Wakarusa Festival Preview: 7 bands to watch

By Bree Stallings

June 3, 2015

After buying a college bar in Kansas, Brett Mosiman caught the music bug after seeing that the Midwest needed a spot that answers the call of the people: we want music and we want it in our natural, beautiful environment. His team responded with the creation of the Wakarusa Festival, which has since moved to Ozark, Arkansas and shows no signs of growing smaller any time soon. With seven stages and over 200 live performances, Wakarusa is unquestionably dubbed “the most diverse” of music festivals.

Phil Clarkin-STS9-Main
Photo by Phil Clark

In its eleventh  year now, Wakarusa is a founding father in the music and camping festival scene, all while retaining its originality. Derived from a local American Indian word meaning “ass-deep in the river”, in reference to the journey into manhood, Wakarusa is committed to providing a fully enveloping experience for every festival goer. With the nearest town thirty miles away, the Ozark National Forest creates a backdrop unlike any other: totally sequestered in an environment that invites you to, for one weekend, unplug and expose yourself to something new.

No matter if you like reggae, EDM, hip-hop, jam bands, indie rock, you’ll find something for you at Wakarusa. The only thing many of these music-goers have in common? Seeing an act right on the cusp of their big break and feeling a part of their journey to success. Aside from seeing some of your favorites, it is crucial to check out some of the “middle-print” bands. From previous years, the line-up has featured: Grace Potter and the Knockturnals, Gary Clark Jr., The Black Keys, Bassnectar, and Gogol Bordello, are some who graced the stages before becoming internationally acclaimed artists. Maybe it’s the “ass deep” good luck charm? Here are some bands to be looking for:



Kopecky is exactly the kind of band to keep an eye (or ear?) out for. After getting some recognition from NPR and doing a Tiny Desk Interview, the Nashville natives are beginning to gain a lot of fans. Referenced as a “folkier-sounding Of Monsters And Men”, Kopecky is finally coming into their own sound. Everything about the band is sweet and nostalgic, like Southern summers and old photo scrapbooks. Plus, what’s not to love about a young band with a cello AND a lap steel guitar? Swoon.

Young the Giant:

Young the Giant is no newcomer on the music scene, so if you haven’t heard their smash hit “My Body”, you probably don’t have a Pandora or Spotify account: it is one of the most recommended songs of all time, traversing almost every genre. One thing to easily love about Young the Giant is their diversity, coming with heavy hitting poppy ballads (think Franz Ferdinand) like their wildly popular song “Cough Syrup” to the wonderfully slow and echo-in-a-tin-can vibes from “Apartment”, YTG provide solid song after solid song. Check out “Strings” as part of their “In the Open” Series, where they sing, well…in the open, providing an perfectly imperfect and intimate performance:

Portugal. The Man: 

Another trail-blazing band that has been making consistently good and interesting music is Portugal. The Man. Their videos are always nothing short of cinematic masterpieces, providing story lines for every song. Even better, their live performances prove to be nothing short of amazing experiences, too. Portugal. The Man has no definite genre, but covers the very raw emotion of realizing how arbitrary the human condition is. With lyrics like haunting modern poetry and simple, seamless beats, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. The perfect festival driving-with-the-windows-down song:

Donavon Frankenreiter:

The only way you haven’t heard Donavon Frankenreiter’s “Free” or “It Don’t Matter” is if you don’t own a television or haven’t watched a commercial in 4 years. The San Clemente, CA native is the quintessential essence of new-wave surf rock, and sounds like Jack Johnson who retired and moved to the beach from his mountain home (fun fact: they are real-life, life-long friends. No surprise there). Actually, here’s the perfect “going home from the festival” and that good-exhausted kind of groove.

Thievery Corporation:

Now for a band twice as old as the festival itself: Thievery Corporation is a legend and predecessor of many electronic, funk and bossa nova acts. Think Beats Antique meets Ravi Shankar meets a Maschine. It’s likely you’ve heard of them, but if you haven’t, your favorite band probably loves them. When trying to define a certain sound for a massive music festival in an untouched national forest, Thievery Corporation seems to ring the truest. Do your ears some justice and give them a listen.

Glass Animals:

If a Wes Anderson movie ever needed a soundtrack for a stripper scene, it would be the sticky-sweet musings of Glass Animals. With their massively popular “Gooey” and “Hazey”, the English band is creating new waves of genre-bending music: fusing and creating sounds like “alt R&B” and “indietronica” that prove simple lyrics and sexy riffs satisfy everyone.


The Athens, GA alt-rocking natives are the last on our list to watch. They’re like if Hot Chip calmed down a bit and met up for a jam with your favorite garage band. With their spunky guitar riffs and hip keyboard add-ins, Reptar is undeniably catchy and easy to digest. Their recent drop, Lurid Glow, is an upbeat answer to their 2012 release Body Faucet and its sultry sounds, providing them with an immensely diverse discography. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

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