Monday, June 1, 2015

The Ultimate Campers Guide to the Wakarusa Music Festival.

Edward Sharpe decides to leave the stage, perform in the
crowd during his performance with The Magnetic Zeros at
Wakarusa 2014.
The Wakarusa Camping and Music Festival, Arkansas's largest camping and music festival, kicks off the first long weekend of June north of the River Valley town of Ozark.  Here's your guide to what you should bring, what you should expect, and what you should add to your hopping schedule while on Mulberry Mountain.


Heading to Wakarusa
If you don't want to click on the Road Alert notice above, realize this -- you can't approach from the north.  A section of Arkansas Highway 23 is out.  It won't be repaired for months.  Just forget you even thought of it.

Cheeseburger and handmade onion rings at the Oark General
Store in Oark.
What that means is, you'll probably be coming through Ozark.  A few of you will come through Clarksville instead, taking Highway 105 to Oark and going the backway.  Clarksville has some good places to eat (the Diamond Drive-In, Fat Dawgz BBQ, El Taco Placero, Kountry Kitchen) and a Walmart Supercenter that's right on I-40.  Oark only has the Oark General Store, but it is very much worth it for a burger and a slice of pie.

Ozark is prepared to help you with whatever you need or forget to bring with you.  You'll find a supermarket, a Walmart and a Dollar General in town.  There are also several good restaurants.  Right on Exit 35, where you turn to go north on Arkansas Highway 23, you'll find the I-40 Travel Center.  The bathrooms are clean, the restaurant is 24 hours, there are showers and there's just about everything to get you up the road right there.  You'll also want to get gas there -- only one gas station is in business between there and Mulberry Mountain, and that's a single set of pumps at Turner Bend.

If you have time before or after the festival to check out the area, I highly suggest Arkansas Wine Country.

Several art installations will appear at Main Stage.
Music overview
If you've never been to Wakarusa before... it's an experience.  My first one in 2012, I thought I was headed to Woodstock.  It blew me away.  I'm an older Wakafarian but I get the vibe now.  The music can be as far reaching and eclectic as mountain folk to EDM.  You may hear slightly country twangs from time to time, and you might rock out hard with metal.  But overall, the music is chill and happening.

Nahko and Medicine for the People at Revival Tent,
Wakarusa 2014.
Depending on where you camp, you may hear different musicians clearly across site.  From the hill heading towards West Woods, Main Stage (a half mile away) can be heard clearly... but when there are breaks, the Revival Tent's music is rather strong.  For the most part, unless you are close, you won't hear Satellite Stage across site except for on Wednesday night for early arrivals.

Here are my top picks this year - which aren't really the same as the top acts. For those, go here.  And you should check out this guy's list -- he ranks every single act on the schedule at this year's Wakarusa.

Be sure to check your schedule so you don't miss your favorite bands.

The stages
Main Stage is the big one, on the northeast corner of the Mulberry Mountain site.  It's out in the open, and if it doesn't rain, it's a beautiful place for a picnic or to stretch out your legs and snooze in the sun.  You can bring a small sunshade in.  The art installations are usually located in this area, and they're fun to explore.  Early in the festival, when attendance is still light, you can get pretty close to the concert if you want.. but unless you absolutely have to see the sweat beads on that guitarist's cheeks, don't worry.  The sound's good and you don't have to be close.  There's usually a beer tent set up behind the soundboard.

Some musical acts use the Revival Tent as an excellent spot
to stage light shows.
The Revival Tent is north-center on site, and is parked very close to one of the two main entrances.  It's under a tent, so chances are if it's raining the show will still go on (no shows when there's lightning, though).  The back wall of the tent is usually taken over by folks in hammocks, who line their cloth cocoons up on the poles and relax to the music.  The area closest to the stage can get sloggy with mud by the end of the festival.

The Outpost Stage is in the same section of the main Wakarusa site as Revival, and it's right by the Ferris Wheel.  It's also under a tent.

Mountain Sprout on stage at Wakarusa 2013,
The Backwoods Stage is far more intimate.  Housed in an old shed, there's just six feet between the performers and the audience.  Wood chips and/or hay is put down if it gets wet out there.  The sets here tend to be more personal, thanks to the small set-up, but the audio is excellent.  This is the place to escape to if you're overwhelmed with the loud.  It's located between VIP camping and RV reserved, down a gorgeous tree-lined pathway that's often decked out in spontaneous artistic displays.

The Satellite Stage is an experience in itself.  Located in a hollow off the south side of Main Camping, it's set in a natural amphitheater.  The trees will be taken up with hammocks.  There is a flat area directly in front of the stage, but you'll be just as happy spread out on a blanket on the mountainside.  This stage offers some of the best views at Waka, and this year it's the hub for EDM (electronic dance music) lovers.

The setup at Riverside Stage is a little different....
The Riverside Stage is located right by the river.  If you're Main Venue, you'll need to hop a bus to get there.  Though there is a VIP aree immediately in front of the stage, you won't need to worry about it... the music bounces off the canyon on the other side of the river, and you can hear pretty darn well.  If the river's not too high (careful, it might be),

Packing for Wakarusa
The link above will take you to a list I'm growing for Wakarusa patrons.  Feel free to add to it in the comments.  It's meant to be helpful.

