"You guys here for the Wakarusa?" one curious local questioned my disheveled self (and Dirty Santa photographer).
"Yes Sir"
"Well‚ we're all glad to have y'all down here‚" he grinned.
It was that man's response‚ and from others we encountered‚ that really tied the entire weekend together. With an embracing local population‚ it really made a non-native (with New York plates) truly find the meaning of Southern hospitality.
Early afternoon was filled with an array of reggae. Between the humble lyrics of Caribbean vagabond Mishka (definitely worth a listen) and the rolling beat of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad‚ I cracked a beer‚ sat in my camping chair and let every muscle melt into the surroundings as notions of simplicity and tranquility conquered my soul.
G. Love and Special Sauce: The Blues Prince of Philadelphia‚ G. Love is that musician you cross paths with every so often‚ and when you do (and are reacquainted with the tunes)‚ you wonder why he never broke through the glass ceiling of a headlining act. Though I keep tabs on his latest records‚ they seem to never do justice towards the live performance. Bouncing through his closet of tricks ("Hot Cookin'‚" "Soft and Sweet‚" "The Booty Call"‚ "Cold Beverage")‚ Mr. Dutton called Luther Dickinson's slide guitar abilities up to the stage for "Shooting Hoops" as the duo traded licks. The pinnacle arrived during "Who's Got The Weed‚" as Dutton jumped offstage (with guitar) into the pit‚ was handed a joint‚ and proceeded to inhale the entire time he waltzed through the blazed audience.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: Anything associated with the Drive-By Truckers will always get my attention. Since Isbell (a former member) parted ways with the DBTs to form his own entity‚ I was intrigued to see the results. Entering the Revival Tent‚ it appeared any fans of southern rock were taking up real estate at the main stage for The Black Crowes (they were scheduled at the same time‚ yet the Crowes went on some 20 minutes late). The loyal fans (I could count them on my fingers) waited in anticipation as I half-expected tumbleweeds to pass by. A true student of the "school of playing your heart out no matter the crowd size‚" Isbell treated the listener to a remarkable mix of honky-tonk‚ swamp rock and melancholy acoustic numbers.
The Black Crowes "It's all right sister‚ it's all right brother…" Chris Robinson sang as Wakarusa settled down into a much needed dose of hard soul. A full moon accompanied the band‚ and a predictable setlist ("Jealous Again‚" "Oh Josephine‚" etc.) did not mean a dull performance. The steamy day turned into a crisp evening as "Remedy" closed out the main stage for the weekend through the lightning bolt hands of Dickinson. If 2009 is the year The Allman Brothers take a step back‚ then 2009 is the year The Black Crowes take a leap forward to stake their claim as leaders of the southern rock revival.
With another 1‚607 miles to go before I would be able to sleep in my own bed‚ it was time to bid farewell to Ozark‚ Arkansas‚ until next year. Campsites were being broken down‚ foggy memories rehashed as car engines rumbled in anticipation of a long trip home.

Cruising down Route 23 towards Interstate 40‚ my hands floated out the car window‚ grasping the warm southern air‚ reflecting on an incredible weekend. Between the perfect weather‚ ideal lineup and official kickoff to the summer‚ one would say the festival was a complete success. And though it was sad to leave‚ knowing Waka was over‚ my frown turned upside down as it was clear‚ the summer was just beginning‚ and there are so many unknown musical adventures waiting around the corner‚ ready to surprise me.