Thousands find bliss at Wakarusa music fest

The silver bus sat parked along Wakarusa Way near Camp Zenith, deep into the temporary tent city that has sprung up on the grounds of Clinton Lake State Park for the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival.

As his friends fried up grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas to sell to passing concertgoers, Joe Davidson explained how he’d altered the 1986 school bus so that it could run not only on diesel, but also on fryer oil.

“We just added a new tank for the oil and then fed a line into the engine,” Davidson said as he threw open the bus’s hood. “We just pull up to a restaurant and ask if they’ve got any to give us.”

It’s environmentally sound, sure, but Davidson said the advantages went beyond being Earth-friendly.

“We can make a few hundred dollars selling grilled cheese sandwiches to people, and that’s enough to get us across the country to another show,” he said. “That’s was this is all about: just living and meeting people.”

Yes, the bus may run on fryer grease.

“But this,” Davidson said glancing over his shoulder at the acres of campgrounds, food tents and stages, “all of this, runs on love.”

On the festival grounds

By late Friday afternoon, the influx of campers at the park had slowed and the attention of many Wakarusa attendees had shifted from getting settled to enjoying the festivities. Concert organizers estimated between 12,000 and 15,000 people had packed into the park for the festival, which continues through Sunday.

Law enforcement agencies reported that things had run relatively smoothly at the event thus far. A few arrests for drug possession and underage alcohol consumption had been made, and several people had been treated for medical issues.

“But none of the cases have been critical by any means,” said Mark Bradford, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical deputy chief.

A few hundred yards east of the silver bus, thousands of people milled about the festival grounds, where artists, craftsmen and vendors sold their wares in an area bordered by the three main stages.

The third-largest stage, in the “Revival Tent,” attracted a mix of people eager to enjoy an act away from the glare of the sun. The tent’s popularity also may have made it a hygiene hazard. Each step on the soft earth evoked the scent of the gallons of fallen sweat and beer that had contributed to the ground’s squishiness. It was dark. It was dirty. Perhaps “Revival Tent” wasn’t the most appropriate name for the venue.

In any case, the filthiness of the tent area didn’t appear to hinder Ian Miller, a 20-year-old from McPherson, from having a good time. Strands of long, sweaty hair sat plastered to his cheeks, which were drawn up in a perpetual grin, as he looked on at the band Shanti Groove playing an afternoon set.

“I just got here,” he said, grinning with his eyes darting around the tent. “It’s so awesome. Such a great experience.”

Away from the action

But not everyone was eager to pack in front of the stages for the afternoon acts. Several of the festivalgoers spent Friday afternoon recovering from their travel and the early-morning concerts.

George and Jenny Voukidis, who came to the festival from Indianapolis, lounged by the shores of Clinton Lake as dozens splashed in the waters below. Two men with a cooler walked along the beach hocking bottles of English ale for $5 a piece. A group of four sitting to Voukidises’ left openly passed a marijuana pipe in a circle.

“We’re just going with the flow,” Jenny said, leaning against George’s chest. “We’re in total vacation mode.”

A few hundred feet above the beach, about 20 people rested on blankets well-spaced from each other in a shady grove. Jen Spearie, a graduate student from Normal, Ill., stretched and yawned as she woke from a late afternoon nap.

“What time is it?” she asked in a sleepy voice.

After coming in from the previous night’s musical acts at 6 a.m., Spearie had sneaked away from her campsite for an hour and a half of sleep.

“Our neighbors (at the campsite) are really whacked out,” she said. “And that’s cool. But, you know, it’s tough to sleep.”

Staff writer Alicia Henrikson contributed to this report.