Organizers call this year’s Wakarusa Fest a ‘harmonious’ event

A peace sign mowed in the grass decorates the lawn at the Wakarusa Camping & Music Festival last Friday evening.

For as much effort as organizers of the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival have put into distancing themselves from the “hippie music” label, it appears this year things turned out pretty groovy, man.

“I think we made huge strides with the traffic, lines, parking, security and the idea that we were trying to create a more harmonious environment,” says Wakarusa organizer and founder Brett Mosiman.

“We definitely felt the love again this year. It’s like we resurrected our brand. A lot of people were on the fence whether we were the good guys or the bad guys. I think the message was received on both sides.”

Festivalgoers at the four-day event at Clinton State Park were down from nearly 15,000 to 12,000 per day in comparison to 2006. (The park reduced the attendance cap from 15,000 to 13,500 this year.) But complaints were low and spirits were high during the fourth annual gathering.

Last year’s invasive law enforcement presence and surveillance tactics made many patrons second-guess attending again. Mosiman admits that obviously hurt the turnout, but it had some constructive effects as well.

“The positive part of the law enforcement last year was it sent a loud, clear message that if you’re going to come to Kansas to profit (from drug sales), stay at home. And they did. That’s good for us,” he says.

Organizers also observe how the demographics of the audience changed.

“I seemed to notice a lot more children on the scene,” says Wakarusa media coordinator Heather Lofflin. “There aren’t any figures for that, but it was just more visible – both backstage and on the concert field.”

As always, the organizers emphasize how the musical highlights balanced out any negative facets of the festival’s execution.

Lofflin cites “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Ozomatli, Grace Potter, Les Claypool and Ben Harper as festival standouts.

Mosiman says part of Wakarusa’s appeal is turning on veteran festivalgoers to new music.

“The fun part for me is some of the Campground Stage bands like Tangleweed or Dirtfoot that nobody had ever heard of. We bring them in and a few 100 people stumble into it, then write a (Web site) thread like, ‘That melted my face.’ I’ve always thought that’s what Wakarusa was about, more than headliners,” he says.

As for any potential changes next year, Mosiman considers many aspects very much up in the air.

He says, “The future is bright, but we have to evaluate elements like how we produce it and where we produce it to ensure its profitability. This is a very risky venture, and millions of dollars are spent on it. We have to prevent big losses.”