Logistical problems strike sour note for some

It sounds like the ideal menu to market at a hippie-filled music festival: smoothies, wheat grass and organic, locally raised meat.

But for two local merchants, the sales were frustratingly slow Thursday and Friday at the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival. Representatives of Local Burger and Juice Stop said they signed on thinking they’d be near a kids’ stage, yoga area and DJ stage in the festival campgrounds.

Instead, they ended up with just the DJ stage, in a fenced-off area parallel to the main entrance walkway that wasn’t getting much foot traffic. They each had signed a sponsorship deal not with the festival, but with a subcontractor who was producing the DJ stage.

“I should have informed myself more,” said Hilary Brown, owner of Local Burger. “I pray to break even in four days.”

Brown paid $750 up front, with an agreement to pay $750 more at the end of the festival. Juice Stop paid $3,500 for its booth.

Nic Beck, general manager of Juice Stop, said he was promised a tent that didn’t arrive until about 6 p.m. Thursday, after he and his employees had spent all day in the sun.

“We’re local businesses, and we’re the ones that get the shaft out here,” Beck said. “I would like to have seen us treated better … I feel like a chump.”

The DJ stage’s organizer, John Gallup of Cicada Rhythm, blamed communication and logistical problems with the festival’s organizers. He said that when he arrived at the festival a week ago, the stage in the campground area was too small, on a slant and too near sleeping areas, so it was moved to the new location and separated from the kids’ and yoga area.

“When we got there the week before the festival, it all fell apart,” he said. “It’s been a rough road for me.”

Brett Mosiman, the festival’s organizer, said he had “grave concerns” about how that part of the event turned out, but that he didn’t want to point fingers. He said Gallup was given a spot on the map to run the stage as a self-contained “turnkey” operation.

“We won’t be giving away access to the festival in the future,” he said. “It’s an element of the festival that I’m not so sure will be back. We had different visions than what was entailed with his work.”

In other areas of the festival, business was better.

In the festival-approved vending booths, people sold a rainbow-colored array of skirts, framed pictures, glass pipes, crocheted clothing and incense. That was in addition to plenty of kebabs, wraps and the “benevolent burrito” for sale at one stand.

Unsanctioned vending has been a part of the festival scene at Wakarusa the past three years, but this year organizers have said they’re trying to stop it. Campers described security officers going tent to tent warning people that they’d be kicked out if they were caught. Jen Ramirez, of Fort Collins, Colo., said the warning was a letdown, given that people in the campgrounds normally keep each other in supply by selling items such as food, drinks, clothes, glass and hula hoops.

“It’s a way of taking care of each other,” she said.

Josh Sarvis of Oregon-based Dragonfly Imports, who was selling clothing in an officially sanctioned booth, said he wasn’t too worried about the black market detracting from his sales.

“It’s sort of like trying to tame a wild beast,” he said. “This whole thing is built off that. It’s not one without the other. It’s the same.”

He and his co-workers typically travel to southeast Asia during the winter, work at a free clinic there and design clothing, then travel throughout the U.S. during the summer selling their wares at festivals. They got their start about 20 years ago traveling with the Grateful Dead.

“It all is magic, and we’re doing the best we can to follow what works,” he said. “It supports us and our families. We do well – well enough to keep going each time.”

Greta Kraus, of Lawrence, was working a beer stand to benefit Douglas County Infant-Toddler Coordinating Council, which provides services for children with developmental disabilities and their parents. Each year the festival’s organizers allow local nonprofits to raise money through the stands.

“I really like it that they give it to nonprofits instead of just making money,” she said.