Learning the Waka Way- Interview with the Director of Wakarusa- Brett Mosiman



Wakarusa Music Festival will be held in Ozark, Arkansas June 4th- 7th. With Wakarusa quickly approaching, we were anxious to learn more about the festival. Check out our exclusive interview with the Director of Wakarusa, Brett Mosiman:

How did Wakarusa get started?

12 years ago, 2004 was our first year. It was just some pals sitting around have a beer in the garage taking note of Bonnaroo which happened the year before and they came to me. I had a lot of festival experience at the intended site and it really came together really quick. We all wanted to give it a shot and I know personally I was smitten with it the first weekend. I fell in love with the intensity of festival work and I fell in love with the community that was at our first festival in 2004.

What festivals were you involved in before Wakarusa?

We did some one day events on site at the state park outside of Lawrence and we probably did a half dozen of those 7-8 years prior to that. We did various street parties and stuff. I just like how much is going on and bringing 100s of deliverables together at a very specific point in time.

Waka 2014
Waka 2014

What made you choose Ozark, Arkansas for Wakarusa?

About 5 years in we moved from Kansas to Arkansas and we were looking for a new home. I actually got a tip from a vendor who said take a look at this site in Arkansas. It’s pretty cool. I remember checking it out in November time frame and fell in love with it the second I stepped foot on the property. Basically, we signed a long term deal within a week or two. We were off running and that was seven years ago and Mulbery Mountain is definitely our home. If people haven’t been it is one of the best 2 or 3 festival sites in America. It’s private property on top of a mountain in this unbelievable part of Arkansas surrounded by waterfalls and float streams and great hiking and biking. You can look at the ariels. It’s literally kind of an Aztec clearing in the national forest for hundreds of miles around.

Our tagline from day one has been”where music meets mother nature” so that was important to us. We are a camping festival so it does not hurt that we have mountains, float streams, fishing, hiking, biking and waterfalls.

What changes have you made in the festival from the first year until now?

It has been a nice, steady, organic growth. I think now that the talent budget is close to 7 or 8 times more than the first year. Certainly attendance has grown steadily through the years. We have added elements every year. When we moved to Arkansas we added a 10 story ferris wheel which may seem kind of cliché if you’re in downtown Austin or something but when you’re in the middle of a mountain it’s pretty cool at night. We’ve grown from 3 stages to 8 stages and added a lot of late night and early morning sets and basically I think we probably put on as many sets as any festival out there. We really run almost five days on seven, eight stages and go until sunrise on a couple of them. My background was going to south by southwest and just that smorgious board of music is like magic to me and so that’s a little bit of the flavor of Wakarusa.

Waka 2014
Waka 2014

So you can incorporate all of your favorite parts of a festival and bring it all into one at Wakarusa.

Yeah I think since we have a stake in the site and it’s a private site, not a cornfield or public park or something we are able to do a lot more to the development now and we are really focusing on doing infrastructure and doing a lot of art instalations and stuff so over the next few years we are really excited about the budget we are going to be deploying to the art infrastructure of the mountain.

Your festival always has such a diverse lineup. How do you go about choosing your lineup each year?

It’s kind of year round, and Pipeline, our day to day promotion company does 100s of shows a year so we have a lot of great, passionate employees that help keep us on the cutting edge of young and up and coming talent and their coming to our big clubs or our little clubs or some of the theater stuff we do. It’s kind of just notes throughout the year of you know, guys we really want to get on this band or we want to have these guys back. They haven’t been her for five years. With us in particular it’s a balancing act of keeping some of the fan favorites and keeping it fresh. I think we do a great job of that and I think that one of the pretty unique things about Wakarusa is how strong the lineup is. We select the bands 42 radius carefully as we select the headliners and that isn’t usually what most festivals do. They usually select their headliners and throw a bunch of other stuff in there and you know I think it shows that we really care about bands like Lecero or Northless the Alstarters or young bands. Again, our history, we’ve been on the Lumineers, the Black Keys and Mumford and Sons and Skrillex and Bassnectar and Pretty Lights well before they became houseful names and that’s what we like to say at Waka. You will come for your favorites but you will leave with 6 or 8 bands you have never heard of that are your new favorite acts.


For the stages, would you say that each stage has a different theme as far as the type of music or do you like to keep each stage pretty diversified as well?

A few of the smaller stages do. The backwoods stage is pretty much American and string stuff and some singer/songwriter stuff and the satellite stage is pretty much DJ and EDM stuff but it is a diverse lineup. We have some funk, some soul, some reggae and some jam and electronica. Again I say why would we have the same kind of music on each stage? It’s pretty diverse and I always laugh when people say “Oh I don’t like those DJs.” There’s 8 stages. You don’t have to like them and you don’t have to go see them. We have a diversity whether its morning, night or late night.

