Wakarusa Music Festival, tucked away on Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Arkansas, is here again for its 12th year. The music festival is a staple of festival goers from all parts of the country, promising something for all types of music lovers. TrueFire, along with our online magazine Riff Journal, will be covering the event daily.

If the first day of Wakarusa symbolized a warm welcome home for attendees and artists alike, day two of the festival sought to push Wakarusa in a new direction. At a festival that stands by its blend of electronic and jam-rock music (or even jam-tronic for the adventurous), Friday featured a surprising amount of indie and hip-hop.


Umphrey’s McGee in the Revival Tent Friday night.

Don’t get me wrong—the classics were all there too. STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Big Gigantic, and Galactic among others all had sets on Friday to packed audiences, delivering Wakarusa’s signature flavor. Even smaller artists like Mouth from Lawrence, Kansas—a jam band that brings a new “space-funk” tinge to the formula—brought in droves of fans. Everything that Wakarusa did on Friday seemed to hit the nail right on the head, but it was what was new that stole the show.

The Main Stage opened with a surprise as Wakarusa favorites Split Lip Rayfield cancelled at the last second, giving the small indie band Hembree from Kansas City a chance to run the show at least for the afternoon. Guitarist Garrett Childers stood out during their show, dropping the guitar to sing Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” and then picking back up where he left off to finish the show.


Hembree members (from left) Isaac Flynn, Eric Davis, and Garrett Childers.

Several hip-hop acts played on the Outpost and Main Stage on Friday, starting with Chali 2Na at the Outpost Stage originally from the group Jurassic 5. Bridging the gap between the familiar and the new, he was backed up by a band well versed in reggae grooves to change up the palette for his fast, deep vocals that won him popularity with Jurassic 5. Following up, the group Dilated Peoples stayed on track and delivered a solid set before the Main Stage joined in with Chance The Rapper. Following up his mixtape release from last year, Chance also brought along a full band with a horn section and all—bringing a bright, distinct flavor to his rapping that already sets him apart from everybody else.

Here’s to hoping that this new direction for Wakarusa sticks—bringing in a diverse field of musicians that can only build the collaborative spirit that makes the festival great.

Stay tuned all weekend for more updates from the Wakarusa Music Festival!