With weather patterns as dynamic as the band lineup, Lawrence, KS played host to the first-ever Wakarusa Festival. Situated on the grounds of Clinton Lake State Park, festival organizers found an ideal plot of land that offered boating, multiple Frisbee golf courses, and plenty of open space in addition to four days of camping and music. It didn't hurt that the campgrounds were divided into sections named after Simpsons characters. One of the unanticipated amenities provided to concertgoers was a "No Waka" shuttle service of school buses offering free rides from the campgrounds to the concert grounds around the clock.

Wakarusa :: 2004
A delayed flight out of Denver meant that I missed the majority of the music on Thursday night. A number of people in our group were most impressed by the Benevento/Russo Duo's performance in which Stanton Moore of Galactic joined the fray.

By all accounts, the most unforgettable moments of the first day materialized in the early morning hours of Friday when a vicious thunderstorm rolled through the concert grounds. Sound Tribe Sector 9 had just finished their set at 4:00 a.m. as the winds picked up and the storm moved in. This wasn't merely a rainstorm--it was an absolute downpour with constant flashes of nearby lightning and crashes of thunder that were felt as well as heard. A number of tents were found overturned or ripped the next morning, lending credence to the locals saying it was the worst storm in recent memory.


Austin's Papa Mali turned in the first solid performance of the day on Friday with a brief but spirited slew of songs. Violinist Theresa Andersson joined the group for the set, adding an interesting flavor to the mix. This is a band that makes for a fun night out with high-energy, danceable music and quality musicianship.

Neal McKeeby of Drums & Tuba
Wakarusa :: 2004
Drums & Tuba were a bit late kicking things off, which proved to be a nice bonus for those trying to make it over from Papa Mali's show. This is a band I had seen several years back open for Galactic and wasn't too impressed with. As it turned out, they have evolved from a novel idea into a fantastic band. Brian Wolff (tuba) and Tony Nozero (drums) complemented each other extraordinarily well, and Neal McKeeby provided an impressive display by playing two guitars at once: one held in his hands, the other locked into a standing rack. The guitar stunts and other sound effects produced were more than just interesting ideas--they contributed to the sound in such a way that the live recordings will stand on their own. D&T was the most improved band I've seen in the last couple years.

Heading back to the other stage, we got to check out Tishamingo. Who? Yeah, we weren't quite sure either. The band itself wound up having a nice broad sound, rooted in southern rock. They aren't afraid to get a little funky, either. One of the bigger highlights was a tasty version of Little Feat's "Skin It Back." By this point, the band had attracted the attention of a few other musicians now watching things from behind the stage. Between songs, Galactic's Robert Mercurio shouted out a request for "Margaritaville," which wasn't granted but drew a couple chuckles. Fans of Widespread Panic would be advised to catch Tishimango the next time they come through town.

We wound up staying at Tishimango for longer than expected, and only got to catch the end of the Hackensaw Boys. Bluegrass with an edge--and an act we would catch the next day.

Greyhounds :: Wakarusa :: 2004
Next on the list were Greyhounds. This is a band offering up some lighter funk, and had immediate credibility with me after Ani DiFranco made a cameo on their last album Liberty. While they put on a decent show, it felt a bit uninspired alongside the massive talent we saw that night. It seemed as though we had caught a talented band with great vocals on an off night.

The next notable act was Sound Tribe Sector 9. While they aren't usually my cup of tea, they turned in an interesting performance. As always, Sound Tribe delivered a high-octane display with an intriguing amalgam of electronica and improvisation. Although their organic sound is the product of all members adding their piece, Zach Velmer garners the most attention with his frenzied attack on the drum kit. This show wound up being every bit as good as the one the night before.

Papa Mali with Theresa Andersson
Wakarusa :: 2004
Decisions, decisions, decisions. MOFRO, Leftover Salmon, or Robert Randolph? Unfair! Our group wound up being pretty evenly divided between the shows, and everyone came back happy. MOFRO gave a funky performance while those seeing Leftover Salmon were treated to a guest appearance by Fareed Haque on guitar. I instead headed for the Robert Randolph stage, and couldn't have been happier. Impressive handiwork on the slide guitar and a relentless rhythm section put the crowd in a dancing mood right off the bat. After a fiery rendition of "Purple Haze," Marc Broussard decided to join the party and offered his incredible vocal talents to the Stevie Wonder classic "Boogie On Reggae Woman." The band was on point and found a solid groove early on in the show. By the end of the night, they pulled out all the stops, culminating in a triumphant "rotation jam" where the band members took turns on each other's instruments without letting up in the least.

After gospel rock with Robert Randolph, we raced over to see the end of the Jazz Mandolin Project. We managed to catch only three songs, but a very impressive three at that: "Xenoblast" and "Oh Yeah," which are my two favorite JMP tunes, as well as Led Zeppelin's "What Is And What Should Never Be." Jamie Masefield has always maintained that Lawrence is his favorite city to play in, and the band certainly plays as if that were the case. Between their show that night and the next day, JMP solidified their status in my mind as one of the premier acts in live music today.

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