Our setup is atypical, thanks to our oversized SoulPad. It is
mighty comfortable, though.
Camping at Wakarusa
The biggest thing to note is that you will be camping next to your vehicle (unless you are not camping and are coming for the day only, which means you will park at Riverside and ride the shuttle up).  You will have 450sf for your vehicle and tent(s), which means if you're sharing camping space SoulPad, which takes up 201sf before guylines, so we won't be putting up an additional sunshade.  If you need more space than that, you'll need to purchase additional camping passes.  Sorry.
Our SoulPad onsite at Wakarusa 2015.
with your friends and a car with an estimated footprint of 100sf, you're gonna have 350sf left -- enough for about two tents and maybe a sunshade.  I have a 16 foot round

For reserved spots, you'll be directed to where you need to go.  But for most folks camping at Wakarusa, it's first come, first served.  Folks are directed into lanes in Main Camping, and if you want to camp with your pals, you'd better get there and go in together.

The lines
Unless you are very, very lucky or head in at a strange hour where no one else is arriving, expect a line.  Expect one even if you don't think there will be one.  Each festivalgoer must take their printed pass or ticket to the office for a wristband -- and you can't get onto festival grounds without it.

This really cool bridge is located at Turner Bend.
Because all entry will be from the south this year, extra long lines are expected.  That means backups and extra time spent in vehicles.  Don't sweat it.  Everyone else is waiting.  Make friends.  Don't be rude.

Entry to site
Once you've gone through the checkpoint at Riverside and headed up the hill, you'll make it to Mulberry Mountain.  There's a great sign up front confirming your arrival.  You'll be directed into lanes where your vehicle will be subject to search.  You should know what the usual no-nos are.  Beer is OK.  Beer in bottles, not so much... no glass at all is allowed on the site (okay, your eyeglasses, but that should be common sense.  Stop being a smartalec.)  Proceed according to the instructions the volunteers give you, and stay cool.

By the way -- if you choose to drive off site, you have to go through this part all over again.  

VIP, RV and Glamping
If you fit into one of these categories, you've already received information on what you need to do and when you need to be there.

VIP camping and VIP Glamping are to the east of Main Stage, in a nice prime area of site in the trees.  There are two meals a day served there, plus flushing toilets and security to keep others out.

For RV camping, there's no big security keeping folks out.  RV reserved are allowed to bring up to eight people per spot.  Each of those spots has electrical and water access, and there's a real, honest-to-goodness bathhouse in the section, protected by a key code.  You can visit your friends here if you're not in RV -- and on Friday morning, this is where you'll come for Chompdown.

If you're Glamping, you get a great overview of the entire site.  You're close to the shuttles for Riverside, and that's where you'll park.  Each of the tents is set up according to what you purchase -- two or four cots, two twins or a queen sized bed.  You bring your own stuff otherwise... which could just be your clothes, if you're flying in.  But it is quite a walk to Main Stage.  Just be prepared.

VIP Glamping is behind Main Stage.  There's also a VIP Tour Bus option, where if you spend a lot of money you get a tour bus with kitchen, bathroom, stocked fridge, bunks for everyone.  Last I heard, there were no takers.

Life in camp
If you don't like people, you're out of luck.  Wakarusa folks are friendly, and they will chat away with you.  That's actually pretty cool.  Forget your air pump for your mattress and someone will probably loan you one.  Need an extra battery?  Want to share a bag of ice?  Want to swap stuff?  Hey, it all happens in General Camping.

Special trucks are brought in to help with cell phone signal.
But there are probably more than 20,000 cell phones on site,
so be patient.
You can cook.  You can't bring a firepit or build a fire on the ground, but you can bring your little Coleman stove and propane containers (the small bottles) and make a meal or two.  You absolutely should bring your coolers.  Flashlights yes, tiki torches no.  Glow bracelets and necklaces?  Awesome!  Dance around a little and let us all watch!

People around you are going to snore, make noise, pass gas, move around at all hours of the day or night.  If you require silence to sleep, bring earplugs.  There is no such thing as silence at Wakarusa.

Concerts generally start around noon and last until sunrise.  In the morning you'll find classes on yoga and hula hooping, vendors and a farmers market open for shopping and shuttles to take you into Ozark for supplies.  

When you do leave camp to head into the concert venue, remember -- you can take a sandwich in a plastic baggie.  You can't take a party sub.  Water, personal hydration packs and the like are cool. But the vendors are there to sell you stuff like beer and Coca-Cola, so bringing them straight in is a no-
no (I have been allowed V8 every year because no vendor sells it and because, frankly, they're usually grinning too much at me and my get-up to get mad.  Also, I'm working media.)  No blades, no stupid stuff... but your blanket or chair or bike is fine.  Be prepared to be searched.  

It is probably going to rain.  Bring your panchos, umbrellas and tarps, and be prepared to go with the flow.  It's part of life.  It's part of Waka.

