LAWRENCE -- The day after a hellacious wind and rain storm forced its organizers to cancel a big chunk of opening day, the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival resumed on Friday. And despite the power of the storm the night before, the festival site looked relatively unscathed as early as noon.
You could find blotches and patches of thick mud here and there, but anything exposed to the sun and the stiff breeze had pretty much dried up by early afternoon. Places where the sun don't shine, however -- like under all the tents -- were in bad shape. In some places the muck was two inches deep. I saw three people in the Sun Up tent blow-out a flip-flop that got stuck in the mud.
The "news" of the day occurred late: The band Cake had trouble getting into town on time, so its time slot was moved. Originally it was scheduled to precede the Flaming Lips at the main Sun Down Stage. Instead Cake switched spots with Galactic, moving to the midnight show in the Revival Tent. A rundown of the day:
Noon: The Prairie Stage is proudly solar-powered but the Potcheen Folk Band is having trouble with another natural resource: the brisk wind, which is messing with its sound. They're a Celtic/bluegrass jam band from Denver (they'd fit in nicely at the Irish Fest). One of them wears a Ramones T-shirt, which is fitting. They are a little rough, in a good way. They do "Whiskey in the Jar" -- the Pogues' version, not the Metallica's -- and it arouses the still groggy crowd in front of them. As a rule here, don't assume anyone's completely awake just because they're drinking beer, no matter what time it is.
Before the Potcheen set, someone on the PA asks campers to keep an eye peeled for a guy's wedding ring. Yikes. ("Honey, I took it off to clean it, I swear.")
The main Sundown Stage officially opens at noon, and a band called Stardeath & White Dwarfs is its inaugural band. Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips would later call them "psychedelic warlords," a pretty apt description. He doesn't say, however, that the singer, Dennis Coyne, is Wayne Coyne's nephew. The Dwarfs are cosmic and fond of swaying gently from dissonance to ambiance. And they must be fond of Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake and Palmer. The aroma of skunk weed was prevalent throughout their set, but this wasn't twirling music. Instead a lot of the onlookers stood and watched, entranced.
1:30 p.m.: Paw takes over the Revival Stage. The crowd is initially very light -- about 100 people, scattered around the huge tent, avoiding the muddier spots. By set's end, about 300 were watching/listening,many from the dry grass outside the tent.
The lineup today: Mark Hennessy, Grant Fitch, Jason Magierowski and a guest drummer named Tyler whose last name I didn't catch. Hennessy reveals the kid had only five rehearsals to learn the material. He does good. The set is loud and ferocious and sloppy, just like it should have been. Hennessy hurls himself into every song. He sings like Ray Lewis plays football.
They played " Couldn't Know," "Home Is A Strange Place," "Death to Traitors," "Sunflower," "Hope I Die Tonight" and "Dragline." The banter between songs was as entertaining as the music. Early in the set, Fitch announced: "I'd wrestle a big, fat hog for a shot of whiskey." About five minutes later, a tray of four shots was delivered. Then Hennessy: "I told myself I was gonna work out before this gig. It's paid off. I already haven't thrown up twice." Later, they would joke about "talking more than we play." Hennessy: "Grunge didn't die; your patience did." They ended up talking quite a bit towards the end of their one-hour set, mostly because they'd already spent everything they'd rehearsed.
Fitch said the band had scheduled shows in Kansas City and Lawrence in July and August. I hope they don't get too polished; they're raw spontaneity is a big part of their appeal.
After that set, the Mates of State seem almost childlike. They drew a good crowd to the main Sun Down stage. For several songs, they employed a string duo (cello and viola). The hippies liked the bubbly pop music ("Fraud in the '80s," "Like U Crazy," "Get Better"). Towards the end of the set, four park rangers showed up and monitored the scene, which included lots of hula-hoopers and girls blowing bubbles into the air. They must have mis-read the memo: The hip-hop bands were about to take over the Revival Tent.
First among them was Del Tha Funky Homosapien. By the time he finally took the stage (after a long warmup by his crew), the tent was more than half-full. It would be even more crowded during the Blackalicious set. Jam-band nation is into underground rap, big time. It bounced through both sets and recognized lots of material, like "No Need for Alarm" and "Phony Phranchise" by Del and "Blazing Arrow" by Blackalicious, which samples Harry Nilsson's "Me and My Arrow." Some of the bands here could take a few notes from Del and Blackalicious on how to work a crowd.
During those sets, Built to Spill was up on the Sun Down Stage. They opened with "Nowhere Nothin' F***in' Up" and then "Time Trap." At this point, fans were already staking out spots for the Cake/Lips show, so the crowd was pretty big. Doug Martsch and his boys didn't really play to them, however. They played several midtempo songs that didn't translate in the big, sunny wide-open. When they kicked up the volume and let those three Fenders roar, like in "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss," they woke the place up.
And Seinfeld was right: There is such a thing as bad naked.
I took a dinner break, but our regular contributer, Joel Francis, covered Arrested Development and a few other bands. His accounts are forthcoming. I got back in time for the main events.
While Galactic played during Cake's spot, I headed over to the Sun Up Stage to catch Limbeck again. They can't catch a break, Their Thursday set was in the huge Revival Tent and it was cut short by the storm. This set was in a tent with a swamp in the middle. So the crowd that showed up was scattered around the edge of the tent, save for about three dozen people up against the fence at the front of the stage. They still kicked ass. If you like Old 97s or Whiskeytown or early Wilco, check them out.
The Lips started about 30 minutes late, and they put on their usual show: an orgy of visuals and theatrics and good moods. Coyne did his bubble thing and there was an onslaught of confetti and streamers and balloons and balloons filled with confetti. Somebody in the back of the crowd added some fireworks, twice. It was much like the Uptown Theater show recently but there were a few twists: The Greek choruses were dressed like TeleTubbies. The version of "Yoshimi" featured just Drozd on keyboards.
They also covered Led Zep's "The Song Remains the Same." Before that one, Coyne called it a perfect summer song and encouraged anyone who felt like it to run around naked. Then they played the song and the screen behind them showed a video of a couple running through the woods disrobing (the woman looked like Emmylou in her 20s). Before they got completely naked, Coyne was joined on stage by five completely naked dancers, all female, including a couple who apparently got a bikini wax/sculpture for the occasion. Led Zep and naked girls. Take that Rockfest.
Cake drew a huge crowd for its midnight show, which started a little late, too, They have plenty of devoted fans among this crowd, too. They opened with a straight cover of "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town)" that sounded so good it makes me think they have a great country album in them. They followed that with their own well-known songs: "Stick Shift and Safety Belts," "Frank Sinatra," "Building a Religion" and "Guitar." About an hour in, the Revival Tent was two-thirds full, and several hundred people had plopped down outside the tent, where there was no mud. And it was after 1 a.m. and time for bed.
| Timothy Finn, The Star