The 10th annual Wakarusa Music Festival boasts about 130 confirmed acts appearing on five stages over four days at Mulberry Mountain, north of Ozark.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of bands and a lot of music, and deciding who to hear can present a serious challenge. This series of stories, called “Seven to See,” offers daily recommendations for music. Sometimes these include the major, can’t-miss acts. But they also offer suggestions for intriguing acts with the potential to put on a great live show.
Programming note: In assembling these daily lists, attention was paid to performance times, though a quick-turnaround might be required to travel between stages.
72C on THURSDAY (May 30)
• Might Shady (George’s Majestic Backwoods Stage – noon to 1 p.m.)
The music starts promptly at noon on Thursday (May 30), and we recommend you grab some lunch and sit with these guys for a spell. Recent winners of the Wakarusa Winter Classic, they’re a group of four young men from Des Moines who clearly focus on songwriting, while wielding three guitars. After this set, spend some time exploring the festival site, checking out the variety of vendors and scouting out some food and drink options for later today and the rest of the festival.
• Calexico (Main Stage – 3 to 4 p.m.)
Get ready to settle down for a while at the Main Stage. Calexico is the start of a run of acts that will be fantastic. Hailing from Tucson, Ariz., Calexico has a great Americana, Tex-Mex sound. Joey Burns and John Convertino both sing and play guitar, and they are often joined by other musicians as they travel. They’ve also collaborated with folks like Willie Nelson and Nancy Sinatra.
• Galactic (Main Stage – 4:30 to 6 p.m.)
Don’t miss this musical, funk powerhouse from New Orleans. They started out 18 years ago playing Mardi Gras in the Crescent City, and their experience together really shows in their sound. They have solid instrumentation for a richly layered sound, blending harps and horns; bass; drums and percussion; guitar; and keyboards.
• Yonder Mountain String Band (Main Stage – 6:30 to 8 p.m.)
Switch gears for this bluegrass band, formed nearly 15 years ago in Colorado. They’ve played Wakarusa a few times before, but you’ll want to see them again. (Read our interview with guitarist Adam Aijala here.)
Influenced by heavy metal and classic rock early on, plus bluegrass and punk, they’ve arrived at a sound that’s uniquely their own – even as they continue to evolve. They blend tight, often fast instrumentation – on upright bass, mandolin, banjo and guitar – with spectacular songwriting and harmonies. They play a great cover of “Girlfriend is Better” (Talking Heads), as well as their own fantastic tunes. Here’s hoping they play some favorites: “Snow on the Pines,” “Out of the Blue,” “Steep Grade, Sharp Curves,” “Traffic Jam” and “Sidewalk Stars.”
• The Black Crowes (Main Stage – 8:30 to 10 p.m.)
Chris Robinson, one of the founding brothers of this group, played last year’s Wakarusa (joined by Jackie Greene and Bob Weir, it was a festival highlight). This year, Robinson and his band, which formed in Atlanta in 1989, bring their bluesy rock and roll to the Wakarusa stage. They’ll fill the night air with electrified grooves, great harmonies and fantastic instrumentation, including brother Rich Robinson on guitar. They’ve sold more than 15 million albums, and their top songs include “Jealous Again,” Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” and “She Talks to Angels.” They’ve played at the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Fayetteville before, but this setting will be fantastic. They are this generation’s classic rock at its best.
• Stephen Neeper Band (George’s Majestic Backwoods Stage – 11 p.m. to midnight)
Grab a late-night snack or beverage and make your way to the wooded stage for more rock, with some Arkansans on stage. Brothers Stephen and Zeke formed the band just a few years back in their hometown of Little Rock. They really do rock – with a twinge of blues and Southern rock sounds. But their driving musicianship on instruments – guitar, harmonica, drums – really shines.
• The Ben Miller Band (George’s Majestic Backwoods Stage – 12:30 to 2 a.m.)
Whew, these guys are fast players and singers, as they mix blues, bluegrass and mountain music. The band formed in nearby Joplin, Mo., and theirs is a unique take on a regional sound. The band features Ben Miller, who has his own way of playing his delta-blues slide guitar. Scott Leeper plays washtub bass (a weedeater string attached to a wooden pole) and Doug Dicharry plays drums and percussion (including crazy-good washboard strumming). Jam your way toward sleep with this memorable set.