We have arrived.
Its Friday, April, 20, 2018, and Mulberry Mountain Lodging has some visitors. The wait is finally over. The sun is peeking out through the clouds, the cars are lined up, tents, canopies and vehicles have started to form small communities in the trees and luscious green fields.
As the multi-colored tapestries and flags start to fly high in the breeze, the sense of excitement soars higher. We’re home, for at least the next three days. For many Arkansas festivalgoers, this enchanting place feels a lot like home because of the high caliber festivals its been home to in the past. The days leading up to the festival, the phrase “see you on the mountain” was popping up in our news feeds and text messages. The place we all know and love has brought us back for another jam-packed weekend full of music, friendship, art and love.
After we’ve arranged our camping spots just the way we want them, making sure we are covered and ready for the rain we were warned about, and with our landmarks in place, we venture out to explore the grounds. All around, we see friends running to embrace a member of their festie family, welcoming them home. The flow artists are out and about, practicing and teaching with their hoops, staffs, poi, and etc. The aroma from the food trucks wafts through the fresh, mountain air, and the sounds of laughter and music are everywhere. The colorful works of art from the local artists are plenty, everything completely engulfing our senses, and its enough to make ones head spin, but it just adds to the anticipation of what the weekend has in store. Our cups of joy are overflowing.
If you made your way to the artistry, you would have noticed all the goodies that the local artists brought our way. Beautiful works of art to behold during the day and at night the trees glowed as bright as the psychedelic playground full of neon PVC pipes and a projector screen with compelling images. Every time I walked by, day or night, it was crawling with those appreciating all it had to offer. Thank you to all of the local artists who helped make this dream land come to fruition.
I asked Austin Floyd, one of the artists, what being back at Mulberry meant to him and this is what he said.
“Having a festival with of such magnitude back in the Ozarks was cause for celebration, alongside curious concern of whether it could ever compare to what we had known for so long,” he said. “As an artist, I was humbled for the opportunity to contribute my personal touch to this resurgence. To be able to increase the aesthetic and add to the overall communal vibration was truly incredible. The conglomeration of so many vastly different creative types all working together to contribute through their various facets was an astonishing site. It seemed as if whether you were a live painter, an artist working on installations, a dancer, flow artist, food vendor, goods vendor, photographer, videographer, writer, musical performer, or any other creative type who had a hustler’s ambition, you were a part of Backwoods Music Festival.”
Floyd added that it was “almost impossible to put into words the feeling of being surrounded by so many friends, family members, role models, and colleagues alike, all simultaneously giving their gifts to the world around them.”
“When you take that enthralling atmosphere, stretch it over a span of days, and place it in a location that encompasses so much natural beauty and cherished memories, you have something truly great,” Floyd said. “To me, Backwoods was truly great, and I’m excited for the opportunity to watch it grow. In summation, I’m confidently elated to have the chance witness this festival evolve and flourish alongside the rest of us.”
What is a festival without art? I couldn’t tell you because Ive never experienced one. And I don’t want to.
Music Rollin’ Through The Valley
Backwoods had three stages: The Globe Theatre, The Space Station and The Motherland. One of my favorite things about music festivals is the different genres that are featured. It brings crowds together that normally wouldn’t socialize, or its showing us that we can co-exist musically with one another. We can listen to psychedelic indie-rock or funk, but still head-bang with the bass heads, and get down with our shoeless friends at a bluegrass set. You don’t have to choose. You can enjoy it all with no judgment.
At one point, a few friends of mine overheard someone yelling at people leaving one of the electronic shows, claiming that it is not real music and there’s no talent in it. First of all shame, on whomever that may be. Yes, we have a right to our own opinion, but to say there is no talent in it and to spread that kind of negativity in such a positive environment was uncalled for. If you ever take the time to look at the laptop a DJ or producer has, you would know that there is a special technique that goes into making this type of music and there is a slew of different sounds and rhythms they must put together. Its like a guitarist taking different chords, putting them in order and creating a song. All I’m saying, is that this stigma surrounding EDM needs to end, or at least shushed when we are all gathered together to enjoy the music. The talent that exuded from each stage was limitless, and so many of the artists were local.
