Words by Nathan Rodriguez & Brian Heisler
All Images by Pamela Martinez
2006 Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival :: 06.8 - 06.11.06
Clinton Lake State
Park :: Lawrence, KS
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Depending on your Dickensian perspective, the 3rd annual Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival was either an extended weekend filled with stellar
music or it was one of the more poignant examples of over-zealous law enforcement in recent memory. For many,
it was an amalgam of the two: enough moments of musical greatness to justify the lengthy drive, but an equal
number of eyewitness accounts and hearsay to make concertgoers think about what will be different for Waka '07.
The first hint of change from past Wakarusas was an abrupt surprise for many, as the Kansas State Highway Patrol
established checkpoints near the Lawrence exit along I-70, stopping and searching a sizable number of vehicles
entering the city. All told, eight law enforcement agencies made their presence felt on the festival grounds
throughout the weekend: The Douglas County Sheriff's Department, the Kansas State Highway Patrol, the Kansas
Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Homeland Security Officials, and the friendly Clinton Lake State Park
Rangers. This is according to Waka Action, a
website devoted solely to reporting individual rights violations at Wakarusa. According to The Lawrence Journal-
World, a total of 144 people were arrested by authorities during the festival weekend.
Despite the police presence felt throughout the weekend, the festival's music was inspired, with shows ranging from
good to unforgettable. Without further ado, onto the music...
Thursday, June 8
Strolling into the Tim Reynolds set,
concertgoers were greeted by a clattering of effects reminiscent of an old church organ. These layers were gradually
stripped away as Reynolds ventured out for a brief solo before sliding nicely into "Shake." The set was exactly what
many have come to expect from the sultan of the six-string: extraordinary technical prowess with a variety of ideas
and themes running throughout the hour-long performance. At times an Eastern sound, much like a sitar, would
provide a boost, while at other times Reynolds would revert back to digital looping and effects to provide a broader
sound. He even ventured into traditional Spanish territory, furiously picking and strumming along while blending in
perfectly with the DiMeola, McLaughlin & DeLucia acoustic masterpiece, "Friday Night in San Francisco". And at just
the moment when the music threatened to become stale, Reynolds would throw a lifeline to the audience with a
choice cover like James Brown's "Sex Machine,"
which drew a warm response. Overall, it was a very satisfying set that provided further proof that Tim Reynolds
remains at the top of his game as one of the premier guitarists today.
Tim Reynolds :: Wakarusa 2006
In one of the great breakthrough performances of the weekend, Groovatron welcomed campers to the Campground Stage, packing every square inch and
forcing fans to swell around the outside of the tent. As if signifying a change of attitude, guitarist Nick Ferrer noted,
"It's night time!" It was dark outside but bright and lively in the tent. Tony McCullough's
saxophone cut through the otherwise serene night. Climbing all over the neck of the bass like a spider, Tony
Qualls let loose the band's powerful sound, and his uncontrollable head bobble was indicative of the vibe in
air. From "Erotic" to "Mr. Charlie" to "Gilara," the Chicago funk-rock sextet was hitting on all cylinders in what may
have been a leaping point to greater recognition.
Bobby Easton :: Delta Nove :: Wakarusa 2006
"We were going to save the collaborations until tomorrow night, but couldn't wait." With that introduction, the Pnuma Trio invited Ryan Burnett from Signal Path to join the festivities. The quartet
moved smoothly and quickly as a unit, setting a rollicking pace as the standard for their ventures into instrumental
electronica. Powerful drumming, executed with elegant precision, provided a strong backbone for the band and
allowed the members to experiment with various effects and distortion while creating a unique blend of hypnotic
and engaging trance fusion. The set clocked in at 75 minutes, and the band captured the ears of every Phish fan in
attendance with a minute-long tease of "Maze." The Pnuma Trio has started to develop a bit of a reputation and
added to the legend by turning in one of the better sets of the festival.
All day the buzz on the festival grounds was about the headliner of the night, the Disco Biscuits. It was maybe the only time at the festival that
everyone seemed to be in agreement on where to be. Hordes of balloons and beach balls bounced freely through
the throbbing crowd as the tent turned into an all-out trance fusion free-for-all. The Biscuits returned to the
of their fans for a "Confrontation" encore with the audience singing just as loudly, opening the flood gates to the
hours of music that would invade Clinton Sate Park the next three days.