Recycle that stuff
Frankly, there are few edibles you can bring anywhere that you consume whole... seedless grapes, maybe, but you have to put them in something and you'd look silly just carrying them in your open hands.  Wakarusa is dedicated to reducing and even eliminating its carbon footprint on the planet, and there's a very active recycling program on site.  There are garbage bags available -- blue is for recycling and black is for trash.  You are ever so cool if you manage to haul your trash out with you.

Consider bringing things in biodegradable packaging or in packages that goes home with you.

Some even walk on stilts.
Getting around
You're going to walk.  A LOT.  Unless you're one of those odd ducks that just sit in camp and listen from afar, but then you'll still have to use the facilities at some point, unless you bring your own toilet, and if so... well... let's leave that one alone.

You can't bring a moped, Runaround, golf cart, four-wheeler or anything else motorized.  You can, however, bring your bike, and when the weather is nice that's really the way to go.  You can bring it into Main Venue.  You can use it to haul your stuff.  Just be prepared in case it gets muddy to carry that thing.

Festi-Cab drivers are unsung heroes.
Then there are Festi-Cabs, which are the lifesavers of people like me who haul equipment up and down the mountain all weekend.  They're $5, and they'll take you anywhere on site except Riverside -- which is a free shuttle, anyway.  Everything slopes down from West Woods to Main Stage, so my suggestion is to walk down and, if you're really tired, Festi-Cab back.

Don't drive your car from Main Venue to Riverside to see acts or swim in the creek.  That just crowds day parking (if it's allowed at all) and makes you look like a jerk.

Waka culture

The faned Jerry Roll, stuffed with gyro meat.
Eating at Wakarusa
There are a number of vendors on-site at Wakarusa.  Unlike state fairs and festivals here and there, Waka food is diverse with a lot of healthier options.  Most vendors eschew styrofoam containers for paper plates, handheld items, things on sticks and the like.  The common foods are grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, crepes and wraps.  Get your fill of photos taken over the past three years of food at Wakarusa right here.

Get your butt out of bed and head to Chompdown Friday.
There are a few public feeds different camps put on.  Camp Danger (in RV camping, slot 45 on Coyote Lane) is doing a crawfish feed Thursday at 1 p.m.  And the world-famous Chompdown happens Friday morning at 9 a.m. on Wilderness Street in RV Reserved.  Bring something to share when you go to these.

Eating in camp is cool, too.  Just remember, no glass and no open fires.

Bathing at Wakarusa
Unless you are in RV Reserved (or have your own shower in RV Unreserved), you're going to need to either pay or be creative to stay clean.  There are showers on site -- but you have to pay for them.  I believe it's $20 for a shower wristband.

Swimming in the Mulberry River.
Many people choose to take a dip in the river.  Normally, this is an excellent option.  Not this time around.  The plentiful rain has made a mess of things in this area of the country, and rivers are running high.  That includes the Mulberry River, which is normally smooth running but swim worthy this time of year.  Last check, water was fast and high, and swimming is not advised.  I don't know if the area will be restricted or not. Check here for river conditions:  Turner Bend Outfitters river gauge

Otherwise, bring your solar shower, your wet wipes, anything you need to stay clean.  And don't forget your deodorant.  Or bug spray.  Or sunscreen.

The Riverside shuttle is a collection of school buses.
The shuttle
It's a fun ride.  It'll take you from Riverside to Main Venue and vice versa, and it runs just about all the time.  Just be prepared for lines to get on and off it.

There's also a shuttle to go into Ozark, which takes you to Walmart, the I-40 Travel Center and downtown -- where you can catch an additional shuttle that will take you to the wineries.

Need help?
If you don't know about the St. Bernards, you should.

Buying and selling stuff
There are a heck of a lot of vendors at Wakarusa.  Those along the midways sell clothing, things that light up, posters and a variety of other things.

Then there are individuals who sell things... be it hand-cast charms, scarves, posters, you name it.  These folks are just trying to earn a buck any way they can, perhaps to make back what they spent to get to the festival.  In other cases, some folks just want to trade to see what sort of neat things they'll get.

I've even seen services rendered, such as the smart young masseuse who set up a
table at Riverside.

Vendors aren't open every hour of the day, but the General Stores are. Run by the Wakarusa folks, they're little centers that have a little bit of everything, from soap and deodorant to breakfast burritos.

Remember, these vendors are there to provide things you need and want.  They're not really taking any time to enjoy the concerts themselves.  They're there for your convenience.  Support them, and they'll continue to bring their wares.

What did we forget?
There are certainly items that haven't been included on this list, that probably should be.  Drop me a line at or add a comment to this piece.  Thank you!

Follow us
While the housesitter and the cats take residence at my house during the festival, Grav and I will be on the ground, sharing concert photos and culture bits.  Follow us...

on Twitter @TieDyeTravels and @GravWeldon
on Tumblr at The Sideblog
on Instagram - TieDyeKat and LordGrav
and here on Tie Dye Travels.  See you there.

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