Wakarusa 2009 / Photo: M. Taylor Long
The Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival might have played its swan song.
Festival officials announced late Thursday afternoon via Facebook that the formerly annual music event on Mulberry Mountain near Ozark would not take place in 2016. The event, the product of Kansas-based organization Pipeline Productions, follows the cancelation of two other Pipeline-produced events. Both Thunder on the Mountain, a country music festival scheduled for late June 2015, and Phases of the Moon, scheduled for mid-October, were nixed in the weeks leading up to their start date. The Wakarusa cancelation notice leaves open the possibility of a return in 2017.
Financial disagreements between event partners caused the demise of Thunder on the Mountain, according to a lawsuit filed in Kansas. A Nov. 4 class-action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas by several patrons who bought tickets to Thunder on the Mountain, alleges Pipeline and partners Backwood Enterprises LLC, The Madison Companies LLC and Horsepower Entertainment LLC, sold tickets despite knowing the festival faced a financial shortfall. The lawsuit also alleges ticket refunds, which were promised to be delivered within 90 days of the cancelation, were not provided. That lawsuit mentions Thunder on the Mountain, but a Reddit thread for Wakarusa suggests refunds may not have been provided for Phases of the Moon, either.
In the cancellation notice posted on Facebook, Wakarusa officials cited failed partnerships for the hiatus.
“Wakarusa was significantly damaged by partners claiming to share our vision. Sadly, they lied. They are being dealt with appropriately through the legal system,” reads part of the lengthy cancelation post.
It is unclear exactly who wrote the Facebook post. Email messages left with past Wakarusa director Brett Mosiman and a former publicist for Pipeline Productions went unanswered overnight.
The Facebook cancelation note suggests the festival could be back on Mulberry Mountain in 2017. But another festival is not waiting around for that to happen.
Deadhead Productions spokesperson Jon Walker announced that Highberry, which has previously taken place at Byrd’s Adventure Center just down the mountain from Wakarusa, will claim Mulberry Mountain this year. Highberry, a festival that has drawn several thousand fans and acts such as Keller Williams, will move to the mountain for a June 30 to July 3 run in 2016. According to the announcement of the venue change, which followed Wakarusa’s cancelation announcement by about two hours, Highberry will continue its focus on jam bands and will cap attendance at 4,000, significantly fewer than the 20,000 or so who typically attended Wakarusa.
In an email sent Friday morning, Walker said the move to Mulberry Mountain made sense on two levels. Highberry needed a larger venue, and he wanted to capture some of the spirit of the recently vacated venue.
“It’s a little bit of both. We wanted a bigger venue that could handle larger acts. Plus, we wanted to keep the magic of Mulberry Mountain,” he wrote.
Walker said talks with Mulberry Mountain officials have been ongoing “for the past few weeks.” He expects the first round of Highberry artists will be named in the next two to three weeks.
Wakarusa will be remembered for bringing in several bands who have otherwise never played Arkansas, such as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and My Morning Jacket, and for catching big-name acts just before they broke into the mainstream, such as Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Black Keys. It will also be remembered for sometimes severe weather, such as the downpours of 2013 that turned the sprawling concert grounds into a sea of mud.
Because tickets for Wakarusa 2016 had not yet been offered for sale, there are no refunds to provide.