Marc Brownstein :: Disco Biscuits :: Wakarusa 2006
Friday, June 9
A great melodic band with songs that are easy to sing to, Virginia Coalition is making its first trip to many festivals this summer, but the band is
certainly not unknown to festival goers. “That song was for the Kansas City Police,” singer and guitarist Andy
Poliakoff explained after a cover of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." Paul Ottinger moved from
the keys to auxiliary
percussion, slamming his woodblock and set of cowbells, while constantly twirling his sticks and rocking from one
foot to another. Poliakoff added the congas to the mix, while Ottinger was on his knees hitting everything in arms
cranking out a longer jam. The band gave the crowd everything it had and it was all so easy to enjoy.
The fire department made its way through the crowd of the Sun Down Stage with a fire engine, spraying the crowd
with much needed relief from the Kansas sun. It was refreshing, but could not keep the audience from getting right
back to their sweaty business. Perpetual Groove's "Three Weeks" gave some fans the chance to slow
down, but most
everyone else sped up. While the sun was
bright, Brock Butler's guitar rivaled it. PGroove was the perfect band to fill the prime of the day.
Extending jams with Brock's streaming guitar, Albert Suttle's syncopated drum solos, Matt
McDonald's floating keys, and Adam Perry's meshing bass made for a happy, full, afternoon crowd.
A perfect set up for the ultimate happy vibe: Michael Franti & Spearhead.
Brock Butler :: Wakarusa 2006
Next up was the inimitable Michael Franti and
Spearhead. The scorching heat was transformed into a pleasant summer day with some deft wordplay from
Franti, who felt the sunny weather was a blessing from above. The band swiftly segued from a Bob Marley
cover to The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," which brought a few smiles to the sweaty, sun-reddened
in the crowd. Nothing that Spearhead does requires much in the way of technical ability; rather, it is the artful way
that they intertwine simple patterns and ideas to create a viable musical backdrop that remains interesting
throughout the show. By adding Michael Franti into the mix, you now have an upbeat, charismatic ringleader who
can galvanize an audience with relative ease. "Tell Me Lies" proved to be a crowd-pleaser, and the call and response
of "Hola Hola, Bonjour Bonjour" soon followed. Before too long, many had forgotten about the heat. While Franti
actively got the crowd involved – waving their hands or jumping up and down on cue – toward the end it threatened
to become a game of Simon Says. A final offering from Franti was the title track off his album Everyone Deserves
Music, and at the end he ad-libbed, "Everyone needs music: Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld –
everyone!" For those who had never seen the band, one concertgoer put it aptly, "I need to get on the ball and add
some Spearhead to the iPod after this."
Michael Franti :: Wakarusa 2006
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals proved to be
one of the more pleasant surprises of the weekend for many. The 22-year-old Vermont frontwoman added some
nice texture behind the band's sound on the Hammond B-3, but her vocals were truly on-point. The band bridges
the gaps between blues, rock, and honky-tonk with a sound that is refreshingly original. Towards the end of the
set, Potter explained that the next song was an ode to their tour bus, which recently broke down. It is this ability to
make the personal universal which lends credence to the thought that this band may be around for awhile. The tent
was packed, and the audience certainly seemed to appreciate the effort displayed. Guitarist Scott Tournet
absolutely shredded a handful of solos, giving the band instant credibility for peaking on jam segments. It seems as
though the band may be on the brink of a major breakthrough to popular acclaim, and they certainly have the
ingredients to do so.
Grace Potter :: Wakarusa 2006
Cross Canadian Ragweed provided a fix for
those wanting a straight-ahead blue-collar rock & roll band. No frills, no tricks, and no self-indulgent jamming
would be on the agenda, and this came as a welcome change of pace for many. For those unfamiliar with the band,
a cover of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "My My, Hey Hey" seemed the most apt and obvious selection. The
band did the song justice, with a nice, boot-stomping attitude that carried the song. The world-weary vocals
complemented the music rather nicely as the sun set on Wakarusa for the evening. They may not bowl you over with
innovative musicianship, but to do so seems at odds with their bare-bones approach of delivering music.