I’m sure people discover a lot of music they love that they didn’t even realize that they love.

I think that that is one of the miracles and wonders of Wakarusa. Is that element of discovery, how much time we take in curating the lineup and really bringing new, young fresh faces to a big national festival. I think it’s pretty neat and we love exposing these bands that we consider great who haven’t done any national touring yet.

If this was your very last year to host Wakarusa, what message would you want to send to your fans?

It was a wonderful ride, we loved producing it. We like to say that it’s a music festival done by music fans for music fans and our satisfaction is seeing them have the best week of their lives. That’s our goal, is you’re going to give us 4 days and we are going to give you the best weekend of your year and hopefully your life. I also think that it should really be on peoples bucket list. When is the last time you camped? When is the last time you unplugged? When is the last time you really spent super quality time and a lot of it with your best friends. I think it’s really important in today’s over-technologied world to do all of those things I just said.

Waka 2014
Waka 2014

There are so many logistics that go into throwing a festival to make sure everything runs smoothly and that everyone is safe and that the stages are set up properly. What are some obstacles you have overcome throughout the years?

The staff and crew do an amazing job and it’s not easy being in the middle of nowhere. With our move, we are probably 3 round trip to the nearest home depot so if we don’t have enough poles or enough bulbs or enough anything, we are kind of screwed for a half a day and that’s been a challenge. I think our remoteness has made us get a lot better and more on point so we didn’t have some of those issues but mother nature always throws some curves that we’ve had to deal with. We have had to buy hundreds of tons of gravel and hay to fortify the site. You don’t necessarily plan on that but you’ve got to be prepared for that so some years it rain, some years its mud. Those are always challenges you have to prepare for whether you want to prepare for them or not. I know there was some storms in the early days where literally tents were getting blown down and tornadoes were bearing down on us but it was nerve racking at the moment but everybody pulled through fine so you know I think again you have to kind of thrive on that chaos. There was one time, maybe my favorite story of Wakarusa was we decided to open the gates in the middle of the night in Arkansas. We really didn’t suspect a lot of people would be coming in between 2 and 6 in the morning but low and behold we had a giant traffic jam at 3 am. Everybody was asleep and we were backing up on the highway. It was a mini little crisis and we got on the radio and we literally had cooks and trash people and artist hospitality people rallying to get the cars off the highway, get everybody processed through the lines between 2 and 6 am when we really didn’t have anybody scheduled. That to me kind of demonstrates how much our crew cares. We didn’t tell them to go park in town and come back in the morning and we didn’t tell the state police sorry that’s all we can do. We rallied and we helped each other out and we pushed through. It was very unexpected and very difficult. People gave up a nights sleep and we made it happen and we have always since then called it the Waka Way. Again, the people that produce Waka care. They’re passionate. They love music, the love what they produce, they’re proud of the experience we create and we do hope people experience it with us.

Everybody has has that porto pottie experience and literally from day 1 we were suckin porto potties three times a day when porto potty companies were saying nobody sucks more then once a day. We were saying we want them to be as clean as possible so we tried to do some of the little things to make it a more enjoyable experience. We have running free water to the camp grounds is not something we have to do but we try to do what we can.

The festival is coming up. Who are some artists you are looking forward to seeing who haven’t performed at Wakarusa before?

There is quite a few. I don’t think we’ve had The Devil Makes Three before and Collybuds and Major Lazor of course is a headliner. Ill give you some on all ends of the spectrum. I love Portugal the man and young the giant. They haven’t been there before. The roots- theres maybe 4 or 5 acts that I put in offers every single year, five years, 7 years, 9 years so this is the first time they have ever played Waka in 12 years. You know, one of the best bands in America hands down so we are really excited about that. Chance the Rapper is definitely a new act for us. Their live show is the best live show out there and so we’re excited for that. There are great young bands like James Town Revival and you know some baby bands in the scene like cure for the common and the magic beans. I think they are really going to be pillars in the jam scene for awhile. Thomas Jack we’re really excited to have this year, Goldroom. Again, I think a really deep and strong DJ and EDM lineup at Waka is probably second to none in the country. Galactic with Macy Grey is a really unique set that we are looking forward to this year. Those are some of them.

I get a kick out of things like Rising Appalachia is a brand new band for us that I saw at Electric Forest last year and just loved and you know you ask how did that get booked and kind of that’s how. I’ll just stumble at a festival and discover 3 or 4 bands that I have never seen before live so that’s one. Gigantic underground conspiracy they literally do only one or two shows a year. They are one of those super groups and we are really honored that we are one of their one or two shows this year.

Interview by Festpop Staff Writer: Suzanne Ledford

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