastically underestimated the time it would take for four women to shower and "get ready," so our first set on Saturday afternoon was JJ Grey & Mofro. It was a lazy, hot afternoon, and Grey's laid-back, Southern jam-rock grooves were just right, especially on songs like "Blackwater." Grey was definitely feeling the positive vibes of the weekend, and he stepped things up a notch with some rockin' harmonica solos on the last two songs of the set.

Next up on the Main Stage was Galactic, which showcased a slightly more rock 'n' roll sound than funk at this performance. Still, the rock 'n' roll was heavily subsidized by the funk influences, and Galactic made us grateful, especially on its covers of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" and the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," which featured vocals by JJ Grey.

I secretly was dreading the next show, and that's because the last time I heard G. Love & Special Sauce, I was a little put off. Can't put my finger on why, I just didn't enjoy the music. I think now that it was a combination of poor song selection and bad crowd vibe. Nevertheless, I was here and I was going to give it another shot. And I'm so glad I did. This was the most accessible I've seen G. Love; you didn't have to know and love his songs to enjoy the show. Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines sat in for a bit, as did Luther Dickinson (Black Crowes, North Mississippi Allstars) and a few other musicians whose names I didn't catch. A brief foray into The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" sent the crowd into fits. I've always thought G. Love was talented but I just haven't always found him to provide a positive entertainment experience. This time he did.

The Black Crowes followed on the Main Stage and wasted no time in getting things rocking, Southern style. As my friend with the daughter put it, the Crowes offered a style of Southern rock that no one else at Waka even touched, and, of course, they excelled at it. Plus, the Crowes bring us Luther Dickinson, a Southern favorite, native of Mississippi and lead guitarist/founder of the North Mississippi Allstars. His new-virtuoso style and slide-guitar skills bring something to the table that the Crowes previously lacked, while not altering the band's signature sound or imprint. Dickinson, though not as jumpy, flamboyant or energetic as lead singer Chris Robinson, is amazing to watch, especially if you're a fan of guitar solos.

Chris Robinson - The Black Crowes :: Wakarusa 2009
Neither Robinson nor Dickinson was a disappointment Saturday night, as both were clearly in their respective moments. The band opened with "Move It On Down the Line," sounding as tight as ever. Not long into the set, old favorite "Jealous Again" hit and then a few newer songs, including the Latin American-tinged "High Head Blues." I confess to getting lost in the songs somewhere, so I don't recall which particular song it was ("Nonfiction"?), but one tune about halfway through the two-hour show featured an extended super-psychedelic rock guitar jam that was very trippy. It was like each guitar was doing its own really tripped-out solo, and none of it sounded like it would possibly go with anything else, but then it somehow all blended together beautifully and harmoniously. I felt a little bit like I was watching Fantasia for the first time. For real. And the vocals all night were amazing, but they were particularly moving on "Poor Elijah," which featured, as several songs did, the Crowes' backup singers, and it also included a commanding slide guitar solo by Dickinson, much to the joy of the crowd.

After the Crowes, STS9 took the Revival Tent stage for a late night set, and it was just as high-energy, if not more so - because after all there was a roof this time! - than the previous night's Main Stage performance. The songs on this night seemed to cater to the younger set, weren't quite as long, and overall averaged a higher BPM than the previous evening's selection, which, of course, meant the place was packed with lots of younger folks dancing their butts off and throwing glow-sticks. The light show, again, was astounding.

Over in the Outpost Tent, Shpongle took the stage for the ravers in that area who needed something a little more techno-flavored than STS9. They got what they were looking for with Shpongle, a two-man ambient techno-trance group that, on this night at least, transformed the entire performance hall into a floor full of dance-crazed, energetic music fans. Bartender, I'll have what they're having!

Sunday, 06.07.09

John Molo - Moonalice :: Wakarusa 2009
On Sunday afternoon, we unfortunately had to leave, despite the fact that there were several bands (namely The Heavy Pets and Gomez) that we wanted to see that evening. However, before we left, we heard Charliehorse on the Backwoods Stage, in an alt-country, roots rock performance fit for any great and storied tavern stage. This band just keeps getting better and better.

So we packed up our campsite, got the worst sunburn of the weekend while doing it, and got the heck outta Dodge. There was a wait in the traffic line to get off the property, with many people leaving that afternoon. As we pulled away, we agreed that Wakarusa 2009 was a smashing success, and we'd do it again if it were only half as good. Suggestions for next year? Plan a better Sunday lineup, and have many, many more porta-potties on hand. Driving down the snaky, mountainous Highway 23, we purposely turned off the stereo, listened to the quiet of the wind and relished our favorite performances of the weekend.

Continue reading for more pics of Wakarusa 2009...

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