Bands battle for spot at Wakarusa festival


In the music industry, many small-time acts are always looking for their next big breaks. Most of these opportunities come about simply by good fortune, but on Tuesday, six Iowa bands will battle for a chance to play at the Wakarusa Music Festival at Mulberry Mountain, Ark. Talent, rather than luck, will dictate their success.

The Picador, 330 E. Washington St., will host the Waka Winter Classic battle of the bands on Tuesday, and acts from Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines will dominate the event’s lineup. The Uniphonics, Cirrus Minor, Public Property, Dr. Z’s Experiment, Ephraim Zenh, and Insectoid will musically fight in hopes of landing a spot on the Wakarusa stage.

The winning band will be decided by both audience feedback and direct voting. Crowd members will be able to use their tickets to cast votes for their favorite bands.

“Interest in [Waka] is always high for local bands,” said Chris Wiersema, the Picador manager. “It’s usually pretty crowded, because the bands really push for their fans to come.”

Musicians submit their tracks to a Wakarusa committee, which decides on the bands appropriate for the competition.

Iowa City is one of 15 cities across the Midwest participating in the search. The winning bands of each town will not only be awarded with slots at Wakarusa on June 4-7, they will also have their music featured in an online competition on Wakarusa.com. The top-two vote getters of the online showcase will play at one of Wakarusa’s main stages, while the rest of the acts will play on one of the event’s smaller performance areas.

“It’s always great to be able to play at the large festivals,” said Public Property guitarist Dave Bess. “Winning simply allows our music to be heard by new people from different places.”
Public Property will play in its third Waka Winter Classic this year; it won in 2007. Although the band has only won the battle once, it received a consolation invitation to play at last summer’s Wakarusa Music Festival.

Because six different bands are playing, set times are between 30 and 45 minutes, with around 15 minutes in between each act.

“Regardless of who wins, it is a great show to see some top local bands,” Picador manager Kevin Coppes said. “The only thing we ask is for the bands not to jazz out the place and play too long.”
Wakarusa is a grass-roots festival and doesn’t share the corporate conglomerate sponsorship embraced by many larger summer music gatherings. Wakarusa’s acts tend to lean toward the indie side of the rock spectrum, and many artists in past lineups are known for experimenting with unconventional sounds and techniques. The four-day long festival originated in Lawrence, Kan., in 2004, but it will migrate to Ozark, Ark., this year, causing the festival’s name to shift to the Wakarusa Music Festival at Mulberry Mountain. Last year’s attendance almost topped 15,000, and the Flaming Lips, Cake, and Wilco have all entertained Wakarusa crowds.

Buckethead, Les Claypool, and the Black Crowes are all scheduled to headline this year’s event. At least one potential Wakarusa performer is excited about the opportunity to be on that bill.
“At the past festivals, we really could only just play our set and leave,” Bess said, “But this year if the band wins, we will definitely make something of the opportunity and really chill and catch some great acts.”

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