Wakarusa Music Festival: A Look Back

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By Joel Francis

This weekend marks the first time Wakarusa will not be held at Clinton Lake near Lawrence, Kan. After establishing itself as a second-tier destination festival in 2004, Wakarusa has moved to Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Ark.

The Daily Record covered the previous four incarnations of Wakarusa. Join us now in a look back at the festival.

2005 – Wakarusa grows in its second year, offering what may be its greatest lineup to date, including Son Volt, Wilco, Neko Case, Calexico, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, String Cheese Incident and a then-unknown Matisyahu. Promoters are rewarded with a turnout of about 15,000 fans each day, doubling the inaugural turnout. Read more Wakarusa 2005 festival coverage.

2006 – The third annual Wakarusa Music Festival gets off to a sour start when music fans are greeted with highway patrol drug checks near Clinton Lake. “Narcarusa” is further sullied when it is revealed police strategically placed infrared cameras around the festival grounds to catch drug activity. Despite these setbacks, the festival once again reaches its 15,000-fan daily capacity and features the Flaming Lips, Les Claypool, P-Funk sideman Bernie Worrell, Gov’t Mule, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and back-to-back sets by Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. Read more Wakarusa 2006 festival coverage.

2007 – Security is toned-down, but Mother Nature rages with hard winds on Friday and Sunday rain during the fourth Wakarusa. Crowds are down to 12,000 fans each day, which might be a reflection of the festival’s most mediocre lineup. Michael Franti and Spearhead close out the festival and the lineup also includes Be Good Tanyas, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Widespread Panic and Ben Harper. Read more Wakarusa 2007 festival coverage.

2008 – Heavy rains capsize Wakarusa’s final festival to date at Clinton Lake. The downpour ends Friday’s sets prematurely and the swamp left inside most concert tents force fans to abandon shoes at the perimeter or in the muck. Further disappointment hits when Bettye LaVette, Dweezil Zappa and Emmylou Harris cancel performances. An return engagement with the Flaming Lips in addition to sets by Old 97s, Ben Folds, Alejandro Escovedo, members of the Meters, Ozomatli and a Friday afternoon infusion of hip hop from Blackalicious and Arrested Development still leave fans with plenty to love. Read more Wakarusa 2008 festival coverage.

Claypool hits the jackpot on casino debut

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By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

A sold-out and animated crowd renewed Les Claypool’s faith Monday night at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge.

“I’ve never played a casino before,” Claypool confessed to the crowd toward the end of his set. “I was thinking ‘What’s next, is Claypool going to be playing Branson?’”

Judging from their response, most of the crowd would have been more than happy to travel the three hours to see the bass-playing legend. Claypool’s done quite well following his eclectic muse for the past 20 years, and it saw him through this betting-hall debut.

For a shade over two hours Claypool led his quartet – drummer Paulo Baldi, Skerik on saxophone and sometime Malachy Papers collaborator Mike Dillon on percussion – through a bizarre but upbeat mélange of prog funk free jazz.

That looks like a head-scratcher on paper, but it works surprisingly well in concert. Each player has a well-defined role and knows how to walk the line between the experimental and excruciating. The result may not be for the uninitiated, but it is more accessible than imagined.

The quartet hit their stride with the third song, “David Makalaster.” The band stretched the song to nearly 10 minutes, with each instrument adding new textures and layers.

In a way, this was the template of the night. Claypool would narrate a couple verses of a song and then the group would explore every nook and cranny of what it had to offer. While this is the province of many a jam band – and no doubt there were many jam fans present – Claypool has enough variance in his catalog that the songs never felt  the same.

The credit for this goes to the drummers. Their propulsive interplay kept the group moving forward and made the explorations hypnotic, not repetitive. The light-speed synergy between the two percussionists, who were briefly joined by a third, unnamed guest, created the illusion of an invading drum corp. Drum solos are usually the time for a beer or bathroom run, but when Claypool ceded the stage to the percussion, it drew the biggest cheers of the night.

