WAKARUSA : : MIDWEST MECCA

SUNDAY :: JUNE 20

Those up early enough on Sunday got to see the Jennifer Hartswick Band open things up on the final day of the Wakarusa Festival. We arrived just in time to hear the band perform Chicago's "Twenty-five or Six to Four," which turned out to be the closer. After finishing the song, Hartswick addressed the audience: "Okay, now we only have time for one more... oh wait. Actually we don't, so thanks a lot!"

Later that morning, while walking back to the camp site, we overheard Colorado's Mission 19 perform an acoustic version of Outkast's "Roses" that had people grinning.

After a brief stretch of unremarkable shows in the early afternoon hours, Indigenous took the stage. They have a deep, heavy sound. As the rhythm section slowed things down a bit, guitarist Mato Nanji dugs in to create some bluesy riffs. The chemistry of the band members was impressive and likely stems from the fact that they share blood: all are members of the Nakota Sioux Indian family with brothers Mato and Pete joining forces with their sister Wanbdi and their cousin Horse. Their cover of the blues standard "Red House" was a fitting choice for their style of playing. They were another pleasant surprise, and another up-and-coming act to keep tabs on over the next couple years.

Los Lonely Boys :: Wakarusa 2004
The introduction for the next band could not have been more accurate: "If you haven't seen these guys yet, you are about to freak out." Los Lonely Boys! Wow. All I had heard of them was that they were Willie Nelson's favorite band today. Playing self-described "Texican rock," these three young brothers from San Angelo, Texas came through like a breath of fresh air. Every time their sound could be defined: "bluesy," "rockish," or "tejano," they would make slight adjustments and keep the audience on their toes. Five years from now, Henry Garza could be a household name. Traversing a number of genres on the guitar, he gave the impression of a young Carlos Santana at work. The kid is that good. For their second to last song, they opted for the easy-going sound of "Heaven." The onstage antics that followed were unreal. Henry and Jojo Garza were playing their guitars behind their heads, Henry was next covering Jojo's eyes as he played bass, both brothers then gripped their guitars in one hand and while holding the guitar straight up in the air, proceeded to maintain the exact chords and rhythm for the song. Nothing short of amazing. If you have been searching for something new, Los Lonely Boys should be at the top of your list.


Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers
Wakarusa :: 2004
As the sun was setting on the final day of Wakarusa, the Drive-by Truckers assembled the stage. At first the crowd didn't know how to react. Most had blank stares directed toward the stage. After about 20 minutes or so, the band wished the crowd a Happy Fathers' Day and launched into "Decoration Day," which finally brought the audience to life. The Truckers then gave a preview of their new album (coming out in August) with "Ain't Never Gonna Change." Excellent versions of "Marry Me" and "Outfit" rounded out the set. It was a solid performance, and something I had been looking forward to for awhile.

Next up was the band synonymous with Mardi Gras: the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. After playing for nearly 30 years, they have figured out how to put on a damn fine show. While the opening couple minutes found the band sounding a little sludgy, with too much distortion on the lower end of the sound and poorly defined bass lines, the band quickly turned things around. They sounded incredibly crisp, with sharp playing from the horns and some remarkable paying by guitarist Jamie Mclean. The sound was funky and fresh, and the band closed things with the crowd-pleasing cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."

North Mississippi Allstars :: Wakarusa 2004
The madness continued in Lawrence, as the North Mississippi Allstars were up next. While the musical abilities of the band are beyond reproach, I personally haven't been too fond of their vocals in the past. A nice surprise came when Jamie Mclean and Gary Gazaway joined the band. The Allstars are now a great deal more dynamic than even a couple years ago, and are beginning to play more to their strengths. Rounding out the set, the Allstars brought out the Dirty Dozen Brass Band which closed things with a bang.


Split Lip Rayfield
Wakarusa :: 2004
Shutting down Wakarusa for 2004 were the home state heroes Split Lip Rayfield. Fans of Yonder Mountain String Band will go nuts when they hear these guys, though they're a little edgier and rougher than Yonder Mountain. All of their changes are lightning-quick, and the sudden stops are all well-executed. The late night tent was turned into a veritable hoedown, with Split Lip leading the way and converting many people into immediate bluegrass fans. What a perfect finish to an incredible extended weekend in Lawrence.

The city of Lawrence itself has more than doubled in the past 20 years as more people have found out about this Mecca of the Midwest, yet Wakarusa may still turn out to be one of the best-kept musical secrets of 2004. After the skies opened on Thursday night, the rest of the festival had "Jetson's weather:" sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. That, and there were about 75,000 fewer people to deal with than at some of the "other" festivals this year. Whether it was funk, jazz, bluegrass, blues, rock, or just a lot of chigger bites, there was something for everyone that attended Wakarusa Festival this year. A triumph in its first year, Wakarusa's growth in popularity is sure to rival the growth of Lawrence in the coming years--but it was a fun little secret while it lasted.

Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Rob Foster
JamBase | Midwest
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http://www.wakarusafest.com

[Published on: 7/9/04]

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