WAKARUSA : : MIDWEST MECCA

SATURDAY :: JUNE 19


Hackensaw Boys :: Wakarusa :: 2004
When the Hackensaw Boys assembled the stage on Saturday morning, a total of four people were in attendance. Four. And that included me. While waking up by the crack of noon proved to be an insurmountable task for many concertgoers, those that made it out wound up seeing a great show. They play good ol' bluegrass with rough and gritty vocals offsetting a fierce pace established by the band. While half the band looked as though they could have used a square meal and a good night's sleep, the music speaks for itself.

On the other stage, Kaki King was nearly finished. Fortunately we caught the last 20 minutes or so and were mesmerized. Without the aid of digital loops, she thumped out multiple bass lines while creating unique melodies and also slapping the guitar for some percussion. It's little wonder why she has opened for artists like Mike Gordon, Victor Wooten, Robert Randolph and Charlie Hunter: her playing at age 24 is awe-inspiring. I was more caught up in her performance than any other solo acoustic act I've ever seen (like Keller Williams or Tim Reynolds).


Signal Path :: Wakarusa :: 2004
The next nice surprise of the festival was Signal Path. A number of us wound up enjoying their performance quite a bit more than either Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Particle. It seems as though they are able to find a much deeper groove than Sound Tribe and are capable of producing a much more diverse sound. The songs--while still relying heavily on electronics--are much less linear or predictable as other bands often lumped into the same category. Fareed Haque and Kai Eckhardt were enjoying the show backstage while waiting to go on next. Great layering work on the keys and a drummer tutored by Stanton Moore make this a group of guys to keep an eye on.

Garaj Mahal was slated for the next slot, and didn't disappoint. Their best jam emerged in a great version of "Kick the Donkey," and fans of the Fareed Haque Group were grinning as the band launched into "Papyllon" at the end of the set. Although the bass was too low and the drums were too high in the mix, the band sounded great.


RW2C with Reed Mathis and Mike Dillon
Wakarusa :: 2004
Robert Walter's 20th Congress provided the finest collaboration of the weekend by far. Walter's tasteful musings on the keys were accented by longtime collaborator Cochemea Gastelum on saxophone, and the band recently announced the addition of drummer Jason Smart from the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Smart appears to fit right in with Walter's sound and has a phenomenal sense of timing, enabling him to punctuate the jams in the right spots. After covering a Miles Davis tune, the crowd went nuts as a number of guests joined the band. Stanton Moore sat in for a couple numbers, while Mike Dillon helped anchor the rhythm section on congas and the marimba. Smart's old buddy Reed Mathis was next in line, and got to crank out a nice bass solo before the mayhem was over. This was the "all-star jam" of the weekend that many had hoped to hear.

We next headed to Hairy Apes BMX with no clue of what we were about to hear. Mike Dillon assumed the lead role for the band this time around, and wound up bringing back a number of guests from the 20th Congress show that preceded him. The sound was one of the edgier of the festival, tempered by a Grassroots-era 311 sound in a number of parts. Dillon layered some nice vocals over the mix, with a pitch and delivery that is reminiscent of Mike D from the Beastie Boys. Garage a Trois band mate Stanton Moore next came out for a bit and set up shop on a miniature drum kit while Brian Haas from the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey joined the crew on keys. Cochemea Gastelum also came onstage to add in his piece on sax. While the jam wasn't quite as successful as it was with the 20th Congress, it was a helluva lot more than we expected from a band called Hairy Apes BMX.

Onto the Jazz Mandolin Project. This was now the third time I've seen Jazz Mandolin in the past few weeks, and after seeing them for a number of years in college, I can definitely say that the band is beginning to hit full stride. The addition of Mad Dog on trumpet and keys has breathed new life into the band. Whereas their sound was threatening to become a little predictable, Mad Dog has added a new dynamic that takes them to the next level. This is a band that is now beginning to turn in hour-long performances of single songs with a ridiculous amount of technical skill. After August, the Jazz Mandolin Project may be the most exciting four-person band to watch in live music.

Galactic with JJ Grey of MOFRO :: Wakarusa 2004
The late night performance by Galactic proved to be the best overall show of the day. Playing until nearly 4:00 a.m., the boys from New Orleans put on an incredible show--easily one of the best of the weekend. While the Houseman was out of commission, a guest vocalist from the Greyhounds and Papa Mali stepped up to fill the void. They established a party atmosphere from the beginning, and the band had fans dancing behind them onstage for the entirety of the show. They sounded ridiculously tight, and Kai Eckhart churned out some filthy bass lines towards the end of the set. It was a triumphant finish to a great day of music in Lawrence.


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