Concert Review

Wakarusa 2011

Words by Jon Marx

Photos by Jon Marx

I’ll start with my arrival on Wednesday night in my dad’s 1974 Cherry Red, Rag Top VW Super Beetle. He was so kind as to lend it to me for the weekend. All is well, and I’m about to crash for the night in the car. A new friend suddenly came calling my name to tell me about a truck that had caught on fire up the hill. A small truck towing a pop-up camper caught fire at the main entrance due to a burnt-out, pushed to the limit clutch. Luckily, this truck was still on pavement, and not in the camps when it went up in flames. The fire department had not shown up after hours of the truck’s exploding, shooting sparks, and bellowing black smoke. I was able to get a few photographs of the event, when two members of the band Lightajo wanted to have a photo taken with the blaze in the background. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the owner of the truck lost everything except his empty camper to the fire. Not to surprise me, the community came together and set them up with VIP tickets, camping, and meal passes. This was still an unfortunate way to start the festival.

Thursday, a day full of amazing bands, arriving hippies, good ol’ boys, and goddesses, fulfilled my every expectation. The heat/humidity factor was an expectation of mine that didn’t quite go along with what I had thought. Record temperatures for the area and no cloud cover made for a sweltering walk to/from stages, steamy tents, and sunburns, even with SPF 110 in the arsenal. Regardless of the heat, Thursday’s band line up started with Dirtfoot, a gypsy punk, country grumble, boogie band out of Shreveport, LA. Their new music video that goes along with a live cd/dvd, Live and In Prison, debuted just before their show on the main stage side screens. Their fans are very dedicated to the music and causes they take on, raising around $10,000 for the most recent album through Facebook and word of mouth. These are the same folks that put on a breakfast for the masses and concert at 9 am on Friday, accordingly dubbed “Chompdown on Wilderness St.” The late Jon Cabrera started this event, and is still in the hearts of those, like Dirtfoot, that have kept it going. Everyone is invited. Some people bring food to contribute, and others bring an appetite to help cook, clean, eat, etc. A truly community oriented band; Dirtfoot brought the heat in so many ways. During Thursday’s, first ever, press conference I asked Jason Bratile and Matt Hazelton of Dirtfoot who/what their biggest music influence was. They hesitantly responded, having so many influences, with “Musicals and Simon & Garfunkel.” Nicely said, eh? Along with Dirtfoot, Thursday brought many other great acts to the stage. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Minus The Bear, Cornmeal, Beats Antique, Ha Ha Tonka, Lotus, EOTO, and Umphrey’s McGee to name a few. Grace Potter attended the press conference as well. When asked how her career has developed over the years, she said her relationship with the crowd projected her to where she is now. Had it not been for that support, she couldn’t have made it. As a small band to start in Vermont, booking/promoting their own shows, they made Wakarusa’s 1st Annual Festival their first festival gig ever. Grace Potter & The Nocturnal’s were in it to win it from there on out.

Just after the press conference, Grace paraded on the main stage with her Mick Jagger/Tina Turner esque presence. Hammering her 80’s style axe of a guitar, and the heavy Hammond B3, Grace blew us all away. It was hard to leave her captivating performance, but I had to catch up with the next show already under way, Minus The Bear. These are hard hitting pop/rock musicians, and they definitely don’t mess around. MTB is a group out of Seattle, WA that defies genres. They prefer to “…tread their own inimitable path defined by energy and invention.” It was a head banging blast to witness and hear. I just downloaded a free, 6 song EP off of their website, and it’s great music to work to. In between stages I caught up with some old friends playing out of a vendor tent, Mountain Sprout. A local mid-west bluegrass band out of Missouri, they have a back woods/front porch vibe to their historic picking. If I ever aim to inform folks about damn good bluegrass from the south, I include Mountain Sprout in the list. Moving right along, the San Francisco based band, Beats Antique, has taken their unique, ancient, drum & bass sounds to the next level. By no means do David Satori, Tommy Cappel, and Zoe Jakes do anything half-assed. They are all over the place. They switch instruments, costumes, and vibes throughout a tribal performance by Zoe, a beautiful, well practiced, Arabic/Persian rooted belly dancer. One song she is adorned with a deer antler head set, and a look in her eyes like she’s about to lay you down or possibly kill you… awesome. Next, she comes out wearing a huge penguin head and toting a marching bass drum! Along with Zoe, two men of men, David and Tommy, lay down some of the most on the edge, revolutionary beats and sounds in the world of music. There is so much to say about Beats Antique, but words cannot describe what you experience at their show. Keep bringing it Beats Antique, and the fans won’t stop coming. I know that I won’t. Not much longer after the beats of antique, a long time comin’ nap had to happen while I had the night on my side.

