Wakarusa’s a rare breed in the festival world. The crowds aren’t overwhelming, there’s not a layer of dust in the air, and for that matter, a layer of pretension and unnecessarily high expectation that’s often found at so many other festivals. Some people want to call it a jam festival, and when you look at the headliners, to a degree it’s true, but what does that word “jam” even mean anymore with so many bands from every genre getting in touch with their inner Jerry? With a diverse line up, such as what Waka offers every year, there really is something for almost everyone (sorry, metal-heads). On top of that, it’s the only festival to offer a separate, all night electronic mini fest once the day is done, so even if you can’t stand bands like Umphrey’s or Panic, you’re still well taken care of.
It’s a different world than the big-name fests, and one that’s by far more relaxed from opening day to the final set. So to keep the good times rolling, here are a few tips to help you have the best experience.
Located in a natural bowl on the top of Mulberry Mountain, just outside of Ozark, AR, the site is unbelievable. Cool nights and hot days make for varying temperatures that will have you sweating by 9 am, but reaching for a sweater by nightfall. The site is surrounded by rivers and forests with plenty of trails to go exploring, and if you can pull yourself away from the music for a couple of hours, there’s a swimming hole and waterfall for your cooling off needs just 20 minutes down the trail by the main concert area.
This year the festival will feature six stages scattered throughout the property, with the main stage being front and center. Three of the six stages are tents, with the Revival Tent acting as a secondary main stage for the second-tier headliners and the bigger late-night jams. The other two tents, the Outpost and Satellite, are for the Interstellar Meltdown (DJs and electronic acts) and other smaller bands. Those are set to run this year for almost 24 hours a day. The last two are much smaller, with one, the Backwoods Stage, located in the woods behind the VIP camping, and the other, a café stage of sorts, being more central for the singer-songwriter acts. As you can tell, there’s a lot to see in such a compact area.
The site’s arrangement is smaller than the average fest, so getting around from stage to stage is not as much of an issue and takes no more than a few minutes. There’s plenty of delicious food offered up, with New Belgium bringing the tasty brew from Colorado. A breakfast trailer is set up for the campers, as well, to help fight that morning hangover. The on-site well water is actually cool and not smelly, and if you need a shower, they can do that, too, at the shower trailers — though do allow for time in the lines. There’s also a gift shop for your convenience needs, like sunscreen and pop-tarts. Interestingly enough, it’s also a permanent country store so you can get your toothpaste, batteries, and maybe even some crafty antiques, if that’s your thing.
Like any other camping festival, once you’re packed in, you’re in, so come prepared. They do allow you to leave the festival, but that may not be possible with your car surrounded by tents. To have the best experience, here are the basics…
- Water: It’s always a good idea to bring a few gallons with you. That being said, the great thing about Wakarusa is the water lines are never really an issue, and did I mention it’s cold and pretty tasty? Do bring your own, but don’t worry if you have to refill.
- Tent/Tarps: You will need a tent with good stakes and a rain fly in case the bad weather rolls in. A rule of thumb when purchasing is this; if it’s from Wal-Mart, it will fail you in bad weather. Invest in a quality tent from a real outdoor store so you’ll have something that will last you all of your festival-going days. If you want your own private shade, bring a tarp. It still hits the high 80s/low 90s during the day, so they’re always good for a nice break (unless you find the hammocks set up in the trees; then by all means, enjoy those).
- Sleeping Bag, or Lots of Blankets: It gets into the high 40s/low 50s at night, so be prepared.
- Sweatshirt/Hoodie/Hippie Poncho: Refer to above.
- Rain Jacket
- Toilet Paper: Believe it or not, but the porta-potties run out, and nothing’s worse than trying to find TP at 2am.
- Hand Sanitizer
Other good ideas, but not essential…
- Food: Snacks, fruit, anything to munch on throughout the day to keep your energy up.
- Large Cooler
- Camp Grill
- Camp Chairs
- Small First-Aid Kit
- Frisbees: Especially if you enjoy Frisbee golf.
- Closed-Toe Shoes: See “Sleeping Bag” above, and also if you decide to make the trek to the waterfall, the trail can be steep and muddy in spots.
Getting to the Mountain
Because of its remote location, there’s really only one way in, and that’s via 23. The easiest way is to take I-40, then head north on 23. If you’re coming from around or through Fayetteville (or other points north), there is a network of county roads that will lead you there, but they aren’t well marked. The best bet is to head south on 540, east on 40, then north on 23; otherwise you will have to drive past the venue to get in.
There is also a change-up on how they will handle getting you your wrist bands and camping stickers. This year you will need to stop by the box office to pick up all of your necessary passes to get into the fest. The box office will now be located at the intersection of Highways 23 and 215 — approximately three miles south of the main venue. As the organizers advise,
“We highly encourage all patrons to approach the festival from the south (Interstate 40 – North on Highway 23), doing so will place you right at the doorstep of the box office. For those of you who take the northern route (southbound on Highway 23), please be advised that you’ll be required to drive past the main venue to obtain your wristbands prior to entering the festival”
The drive in is a scenic, steep, and curvy mountain road that takes you up to the site. It’s also where they line you up Wednesday night before opening the floodgates at midnight. Things move fast though, so there’s no need to worry about twelve-hour lines or anything crazy like that.
A little tip for those looking to pick up last-minute provisions: The closest town is Ozark, which is just a couple miles south on 23, but there’s not much there in the way of a grocery or convenience store. Luckily, if you’re just looking for beer and snacks, there’s a store on the left on your way up 23. Otherwise, it’s a good idea stock up in the nearest city, depending on where you’re coming from.
How to Waka
Like I said earlier, the site is laid out so you’re central to all the fun stuff. The stages, Frisbee golf, trails, etc. all surround the general and main stage campsites. As it goes with all festivals, make a list of the bands you absolutely have to see, and plan accordingly. If you get the chance though, I highly recommend exploring the area. It’s a nice break, and nothing’s better than jumping off a waterfall on a hot day, and since the festival never stops, take a nap if you can. Stay hydrated, stay fed, and don’t forget the sunscreen. Moderation is always the key to life at any festival, so please, don’t be the burnout who ruins the weekend for your friends. When it comes to the music, there’s a huge diversity of acts, so bounce around the stages because you never know who you might discover. So, in a nutshell, just dance, play, and be.