Cross Canadian Ragweed
New Monsoon has created a bit of a stir over
the past couple years, and it is easy to see why. This septet plays a sliding funk with affable grooves and gels
together remarkably well. In some moments, they display a few The String Cheese Incident tendencies, but they retain far more of a "meat & potatoes" rock edge.
Most importantly, this is a band that clearly enjoys the process of creating music. Perhaps even more admirable is
that they don't attempt to goad the audience into fake applause. Simply put, they were more interested in finding
great moments of musicality than investing themselves in contrived stage antics. To wit, they blazed through the
first three songs without a moment's pause and allowed the audience about five seconds to catch their breath before
launching into the next tune. A highlight of the set was a rousing rendition of The Who's "Eminence
Front." This is a band to keep close tabs on, as they certainly have the chops and passion to cultivate a large
As New Monsoon kept the Voodoo Stage full with sound, Robert Randolph took his pedal steel guitar to the Sun Down Stage with female backup singers
and a lot of new material. The massive crowd was very responsive to Randolph's electric magic, which has become a
festival tradition. "I Need More Love" had everyone singing and jumping, segueing smoothly into Michael Jackson's
"Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough." The women vocalists definitely added a new twist to the Family Band, creating a
much larger and gospel-inflected sound.
Robert Randolph :: Wakarusa 2006
Saturday, June 10
As Rose Hill Drive made their way onstage, a
battle between the sun and clouds was developing. The band didn't seem to particularly care, as they launched into
the gritty, fist-pumping rock that attracted a much larger crowd than last year. Beyond the usual small talk, bassist
Jake Sproul complained about the heat so frequently, one was inclined to wonder if he was going to
collapse from heat stroke. Maybe it's because the guys are rockin' jeans and long-sleeve shirts in the middle of a
heat wave. At any rate, it didn't take too long for a crowd to flock to the stage to see what the racket was all about.
The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne watched the ruckus from the side of the stage. Much has been said about
prowess of the Sproul brothers, and many are prone to hyperbole in attempting to describe their sound. While
certainly deserving of such praise, the most remarkable aspect was how much drummer Nate Barnes has
improved. After seeing RHD several times, it was truly remarkable to witness just how much he has stepped up his
game. He is slowly developing into one of the more underrated rock drummers today.
Daniel Sproul :: Wakarusa 2006
Buckethead. Half-man, half-amazing. In a
characteristically surreal fashion, he lept from one musical idea to the next, creating a pop culture medley that left
little doubt about his virtuosity. Of course, there was bizarre, inexplicable banter screamed from the stage; in this
case, they decided to shout "Jean Luc Ponty!" repeatedly, an apparent homage to the jazz legend. The thing about
Buckethead is, if you don’t like what he's playing, just wait about two minutes. A couple trifectas, each less than ten
minutes long, typified the set: Hendrix's "Machine Gun" > Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" > Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory theme song; and the "Top Gun Anthem" > "Stormtroopers Theme" from Star Wars >
"It's Your Birthday," by 50 Cent. A final
pairing of the "Star Spangled Banner" with "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad" rounded out the set. After a certain
point, some in the audience audibly wished for "one full song." Assuming they waited around, their patience would
Buckethead :: Wakarusa 2006
Greyboy AllStars have earned a reputation as
one of the top live acts in the nation. Expectations were naturally high for the group heading into Wakarusa, and
while they did not disappoint, they may have fallen a tad short of completely blowing away newcomers. Concert
staples like "West Coast Boogaloo" offered Karl Denson and Robert Walter ample opportunities
to stretch out a bit. Candidly, as far as Greyboy shows go, this one was a snoozer. The musicianship was good,
but not necessarily spectacular. One was more likely to hear "that was cool" following the show as opposed to the
string of superlatives and excited, fluent swearing that GBA tends to induce. Indeed, they were one of the better acts
at the festival, but this was not the fist-pumping, booty-shakin' funkdown that many had come to expect from the
Karl Denson :: Wakarusa 2006
Anywhere the The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
shows up is always a unique experience with a special taste of New Orleans. Despite the tragedies of the past year
along the Gulf Coast, the Bayou music is some of the most happy and uplifting music. During the NOLA staple
"When the Saints Go Marching In," dancers paraded around the stage in Mardi Gras style, some on stilts and others
with enormous caricature heads. Despite the hard times the band has endured, they kept the mood light and
celebratory. Another classic, "I'll Fly Away," featured the crowd handling vocal duties as the band played on. DDBB's
time on stage was one of the best connections with the crowd of the entire festival, as the appreciation for the Gulf
community's perseverance over the past year was very clear. Front man Effrem Towns finished off the set
playing both a trumpet and flugelhorn at the same time, much to his own exhaustion.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band :: Wakarusa 2006
The rare occasion of Keller Williams
with a group is a special treat. Since the release of his Grass album, a collaboration with Larry and
Jenny Keel, Williams has performed with the couple several times. The set was filled with nearly every track
from the album and more - one long, segueing jam saw "Breathe" ease effortlessly into Green Day's "Longview" into Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the
Wall" back into "Breathe" before culminating into "Freaker By the Speaker," followed by Keller whistling the theme
song from The Andy Griffith Show. The performance finished with a medley of "Mary Jane's Last
into Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug" into Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance." The trio
returned for an encore of the new fan favorite "Goofballs," leading Larry Keel to exclaim, "Damn, that's hot as shit!"
