The words transcendence and life changing are often tossed around at music festivals. It can all seem cliche and temporary, but it is hard to doubt the deep emotions reached during the immersive festival experience. It is hard to doubt the freedom and power in the ability to be the best, most care free version of yourself in an environment bred for self expression. Or be someone entirely different, there are no rules.
I first heard those powerful words tossed around so lightly in 2012 on top of Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Arkansas. Wakarusa Music Festival. It was my first camping festival and I had no idea what I was in for. Never in my life had I experienced so much open love and acceptance. By the time we set up camp our neighbors seemed like old friends we had known for years. Everywhere one looked there was love and light beaming from every face. Never at any point in time did I feel alone, even when separated from my group. It was like I just made 20,000 new best friends to dance and be weird with. That weekend flew by in a euphoric blur and before I knew it I was back in class, day dreaming about giant inflatable giraffes and birthday cakes bouncing around the crowd at Pretty Lights.
From then on I was hooked. Music festivals were all I talked about, dreamed about, thought about. I wanted nothing more than to constantly feel that powerful connection to so many strangers through music. I trolled festival forums and found a group of greasy festival goers called “The Pile” that shared my obsession.
A year passed and it was time for Waka 2013. I had massed a large crew to make the pilgrimage to the mountain and meet up with The Pile for a big greasy, camping puddle. I couldn’t wait to share the magic of Wakarusa with some old friends and new ones, but mother nature had other plans. It absolutely poured on us, affectively turning the mountain into Swamparusa. It continued to rain all weekend causing much of the music to be canceled including a few of the sets I was most excited to see. Despite the swampy cluster-f*** and canceled music, I had even more fun than I had the previous year. I realized that there was nothing we could do about the weather and that Waka was about so much more than just jamming to music, it’s about connecting with others. The bonds created by surviving Swamparusa together will last a lifetime!
Wakarusa 2013 would be my last before being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. When I found out I would have to take over the job of my pancreas I was afraid camping festivals may never again be the same for me. As I gained confidence managing my blood sugar I felt better about attending Waka 2014. But I was still having trouble coming to terms with my condition and identifying as a diabetic. Then I got some truly epic news. My friends band, Fortunate Youth, was added to the line up and they offered me and my friends to camp with them and work as their crew.
We were given artist badges and had free reign over the festival. Free food and booze, VIP access, back stage access, it was a dream come true! My confidence levels had plummeted after diagnosis. Type 1 took a toll on my emotional state and I hated when people asked about my pump and cgm, but Wakarusa 2014 changed all that! I got to mix it up and hangout with some of my all time favorite artists including Wayne Cohen of the Flaming Lips, Minnesota, The Floozies and Freddy Todd all while rocking my diabetes gear openly and proudly. I had an epiphany that weekend, if I could be social and confident around these artists that I obsessed over, then I could carry that confidence everywhere with me and rid myself of diabetic shame. Waka 2014 gave me my confidence back and solidified my positive outlook on life with diabetes.
From the very first day of my first Wakarusa I vowed to make the trek to Mulberry Mountain every year to feel that magical connection with all those beautiful souls. To hear those powerful words, “transcendence” and “life changing” spoken in truth. It hurts my heart that there will be no Waka this year or maybe ever again. But that entrancing gathering on the top of that stunning mountain has made a life long impression on me. It was on Mulberry Mountain where I learned to let go and be the best version of myself and where I re-gained my confidence and identity after diagnosis with diabetes.
Here’s to you, Wakarusa. We hope to feel the weird of your embrace again soon.
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