Claypool keep the songbook focused on his most recent efforts with the Frog Brigade and his 2006 solo album, “Of Whales and Woe.” Set closer “D’s Diner” flirted with hip-hop, and Claypool returned for an unaccompanied stroll through Primus’ “American Life.” When the full band returned for a Black Sabbath cover Claypool bypassed “N.I.B.,” which Primus covered several years ago, in favor of “Electric Funeral.”

Claypool has made a career of blending the disparate. He’s wise and faithful enough to know better than to pander to new fans, but he does know how to make the existing ones very happy. Even if it means playing a casino.

Concert Review: Wakarusa Music Festival (2006)

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The Kansas City Star’s Back To Rockville blog

By Joel Francis

Flaming Lips
Bubbles, confetti, lights, super heroes, Santa Claus, space aliens, streamers, balloons and smoke.
We’re only halfway through the Flaming Lips first song and it already feels like the greatest party ever thrown.
The Lips closed down the main stages at Wakarusa on Saturday night by bombarding their audience with happiness for 90 minutes. The props might have seemed like a gimmick if the songs and their performances weren’t equally incredible. Thankfully, they were.
Lips singer Wayne Coyne played the role of merry prankster, shooting confetti, singing with puppets, asking to be pelted with glo-light sticks and rolling over the crowd in a giant bubble.
The heat of the day was gone and a cool breeze had settled in from a storm that was still a few hours off. Maybe Coyne himself put it best: “I don’t want to exaggerate, but this might be the most perfect moment of the whole festival.”

Setlist: Race For the Prize, Bohemian Rhapsody, Free Radicals, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (part one), Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (part two), Vein of Stars, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, The W.A.N.D. , She Don’t Use Jelly, Do You Realize, (encore:) A Spoonful Weighs a Ton

Les Claypool
The undeniable highlight of Les Claypool’s 80 minute set was when heavy metal guitarist Buckethead and funk keyboard legend Bernie Worrell jumped onstage about an hour into the set.
If that pairing sounds eclectic, consider that Claypool’s five-piece band comprised a xylophone, sitar, saxophone, bass and drums. Under the leadership of Claypool’s dexterous bass playing the ensemble was a simultaneous homage to Ravi Shankar, Ornette Coleman and the Violent Femmes’ Brian Ritchie.
The songs averaged 10 minutes in length and there were several head-scratching moments, including a brief sitar/xylophone duet, but most seemed to work.
Other high points included “David Makalster,” “One Better” and the bluegrass inflected “Iowan Gal,” which Claypool performed alone on a bass affixed to a banjo head.

Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors
Bernie Worrell is the consummate sideman. A major architect of George Clinton’s P-Funk sound and hired gun in the Talking Heads’ live masterpiece “Stop Making Sense,” he somehow managed to sound like a sideman in his own band.
From behind his elevated rack of six keyboards at extreme stage right, Worrell pounded out everything from Atari noises to “London Bridge Is Falling Down” while his lead guitarist sang the majority of songs and worked the crowd. The six-piece band laid the funk on heavy for just over an hour and even managed to make “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” sound cool.
P-Funk was only represented sonically, while the Talking Heads “Burning Down the House” closed the set.

Cracker
Twenty minutes after dismissing Camper Van Beethoven, David Lowery was back onstage with a new outfit and guitarist, keyboard player and fresh catalog.
Cracker is heavier and wants to be played on the radio more than CVB, but it also hasn’t changed its sound much in the past 14 years. Earlier gems like “Eurotrash Girl” and “Low” sounded great alongside later works like “One Fine Day,” “Brides of Neptune” and even material debuted from Cracker’s just-released seventh studio.
The oppressive mid-day heat thinned out some of the crowd, but for every person who left, another one, intrigued by the sounds from afar, took his or her place.

Keep Reading:

Wakarusa Music Festival (2008)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2007)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2005)