Keller Williams :: Wakarusa 2006
Astonishingly, nearly every band at Wakarusa started and finished their sets on time. Les Claypool & Co. (aka "Les Claypool's Fancy Bucket of Bernie
Baldi") bucked the trend and started about 15 minutes later than scheduled. Concerns about the start time quickly
evaporated as he slapped the bass to life and led the band into an energetic rendition of "Up on the Roof." The
balance of the band was extraordinary. Certainly Claypool held up his end as expected, and the infusion of Gabby La La, Skerik, Mike Dillon, and Paulo Baldi allowed the band a certain malleability in jams that
enabled the song to advance in any direction they desired. It was impossible to predict where the next burst of
energy would come from. A drawn-out drum roll marked one of the few breaks, as Claypool strode to the side of
the stage and retrieved his stand-up bass to add into the mix.
Les Claypool :: Wakarusa 2006
An even bigger surprise was in store, however, as Buckethead and Bernie
Worrell of Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains project joined the group for a rousing rendition of "Big Eyeball in
the Sky." For the encore, Claypool busted out the bassjo and sang a nice version of "Iowan Gal," which he introduced
by commenting, "We debuted this song last night for the first time, and I fucked it up – let's hope this goes a little
better." It did, and the title track of the bassist's new album, Of Whales and Woe, followed. The band
ended with "Lust Stings" and "D's Diner," bidding the crowd farewell as the throngs headed in great anticipation to
see Oklahoma City's sons of psychedelia, The
Bernie Worrell :: Wakarusa 2006
Neither audio recordings nor words will ever do The Flaming Lips justice. You just have to see the band live to really
appreciate them. The festivities began with Wayne Coyne crowd-surfing in what can only be described as
a large hamster ball. His return to the stage was triumphant, punctuated with about a dozen four-foot orange
balloons, explosions of confetti, and streamers which clung to the top of the stage lights for the rest of the night.
He was greeted by two groups of dancers that flanked the stage for the entire performance: on the left - aliens, on
the right - Santa Clauses. The band kicked things off with "Race for the Prize," and it was immediately evident that
Coyne had nearly lost his voice. It seemed as though the red carpet had been rolled out for the Lips' arrival, only to
see them trip over it.
Not to worry, however, as the crowd was won over with the band's second selection, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Coyne
invited the audience to sing along as the lyrics were projected on a screen behind the band. To hear thousands of
people simultaneously singing along to Queen’s anthemic rocker – and have everyone gleefully jump on
board for the moment – was something that everyone in attendance will remember about the weekend. "Yoshimi
Battles the Pink Robots" saw many in attendance share vocals with the band, while simultaneously scratching
song off of many people's "I hope they play..." lists. The seminal "She Don't Use Jelly" was prefaced with vintage
video footage of a young Jon Stewart introducing the band and the song to an MTV audience. The set-closing "Do
You Realize" was three and a half minutes long but could not have provided a more fitting end to the experience. In
leaving the concert grounds, fans were treated to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," which suited the
band's message perfectly - be happy, be enthusiastic, be yourself. The performance felt like a movie and concert
rolled into one. Add in strobe lights, balloons, confetti, streamers, and dancing aliens and Santa Clauses and you
have an unforgettable adventure of a show. This was not the best music of the weekend, but in terms of an overall
experience, no other band came close to delivering what The Flaming Lips bequeathed a few thousand lucky fans at
Wayne Coyne :: Wakarusa 2006
Sunday, June 11
Tim Carbone :: Railroad Earth
As things were beginning to wind down on Sunday, the weather could not have been more hospitable.