For me, Friday started with Trombone Shorty. After seeing them many times now, I had an idea of what to look forward to. Fat horns mixed with their driving lead guitarist, Pete Murano, the “Bass,” Michael Ballard, teamed with Joey “In and Out” Peebles, drums, T. Shorty started the day off with some much needed funky soul. Next, Split Lip Rayfield, Sharon Jones & The Dapkings, Lucero, STS9, Galactic, and My Morning Jacket made up my list of shows to catch for Friday night. Let’s start with good old Split Lip Rayfield. These ex-heavy metal playing, raw-dog boys age with the beauty of a graceful blue heron amidst a spring creek. Their bass man has always thumped the same gas tank bass since I first saw them in 2003. Obviously, he’s made a few modifications over the years, but it definitely seems to be the same rigged up, automobile fuel tank that it’s always been. You take comfort in finding out these instruments are still rocking after so many years. It’s like seeing an old friend, and you want to take a lot of pictures together, have moments, and a beer or two while you’re at it. Check out Split Lip Rayfield if you know what’s good for you. You can believe their bluegrass will take you to the other side of dirty grass rooted heavy metal music. Lucero was a nice change to my usual being that I’ve never seen them live before. I enjoyed their set due to the great performance they put on, but what set it off was the enormous crowd screaming and pushing from behind me as I took what photos I could before having to jump to the next stage. It was weird feeling like the lucky one when I had just been told to not miss their show, and all these other die-hard fans looked at me with a desire to be closer, which I rarely see any more. Sharon Jones is my next topic. I believe she is James Brown reincarnated into a woman’s body… seriously. Along with her Dapkings (bad asses of funk), Sharon showed us how to do “the boogaloo,” the swimming pool, and many other infamous funk dances that go hand in hand with the music of the Dapkings, The J.B.’s, James Brown Soul Train, and many other great funk bands of our past. Need I say more? Sound Tribe Sector Nine(9) started on time at 8:30p.m., and I must say, wholly shit. They have always been a favorite of mine, but this time was new and different. STS9 is on tour promoting their new EP, “When The Dust Settles,” and it will bring to you the bliss of electronica you’ve been waiting for. They are on a fast track for an award of some sort. I don’t know if they give out awards for “biggest bad asses around,” but they should. Not that it would do any justice, but I’ll try to explain one part of how they do what they do. STS9’s drummer, Zach Velmer, utilizes his raw skills, supreme genius, and syncopated rhythms through custom ear pieces plugged into the basic beat of the electronic part of the song so he can play right along with these intricate electronic sounds coming from their Mac Books and keys on stage. Make sense? Even as a drummer of 15 years, I have a hard time discerning where and when those worlds are colliding; which makes for an amazing concert where you’re left dumbfounded and in awe. Speaking of being in awe, My Morning Jacket came up next on the main stage. I absolutely, whole-heartedly love MMJ, and don’t know where I would be if not for them. I was initially recognized as a concert photographer by a hiring publication because of the amazing shots I got from the MMJ show at southern Florida’s Langerado Music Festival in 2007. It’s been history in the making since then. I digress… My Morning Jacket always seemed to fit every one in the crowd. Pardon the pun, but I say damn! Jim “f-n” James and the rest of the crew come together like biscuits and mustard, if you know what I mean. If not, watch Sling Blade, and come on back with a better understanding. Touring for the new album, Circuital, Jim came out in big fury white boots, a long jacket, and what looked like an old bomb remote McGivered from an Atari controller adorned with glowing buttons and hanging like a big pendant on a necklace.

