If the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival means rock concerts, camping out and environmentalism, then Michael Rouse may be the embodiment of Wakarusa's spirit.
The guitarist and singer for the Fort Collins, Colo., band WoolEye, a self-described blend of "funky, psychedelic rock 'n' roll with a Southern flair," arrived at the Wakarusa festival with his bandmates and their families in a big yellow school bus.
And while the bus at one time in its history used to cart children back and forth between home and schools in Colorado, it doesn't run like an average school bus.
It runs mostly on vegetable oil.
"We get it from local Chinese restaurants in town," said Rouse, pointing to a giant container of the brown oil that will soon make its way into the bus engine when the band travels to its next show.
Rouse and his bandmates bought the bus and jury-rigged the engine to make it operate on oil more commonly used to fry plates of sesame chicken.
"Man, we save so much money," Rouse said, with his bandmates nodding in agreement. "I wanted to do something for the environment, but mostly it's to save money."
The engine starts on diesel, but once the engine gets hot enough, Rouse can flip a switch on the bus and have it run on vegetable oil.
It worked well enough to get the band, its equipment and family members from the college town in Colorado to Lawrence, where it will also be the band's shelter until WoolEye takes the stage Sunday.
Welcome to Wakarusa 2007.
The first day in the fourth year of the massive outdoor concert festival started and ended with hardly a hitch Thursday at Clinton State Park.
Crowds were not heavy and people seemed to spend much of the day buying wares from vendors or getting set up at campgrounds in anticipation for the bigger three days ahead.
"We're anticipating a lot more people (today) and Saturday," said organizer Brett Mosiman, who predicted there were 12,000 people on hand Thursday. "(Thursday) is basically like a free day to get here early, set up your tent and see some music at night."
For Ryan Jones, who came to see Ozomatli, Thursday marked the first day of his fourth year at the festival.
Seated along a road at Clinton Lake and reading Chuck Palahniuk's latest book, Jones reflected on past Wakarusa experiences.
"It has its ups and downs every year," the Kansas City, Kan., resident said. "Last year, the police were a little more unruly than usual."
By most accounts, the law enforcement presence Thursday was significantly lighter than the year before, when concertgoers complained loudly about what they said was an overbearing police force.
In particular, vehicle inspections at festival entrances by the Kansas Highway Patrol did not happen this year.
"We came in today at the exact same time as we did last year," said Anne Burgess, a Lawrence woman. "And last year we were held up for miles and this year we got right in."
There were few complaints about police Thursday.
"It's more like (police) are giving people the space they paid for," said Sean Garner, who made the trip to the festival from San Marcos, Texas, with his girlfriend.
Here comes the sun
The event dodged bullets of rain that appeared certain to head its way around midafternoon, as dark ominous storm clouds and thunder loomed all around.
But hardly a drop of rain fell on the festival grounds, and a gusty wind settled into still, sun-soaked air by dusk.
It'll make a comfortable night of sleep in the vegetable oil-powered bus for Rouse and his entourage, who all say that the Wakarusa festival has a major buzz in the Rocky Mountains.
"Colorado doesn't even have a festival like this," Rouse said. "It would seem like something to be proud of."