For this live music enthusiast, seeing Sam Bush for the first time live at the 7th annual Yonder Mountain Harvest Festival on Mulberry Mountain was worth the price of admission ($175 for three full days and nights of first-rate entertainment).
Other guests will say the same about any number of other performers at the beautiful location, which is about five miles north of Turner Bend on the Pig Trail National Scenic Byway Oct. 11-13.
Early arrivers began showing up Wednesday, and by Saturday about 5,000 campers were on the grounds, hanging out under pop-up canopies, wandering between vendors of hammocks and hippie clothes and, most of all, taking in the tunes by 75 bands from all over the country on four stages from about 11 a.m. until sometimes 3 a.m.
The namesake of the festival, Yonder Mountain String Band, based in Colorado, is always a crowd favorite. Headlining on the main stage each night, Yonder Mountain performed its 1,500th show Saturday evening. Unfortunately, the set got cut short as a violent thunderstorm sent fans scrambling for cover.
Other highlights included Dumpstaphunk, The Mickey Hart Band (Hart was in the Grateful Dead), Punch Brothers (fronted by Chris Thiele, master mandolinist of Nickel Creek fame), Leftover Salmon, Split Lip Rayfield, and The North Mississippi Allstars.
Billed as family-friendly, consider this a relative term, as in family-friendlier than Wakarusa, the sister event in the same location each summer. At Harvest, there’s less, uh, Woodstock-like behavior going on, but the guests are definitely there to let their dreadlocked hair down for a couple of days. This is not Riverfest.
If you think you might like to join the party in 2013 — and you should — here are a few tips:
* Plan on camping by your car. Nearly everyone does. There’s RV space, but it sells out in about 20 minutes. Restroom facilities are port-a-potties. There is a $5 shower station.
* Bring a tent to sleep in, but one of those pop-up canopies is a life-saver in either rain or sun.
* Most folks bring their own food, but there’s a row of vendors offering pizza, fruit smoothis, gyros, Chinese food and other goodies in the $5-8 range.
* BYO beer in cans only — no glass allowed. However, if you want to wet your whistle while in the fenced venue area, it will be with a smallish $6 cup of draft beer.
Bottom line: Festival fans from Austin to Minneapolis know about Harvest, and drive that far to be here. It seems to be something of a secret in Arkansas, but word is getting out. If Yonder Mountain Harvest Festival 2013 sounds like your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed.
— David Lewis
More photos from David Lewis after the jump.