hovered in the 70s as a slight breeze cooled things off under cloud-covered skies. Many noticed the bluegrass-
infused triumvirate of Railroad Earth, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and tossed some lawn
chairs down to stake out their territory in anticipation of some world-class picking.
Railroad Earth is not a bluegrass band, but rather a band that happens to play bluegrass. The sound is
– with drums – but crafty musicianship and excellent vocals are what carry the band's sound to the next level. The
music was full without being crowded. "Seven Story Mountain" offered a few notable moments, but it was the crazed
picking on "Peace on Earth" from their Bird in a House album that brought many to their feet. This is a
that has a certain "front porch" appeal, which translates exceptionally well for those listening intently from their lawn
chairs strewn about the Kansas prairie.
Yonder Mountain String Band, the high-octane bluegrass quartet from Nederland, Colorado, was up next.
with "Sideshow Blues," the band quickly coalesced and executed the next slew of songs with pinpoint accuracy. A
short time later, Bela Fleck decided to join in on the festivities. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about
this collaboration is that it wasn't the best of the set! Indeed, as the band introduced Jeff Coffin on sax, it
was evident that Coffin could add a layer of texture to the band's sound. Coffin chose his moments wisely and
added the perfect flavor to songs like "Holdin'." For the encore, they went with the upbeat "Death Trip Baby," which
packed a little more of a punch than a number of other songs in the band's repertoire. From start to finish, there
were a number of peaks and valleys in the set, but the addition of Bela and Jeff made it a memorable occasion.
Jeff Austin :: YMSB
It was nearly two hours of shear mastery that closed out the main stage at Wakarusa 2006, including the greatest
banjo player in the world, the greatest bass player in the world, a new-age saxophone pioneer and genius, and a
scientist turned percussionist. Roy "Futureman" Wooten looped his drumitar, and the band segued into
the theme song from Sanford & Son. Every member of the band got his own time to shine at one point or
another. Jeff Coffin piped two saxes at once, and Victor Wooten laid down a beautiful "Amazing Grace"
bass solo. Futureman soloed on a cajón, later backed by Bela Fleck. The great banjo maestro was everywhere in
between and beyond. Morphing into a masterfully controlled version of "Wipe Out," Futureman took yet another solo
between the drums and his drumitar. An encore was eminent, and like a bluegrass John Lennon, Bela returned with
a Rickenbacker banjo to feed the energy with none other than The Beatles' "Come Together." Coffin's sax took the
place of the chorus and was later replaced by a penny whistle. It was the perfect combination of excitement and
ease to close the main stages of Wakarusa 2006.
Futureman:: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones
Closing out the festival on the Sun Up stage was Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9), which seemed to draw a slightly larger crowd than the Flecktones.
The trance, pumping bass, and electric light show of STS9 have become staples of festival late nights. Whether it
was the space-age jam or the bluegrass phenomenon, the main stages at Wakarusa 2006 closed in style, slamming
the door on both a controversial and enjoyable festival.
STS9 :: Wakarusa 2006
Jambase Waka Awards:
Best Breakthrough Performance: Groovatron, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Runner Up: Chris Berry & Panjea
Biggest Surprise: Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Runner up: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Best Collaboration: Yonder Mountain String Band featuring Béla Fleck and Jeff Coffin
Runners Up: Les Claypool featuring Buckethead and Bernie Worrell, Pnuma Trio featuring Ryan Burnett of
Best Sound: Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Rose Hill Drive
Runners up: New Monsoon, Assembly of Dust, Railroad Earth
Biggest Disappointment: Kansas State Police
Best Overall Show: The Flaming Lips
Runners Up: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
JamBase | Kansas
Go See Live Music!