Sensory overload was seemingly the running theme for the show that night. They didn’t stop from the moment they hit the stage. Starting with Victory Dance they went on to play their classics like Off The Record, Mahgeetah, Touch Me Pt. 2, and Smokin From Shootin. First Light featured a sax part that left the lot of us jaw-dropped. Their drummer, Patrick Hallahan, is cutting edge on the kit, and solid is his middle name… he never misses a beat. I could spend the rest of my time writing about MMJ, but I know there was something else coming along the next day that you’ve got to hear about too. So I will end my Friday night rap-up with saying that MMJ stole the show for me… Sorry Mumford & Sons, but you were a close second. Beats Antique went head to head with STS9 making third place a split descision. Anyways, on to Saturday’s line up! Galactic seemed like a great way to start my day, and it surely was. Corey Glover (of Living Colour) and Corey Henry (Rebirth Brass Band) joined Stanton Moore, Richard Vogel, Jeff Raines, Robert Mercurio, and Ben Ellman to form a group that sound the likes of lyrics, drums, guitars, trombones, and saxophones. Galactic has always been a staple in my music collection, and Stanton Moore is my personal hero as a drummer. Many drummers aspire to be as connected to the skins as he’s been for so many years, and I’m pretty sure he knows it too. The passing day took me on to what I thought would be Dana Fuchs, but she was unable to make the show for unknown reasons to me. In her stead, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band came on with a funky good time. Dressed in a funkadelic fassion, YMBFBB, reminded me of a recent show I saw with George Clinton and The P-Funk out in northern California. Finally, I found fresh funk being delved out like there was no tomorrow. I’ll be picking up their albums in no time. You can never have too much funk in your life. Shortly after that good time, March Fourth Marching Band (Portland, OR) came out on the same stage with a vaudeville-esque, drumming all over, stilted spectacle. It never occurred to me that you could do acrobatics on stilts. Playing guitars and trumpets while laying on the ground is impressive too, but the truly impressive thing was the shear volume of energy coming out of the band. Some stilt walkers would go dance with the crowd and others amazingly fit on stage. I had a damn good time with MFMB, and highly recommend any of their shows.

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Mumford & Sons’ show was hot off the press ladies and gentlemen. It was sunset on Arkansas’ Mulberry Mtn., and a perfect time for four youthful men out of West London to give us their take on bluegrass and folk. Mumford & Sons are on tour now promoting their latest album, Sigh No More (own it, it’s awesome). Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane make up the band of loyal and dedicated friends, and they carry with them a whole new take on a classic, old-time genre of music. Sweat was flying and dust bellowing with the sun beaming down on them, and record-breaking heat. Mumford’s black frame sunglasses kept slipping down his face as he and the rest of the boys embraced the moment we were sharing in the sun. They carry with them a harmonizing vibe like Crosby, Stills, and Nash combined with the energy of Radiohead. Others might compare them to The Black Keys combined with Kings of Leon, but I think my comparison is spot on. My dad once said their will never be another band like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but, with Mumford & Sons on the scene now, I think he spoke too soon. After a few jigs with my camera at my side, I was off to the shade to watch some old friends at the George’s Majestic Stage, Ben Miller Band. Ben Miller and Doug “Cap’t Washboard” have been old friends since the days of Miller’s open mic night, and I am stoked to see them with a permanent spot on the line up for Wakarusa. Their genre of choice spans from delta-blues to bluegrass, and it fits right in at Wakarusa. Ben Miller (guitar/harmonica/vocals), Doug Dicharry (drums, wash-board, trombone, vocals, pretty women), and Scott Leepers (classic washtub bass/vocals) expanded from a usual 3-piece that day into a 5-piece band featuring the classic delta-blues guitarist, Smilin’ Bob Lewis, and the beautifully talented violin/guitar of Rachel Ammons. This additional duo also made up another band I was lucky to find the day before called Tyrannosaurus Chicken. The duo has been dubbed many things including, but not limited to: Electric Hill Trance, Jump/Swing, Acid Banjo Rock, Jook Joint Bluz, Reel Old Timey, or Psychedelta. It’s an awesome show to catch if you’re ever in the area of Joplin, Missouri.

