Fans favor ‘intimacy’ of Wakarusa festival

Music lovers like lay of the land

With three days of camping and concerthopping under their belts, many Wakarusa festivalgoers were giving the festival positive reviews Saturday – especially in comparison with last weekend’s Bonaroo Music and Arts festival in Manchester, Tenn.

Founded in 2002, Bonaroo has grown into something of a behemoth, attracting 90,000 fans to a 700-acre farm each year. Wakarusa’s relatively meager size, with an estimated 15,000 attendees this year, makes it a more attractive destination, said some veteran festivalgoers.

“It feels like you’re more a part of it than Bonaroo, where you’re just a person lost in a sea of craziness,” said Pete Mertz, 26, who came to the festival from Brooklyn, N.Y. “(Bonaroo’s) a nice atmosphere, still, but it doesn’t seem like they really go out of their way to make things better for the people who are coming. Here it really seems like they value you a little more.”

And it’s not just Wakarusa’s size that seem to have made it a hit among music fans. With a state park as the backdrop and a just-below-the-radar artist lineup, the festival has provided an intimate atmosphere with numerous points of interaction.

“You’ve got the infrastructure of Clinton Park, as opposed to where Bonaroo is out in a farm field and there are no roads,” said Overland Park businessman Brian Harkness as he waited by the Sun Up Stage between performances. “And they are keeping out the national acts, which keeps down the riffraff that turns it from a nice, cool, mellow festival. They really seem to have the fan foremost.”

Vendors, as well, said Wakarusa’s organizers, had reason to be proud. Terri Amit started taking her Vegetarian Oasis food tent on the concert festival circuit this year. As she chopped tofu and cauliflower for the Thai coconut and Indian curry dishes she serves, Amit said the festival had surpassed her experiences elsewhere.

“This is the best one we’ve been to so far,” Amit said. “They’ve got nice grounds and a really good list of bands – a lot of the jam bands that attract the kind of people who eat vegetarian.”

This was all good news to festival director Bret Mosiman, who said Wakarusa was designed with the fans – and not the bottom line – in mind.

“We have no desire to become Bonaroo. We want to keep it intimate and give people space to enjoy themselves,” Mosiman said. “We’re not interested in being the biggest; we wouldn’t mind being the best.”