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.

After three long days of the music and the heat, Sunday at Wakarusa can seem more like a job than a vacation. The idea of standing out in the sun on sore, broken-down feet for even one more show seems impossible. Many festival goers don’t even risk it and drive out Sunday morning to forgo the day’s musical acts, leaving the mountainside strangely barren.

The remedy for this problem is to indulge in the several extra-curricular activities that Wakarusa has provided alongside the music. The fairgrounds on Mulberry Mountain feature many art installations that encourage interaction, including a giant car called Big Red that roams the mountain, starting a party wherever it goes. The driver/DJ invites people in and on top of the car, which features its very own light show and a horn that is synced up to the beat of the song.

Big Red near the Main Stage Sunday night.

If a traveling rave isn’t quite your scene, you can visit the several “nests” around the stages for a cozy and serene feeling. Using wood and organic material, they make up entrance ways and tucked away areas that make it easy to forget there’s a world out there besides Wakarusa.

Looking into the nest at the Satellite Stage.

But, Wakarusa’s real gem is one that you have to put in some serious work to enjoy. A steep, rocky, slippery-sloped hike separates the festival from a waterfall located in the Ozark National Forest surrounding the festival grounds. Not for the faint of heart, hikers greet each other with words of encouragement along the grueling path, assuring each other that the prize at the end is worth the trip. At the falls attendees can jump, dive, hammock, make intricate rock stacks, and finally take that bath that they never got around to as well.


I’m sure that somewhere on the hike back up to reality from the falls it’ll seem like packing it in is the easiest thing to do, but don’t run off too fast, as Wakarusa saves some of the best music for the final day. Bands like Trigger Hippy, a group featuring members of the popular festival act The Black Crowes, faced the heat of the day during the afternoon. Lead vocalist Joan Osborne belted out powerful melodies as the band busted out tight-knit grooves to an intimate audience of sweltering fans.

Trigger Hippy performing Sunday afternoon on the Main Stage.

As the evening set in, Portugal. The Man played the sun’s way out, bringing an indie sound back to the Main Stage. Hailing from Wasilla, Alaska, bassist Zach Carothers taunted the audience saying “You know, it really isn’t that hot out.” The night continued with the jam-tronic band Lotus, who have played five times over Wakarusa’s 12 year tenure, bringing their unique blend of dense percussion, meticulously constructed synth lines, and driving dance-bass all being lead by dueling guitar parts.

Closing down Wakarusa (maybe the highest honor that can be handed down by a festival) was Washington D.C. based outfit Thievery Corporation. Being inspired by world and electronic music, they adorn the stage with sitars, tablas, varied African and Middle Eastern drums as well as artists schooled in reggae, hip-hop, and funk. The cultural heritage of each piece to the Thievery Corporation puzzle is given its moment to shine, all being painted over a canvas of thick bass and percussion.

Leaving Wakarusa never seems to go by easily, piling the camping gear into the car and worrying about it later, bleary-eyed trying to beat traffic, stopping at The Hillbilly Hideout Cafe at the bottom of the mountain to grab some coffee. Remembering that you have to be at work in the morning rushes back into focus, and although the journey is coming to an end the music stays put, waiting for 359 days to pass and the adventure to start again.

Thank you for tuning in, and catch us next weekend at Bonnaroo!