The Wakarusa Music and Arts Festival in Ozark, Arkansas has quickly become one of my favorite festivals. This May was my second visit to Waka,and the experience was incredible. Here are a few tips for those who would like to make a home on Mulberry Mountain in the future, and a little recap for those who already call Waka home:
As you can tell by the name, Mulberry Mountain (the beautiful site of Wakarusa) is in fact on the top of a mountain. This means that you will need to make sure you have a reliable car chock full of gasoline. There are several gas stations off the exits near the fest but not on the actual exit of the venue so hit one up on your way in.
Ozark County as you may have guessed is not a happening hot spot, which means that local cops are just itching for a reason to pull over some hippies and see what’s what. As far as festivals go, this location is no worse than any other in this respect, just do not make yourself a target. Pay attention to speed limits, local laws, etc. and you should be fine. When you arrive you will get in line to be checked out by security and put on your wristbands. I was pleased to see that, just like last year, our security check was quick and pleasant. The main thing to remember is that glass bottles are not permitted. This information was on Waka’s website but apparently a lot of people did not see it judging by all the cases of beer being confiscated at the gate. Buy cans, yo!
As far as the lines to get in, the wait times seem entirely up to chance. Last year we waited in line about an hour and a half to get to the security checkpoint, but this year they seem to have streamlined the process a little
more and our wait was quite painless. As with any festival, I suggest you plan to arrive a few hours before sunset so that you will have time to wait in line and get settled in and set up before dark. The campsites do have some generator lights so the grounds are not totally pitch black or difficult to navigate at night. Wakarusa has “Camping Passes” which can be purchased before the event, and this pass will determine where you will set up camp. A word to the wise: If you are camping in the West Woods campgrounds, it is across the street from the venue. This means that at some point you will have to cross the public street to get to the venue. DO NOT CARRY OPEN CONTAINERS OF ALCOHOL ACROSS THIS STREET! While the actual festival grounds are private property and looked after by private security, the street is public
and police will not hesitate to write an open container ticket to the tune of $350. Yes, this is an outrageous amount, however a small town wants to make it’s revenue off of Waka fans somehow, so just don’t let it be from your pocket!
After getting settled in you may want to venture off to enjoy the river and beautiful waterfalls just down the way from the festival grounds. It can be a fun and refreshing way to spend your day. If you want to do this you can choose to take the bus which runs most of the day or drive your car. If you do decide to drive your car will have to be checked again on the way in sobe prepared for that. Also, Cops are on the lookout for DUI’s, no seat belts, and anything else they may be able to ticket you for so taking the bus is a safer option. If you are looking to cool off you can also hit up the giant water slide by the main stage, yay!
A valuable lesson I learned this year was that weather can always throw you some massive curve balls! Those of you who remember Wakarusa 2011 will undoubtedly remember the intense heat. This is what many expected this year, but damn were we wrong! The temperature dropped dramatically as the sun went down and it got very cold the first two nights. Over the course of the weekend we got everything Mother Nature had to offer. The days were very warm and the nights quite chilly, then the real fun started on Sunday when a storm front rolled in, bringing with it strong winds, torrential downpours, ad oh yes… hail. If this year’s Waka weather taught
me anything it is to be prepared for everything! More specifically, pack hoodies and warm pants as well as shorts and bathing suits. The venue is large and sort of hilly so bringing a pair of comfortable shoes is a good idea. Flops and sandals can get waring by the end of the weekend, and blisters can be a huge pain in the ass. A rain coat, ponchos, small plastic bags, and waterproof shoes are good for the rainy times. This weather also causes a few challenges with camping setup. Many an Easy-Up met its fate to some strong winds and hail so taking a few precautions such as extra strong stakes, very good rain tarps, and proper setup locations can save you a few headaches. You can also check out the “Surviving A Rainy Festival” post on this site for some more tips on avoiding tragedies in the rain.
We made the mistake of trying out a new shade tent this year that ended up being a massive fail. The thing was really big, which was part of it’s original appeal, however the fact that it had about 8,000 different parts made it
quite the pain in the ass. After we got this beast set up we tried to tie down some tapestries to block the sun, unfortunately these worked as sort of “sails” to lift the thing up and toss it over a fence and into the street. Fail. This made about half the parts break off which needed to be repaired with about one and a half rolls of duct tape. Great stuff duct tape, by the way, always pack it in your gear! We learned from this mistake and used some spare rope to reinforce the tent stakes and make it a more sturdy structure. The lesson we can learn from this is to invest in a sturdy, reliable shade tent and make sure you know how to assemble it before you have the strong wind and hot sun working against you. By the end of the weekend this poor thing was in a half collapsed pile which was un-salvageable and a complete waste of money. We would have fared better just duct taping some tarps to some ropes, buthey, you live you learn! Whatever the weather threw our way, the crowd at Wakarusa was always a happy and smiling one. Bring it on Mother Nature, you can’t stop our good time!
The venue grounds of Wakarusa are set up very nicely, with lots of open spaces to chill and room to dance. Compared to some other festivals the wait time to enter the venue is very small, however there are only about 4 or 5 stalls to walk through and get checked by security at the main entrance so if there is a big headliner about to start you may want to meander towards the stages a little early to avoid the rush. I was pleased to learn that, just like last year, the security staff was very nice and friendly and did not do a “full cavity search” approach like some other fests. Once you arrive in the mainvenue there are several stages to check out. The main stage is in a large field and has plenty of room (and bathrooms, which is always appreciated!). I suggest bringing a large umbrella or Sunbrella tent to set up and chill under. The days can get pretty hot and the Waka staff allows these items to be brought in, so you may as well take advantage.
Of course the music did not disappoint! The good vibes provided by Soja, The Avett Brothers, and Mountain Sprout were some of my personal favorites, but of course there were so many good
shows to delight. Wakarusa has a standing tradition of hosting some of the greatest bands of the summer lineup including the always awesome Quixotic Fusion. If you have never seen this act before I suggest giving yourself this experience as soon as possible. It is an amazing blend of violins, drums, and a stage show like no other I have ever seen. It has a Cirque du Soleil type of feel which is hard to put into words except to say “Wow”. Pretty Lights brought the party, and the Weir,
Robinson, Greene Trio was unbelievable. There is truly something for everyone, no matter what genre you are into. It is amazing that Wakarusa can provide this caliber of music and still maintain it’s hometown vibe and humble staff. For my money, if you’re going to do one festival a year, Wakarusa is a great choice!
A big thank you once again to all the the awesome people who helped make this year’s Wakarusa Music and Arts Festival so special. Mulberry Mountain will stay in my heart! Waka waka!
If you found this helpful please feel free to “Tweet” “Share” and “Like” the hell out of it. If you would like to share your tips or let us know about your Waka times please leave us some comments!
Special thanks to Will Arnold and Rachael Van Epps for their photography, much love!