Ben Harper & The Relentless 7 had the pleasure of bringing in the night after a quick “intro” by none other than Wakarusa’s favorite DJ out of Lawerence, KS, that’s right, Beetle Bob! Old Bob doesn’t look a bit different from when we all first got to know him in 2004. Unfortunately he messed up the name and announced, “Here they are, Ben Harper and the Restless!” Yep, that’s it…. We all turned to our right and left with looks of confusion. Ben Harper & The Relentless 7 still came out and rocked us though. BHR7 played some of Harper’s classics from his with The Innocent Criminals like Burn One Down, Diamonds On The Inside, and Ground On Down. They had a different feel about the stage than any other group or solo project of Harper’s that I’ve seen. Ben is a little grey around the edges these days, but that’s just the way you measure wisdom, right? After Harper’s 2006 album Both Sides Of The Gun, Harper went on to work with The Relentless 7. They released an album in 2010, Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and are currently touring to promote their new album, Give Till It’s Gone. After some time with Ben, I did a walk about to find new bands, and it worked. They aren’t a new band by any means, but The Budos Band is new to me. I’m amazed that I hadn’t found them yet, but, either way, these guys carry along a huge, enthusiastic crowd. Shredding on all fronts, the bass player went all over the stage presenting his bass to the members of the band as well as the crowd. It demanded attention, and provoked the fans to wig-out in the Revival tent. It was a masterful performance to say the least, and I’ve already found a few albums of theirs and their affiliates that just made to the top of my list of “new” music to acquire.
So, every year, at every major multi-band festival, there has to be at least one case of double booking. It was so with Thievery Corporation and Papa Grows Funk, both starting at 10:30 Saturday night. I feel that I made the right choice by getting my ass to the main stage early for Thievery. The band was jumping up and down on the side stage to get pumped up for the show as I prepped my camera. Soon the entire area all the way back to the start of the vendors (300yrds) was chock full of moving bodies, flying glow sticks, and elaborate signs or inflatable toys hoisted into the air on sticks of all sorts. Ashish Vyas (bassist) is always a front feature of Thievery Corp. On this wondrous occasion, he came out in a usual fashion, then he abruptly ripped the jacket and pants off revealing his black “tighty whities” (blackies) that remained the only piece of clothing he had on for the entire show. Thievery Corp brought out an assortment of vocalist/mc’s, as always. Impressively, Rob Garza went solo the entire show. Eric Hilton, unfortunately, didn’t make the show, but Garza pulled off a seamless job on the spin factor, filling in for his missing counter part. Infamous reggae/funk soul rappers, Rootz and Zeebo Steele, accompanied reggae star, Sleep Wonder, for the second half of the show adding the kinkiness we all need in life that night. Thievery has a new album out called Culture Of Fear, and, as your attorney, I advise you to get a copy of it and contribute to all the causes and ventures of Thievery Corporation. They deserve it, and so do the causes they support. As a close to my night I caught the second round of Sound Tribe under the Revival Tent. It was so crazy under there that I had to actually use the security guards to get people out of my way that jumped the fence on multiple occasions so I could get my shots. None the less, the show went on, and I heard some shit that I’ve never heard out of STS9. They are on a fast track right now, and not showing any signs of slowing down. They have many affiliated non profits/benefits that are helping with everything from spreading good music to feeding the hungry. This was the best close to my weekend I could ask for due to the fact that Sunday brought a freshly rolled ankle and rain to rinse the dust off the parched mountain. Even though the southern mid-west received record rains in past months, the mountain was the first to dry in the summer sun. With no delay, I decided to take Sunday off, and rest my worked body. I was able to catch the sunrise that morning with some other random peeps that never made it to sleep the night before. We all listened to Vive Squad welcome the sun at the Grassroots California Stage down the mountain in the woods, played a little piano (what keys worked), and took a few photos of the moment. Shortly after it was ankle rolling time, and immediately after the rain came down in fat southern drops pushing me into my car, which wasn’t totally water proof. To beat the storm, I took off right then. Windshield wipers on ’74 VW’s aren’t that efficient in heavy storms. I would unfortunately miss EOTO and Beats Antique set for the Revival ten There you go, a Wakarusa round up. Much love.

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