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Mountain music

Wakarusa returns to Mulberry Mountain.


  • THE BLACK KEYS: Headlining.

When Brett Mosiman, the organizer and director of the music festival Wakarusa, says that he has sold tickets in all 50 states, his interviewer responds with some enthusiasm: Travel very far in this country and it gets hard to find people who have visited the Natural State, so it's great to have a reason for them to drop by. "We're from Kansas so we get that same thing," Mosiman replies. "The difference being, when they get to Arkansas they say, 'It's really beautiful here.' "

This will be the second year for the festival in its new digs atop Mulberry Mountain, surrounded by the Ozark National Forest. (So remote is the location that its stated address, Ozark, is a full 20 miles to the south.) Its previous location, west of Lawrence, Kan., was in a state park, and was probably perfectly pleasant, but was, after all, in a state park in Kansas. Being on private land gives organizers greater latitude, Mosiman said, and for a camping festival, being in the mountains gives festival-goers great options: kayaking, hiking to waterfalls, fishing in stocked ponds, swimming — basically your usual roster of June fun in Arkansas. The middle of nowhere is often where everyone wants to be but no one has the time to reach.

Now, whether anyone bails on the music to go skinny-dipping will depend on how much they care for the lineup. Headliners include some of the go-to jam bands of the past decade — Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, The Disco Biscuits, Blues Traveler — beside a swath of other genres, from electronica (STS9 and Mark Farina) to blues (Black Joe Lewis) and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll (The Black Keys, playing a week before they grace Bonnaroo, a festival five times larger than Wakarusa). "You can expect to come here and leave knowing your favorite two, three, five new bands," Mosiman said. "You're going to find bands here you haven't heard of before you came, but halfway through the set you'll think, 'Oh my god, how did I not know of these people?' "

Arkansan audiences will recognize some of the acts: Southern rock badass Hayes Carll is the sort to rattle the rafters at the White Water Tavern, and Eureka Springs' Mountain Sprout will play in Fayetteville and Eureka in the days after Waka. Others are from points more distant: Holland's own Kraak & Smaak; Duluth, Minn., bluegrass outfit Trampled by Turtles; the Heavy Pets out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Dweezil Zappa playing the music of his father, Frank Zappa (given MySpace location: Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, Calif.). In all, 150 artists will be playing 250 sets on five stages almost non-stop from 9 a.m. Thursday to midnight Sunday, including a gospel bluegrass set by Big Smith at the churching hour that morning.

The usual festival protocol applies: Don't bring dogs, glass bottles or fireworks. If you're going to check out headphones at the silent disco, you need an ID. If it rains, help people set up camp. Share your sunscreen. Offer drunks water. These last points aren't mandatory, but they are becoming a good festival citizen.

"These people live for this, and they get it," Mosiman said. "You leave the city and the rat race and the hundreds of e-mails a day. There's a magic about getting to true nature under a waterfall or on top of a mountain. It's a real spiritual thing."

If you're unable to take in the spiritual aspect, you may at least avail yourself of the aesthetic: The inimitable Todd Snider will be stopping at the Rev Room in Little Rock the night after his Thursday set at Wakarusa. That means when he sings about "tree-huggin', love-makin', pro-choice'n', gay-weddin', Widespread-diggin' hippies like me" on Friday night, most of said hippies will be off in the woods, dancing barefoot to Umphrey's McGee and conserving at least a modicum of energy for Widespread's show on Saturday.

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