Surviving Wakarusa

The Wakarusa festival, held in The Ozarks in Arkansas, has become one of the most popular and anticipated music festivals of the summer. This year the bands delivered an amazing time and the venue provided some unique challenges. Being prepared for all of it can make your next Wakarusa a beautiful time.

First of all, make sure you arrive safely!  Some of the roads in Arkansas are rough and surrounded by nothing but farmland, so several people had a time of it trying to navigate the travel. One young man I talked to hit a piece of truck tire on the road, puncturing his gas line and causing a five-hour delay in his arrival. This is one of those bummers you just have to roll with, for Murphy’s law tends to take over sometimes and we are all just at its mercy. Another girl made the rookie mistake of making herself and her car too easy a target to the local, small-town police. I’m sure the Ozark police department are fine folks, but in the real world, these small towns are going to make their money, taking full advantage of all the opportunity to make revenue at your expense. Writing “Waka Waka” in huge letters on the back of a shiny red car full of girls, with the music blaring and yelling out the windows, is asking for trouble. Sure enough, they were pulled over and the driver got a hefty speeding fine which could have been avoided with a little common sense.

Don’t forget to get gas before you arrive!  The roads leading up to the mountain are windy and steep, so if you are almost out of gas on these hills it could present a problem.

Once you arrive it’s time to set up camp. Wakarusa does not include camping passes in the cost of admission but rather sells camping passes per carload. You can only camp where you have a pass, and the campgrounds are divided up so it is a good idea to check out a sitemap before arriving at the
festival so that you have some knowledge of where your campsite is. The grounds are not too terribly big so it is not so much a matter of having to drive around for a long time, but the lines can get pretty backed up when coming into the fest. Knowing where you are headed will save you time.

When it comes to Wakarusa camping, the most valuable thing to bring is
shade!  I was under the impression that because the festival is in the Mid West on a mountain, the weather would be relatively mild. Man, was I wrong!  The weather was intensely hot with no sign of clouds, wind, or shade. Shade tents, large umbrellas, and hanging tapestries were so helpful. Many people were sporting pop up umbrella style tents in the venue so you could sit and enjoy the music during the day without having to chug water and constantly reapply sunblock. Others just carried cute little Chinese umbrellas. My favorite though was the festy kids who turned their umbrellas into giant jellyfish or other silly contraptions. However, you choose to slice it, making shade for yourself is the way to go.

Other helpful ways to relieve the heat is to bring spray mist bottles. A large variety was present at Waka, including regular spray bottles, over-sized mister bottles, and the most fun, of course, were water guns and water balloons. It was always shocking yet refreshing when you are just walking by and someone squirts you right in the back with ice cold water. Some fun folks were walking around with an arsenal of Supersoakers like the festival version of Cuban radicals. Hilarious!

The way the venue was set up was a little unorthodox for me. The area right in front of every stage was sectioned off for VIP ticket holders only, with a fence separating them from General Admission people. This esthetic created a weird vibe and clear separation amongst the fans. The VIP area was really big and not at all crowded. Many people in VIP were sitting in lawn chairs with
only a few rows of people crowding up in the front rows. It was a strange way to see a show crowd and many people were upset by the distinction being so prominent. VIP ticket holders did enjoy some sweet perks, however. They got free beer, food, and showers included in the price of their tickets. The VIP tickets were quite pricey but the general consensus among the people I talked to was that at this particular festival purchasing a VIP ticket is well worth it.

The lineup this year was amazing!  Wakarusa hosted a variety of acts in many different genres,
from Dirtfoot breaking out the gritty southern style rock, to Thievery busting out their unique brand of diversity and beauty. The late night shows kept the party going all night long, and delivered an amazing time. The music was almost non stop so if you could find a shady place for cat naps, you could see acts until the wee morning hours. It was a beautiful thing!

In addition to the superior lineup, Wakarusa also provided many other fun little attractions. A Ferris wheel was the biggest and easiest to spot, but Waka also included a hiking trail, a waterfall, and lots of little swag shops for picking up a variety of items such as jewelry, glass, hoops, and cute festy clothes. My favorite special attraction was a stage set up solely for the act Quixotic. This is not just a
band, but a whole exotic stage show featuring everything from stilt dancers, modern dancers, fire dancers, and acrobatic airlifts. The artists performed some beautiful, graceful, and amazingly difficult stunts. The beautiful music was a perfect addition to the visual aesthetic. In their own words, Quixotic’s act is described as “Harnessing light, movement, and sonic force into a sensual multimedia experience.”  Trying to describe this in words would be futile because it is the only thing I have seen in a long time that literally took my breath away. I could only sit there, mouth agape, and take it all in.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Wakarusa was the security. Most people have just accepted security guards as “the enemy” at festivals, because often they are aggressive, impatient, or overbearing. However, this was not the case at all at Waka. I found the security guards to be the good kind who are genuinely there just to watch out for everyone and keep people from getting hurt. They were not too concerned with bringing in outside beer or food, in fact they kept plastic cups by the entrances so that people didn’t have to chug down their beers but could just pour it in a cup to avoid the safety hazard of having a bunch of sharp cans around for people to step on. This is a sign of good faith to me, and I really appreciated the staff being as uninvassive as possible. Some people did get some illegal substances confiscated but in most cases, these were dangerous hard drugs which had caused some overdose problems already that weekend. Small amounts of personal use extra curriculars did not seem to be the focus of any searches. Some of the security guards worked long 18+ hour shifts in the blazing sun, but most managed to keep up a friendly attitude. It was a refreshing change from most festival secutity.

After surviving my first Wakarusa my key pieces of advice are as follows:  Shade, water, sunscreen!  If you make a serious effort to remember to drink lots of water, eat something (even though it is hard for me to eat when I am that hot, you have to force yourself), spend some time in the shade during the day, and reapply sunscreen at least a few times a day, your Waka trip can be one of your best festivals ever!