It’s nice to know that you we don’t have to go past our own front door to find amazing music.
The Space Station
This is the first station I visited. My group was lucky enough to set up camp not too far from the entrance, so needless to say, I spent most of my time there. And it was time well spent. In the past, it was known as the Satellite Stage and it’s funny to hear so many still referring to it as that, but it’s never looked like this before.
“The Space Station stage was dope — everything from the elaborate pyramid stage with 3-D mapping visuals, to the impeccable Hennessey Sound system. Elevated up into the pyramid to play for our fans was nothing short of stellar. We watched from atop as the crowd head-banged, wiggled and danced as we progressed through our set. Great vibes all around,” said Oscar Torres from NO.FACES.
I got to the stage a little before 9 p.m. on Friday because there was no way I was missing no.faces, the two brothers currently based out of Fayetteville. Their psychedelic dub/trap sound is something special, and that bass tho. When they finally climbed up to the stage, I looked around to see the crowd full of familiar Fayetteville faces, beaming with excitement. Seemed like we all had the same idea. The stage glowed brighter and bumped along with the stellar sounds and everything was perfect for the next hour. But this was just the beginning.
Another local favorite hit the stage on Sunday evening. Meesh — a DJ based out of Fayetteville, a true artist — played on Sunday.
The space station was packed for this 7 p.m. set, and I’m not surprised. My friends and I got to the front and danced to that delicious bass sounds, not one of us giving a darn about the mud. I had to ask him what the experience was like.
“What a privilege it was to perform at Backwoods Music Festival,” Meesh said. “So many talented artists have graced those magical grounds over the years, so it was such a blessing to be given the opportunity to play. Getting to see all my friends throw down as well made it so much sweeter. That was my first Mulberry Mountain experience, and it was everything I could’ve dreamed of. I’m hoping we can return every year forever, creating and sharing more beautiful moments each time.”
Later, that very same night, Jon Jackson played his last set as AttA!
“Backwoods was one of the best experiences of my life! Playing that spot on the mountain has been a dream of mine for eight years and to see it finally happen was incredibly surreal and fulfilling,” Jackson said. “I’m so grateful for the love and support I received as I change to my new project ‘jonteal’ and to everyone who worked so hard to create the magic that happened that weekend.”
It was magical indeed. Be on the look out for Jonteals debut EP Aquatica available May 16! He brought out a good friend of ours, Hayden Napier to rap over one of the tracks. It was so smooth and everyone seemed to love it, including myself. I can’t wait to see what Jon comes up with next!
Jade Cicada, Yheti, Flintwick and Dalton Richmond were all unforgettable sets as well. I wish I could go in depth into each set, but we’d be here for a while. All in all, I would have to say that the majority of my fondest memories were made at the Space Station. From watching my friends dreams come true, to witnessing the sun coming up as music and people still played. It was all fantastic.
The Globe Theatre
A few hops, several skips and two jumps down the road, was the Globe Theatre. It had some unforgettable moments for many of us that were there.
Again, I wish I could write about every act that graced this stage, but we can’t always get what we want. Recycled Funk, Groovement, the Getbye, Space4Lease, Recess, and Deep Sequence, to name a few, all brought their A-game.
I had a friend of mine tell me that Deep Sequence is her new favorite band because of their Backwoods performance. That’s really what it’s all about, musical discovery. A lot of funk, psychedelic-indie rock, bluegrass and Ozark mountain soul played. I don’t think there was a moment anyone was standing still each time I came by to catch a show. Everyone had their dancing shoes on, or no shoes at all. Who wants to dance in the mud with shoes on anyway? Am I right?
Opal Agafia and the Sweet Nothings definitely brought it. I have seen them play before, but the electricity that the band’s presence brought was enough to get us moving and singing along.
Opal’s voice is so unique and The Sweet Nothings brings out that lovely Ozark Mountain soul sound. Everywhere I turned, I was running into familiar faces who were enjoying it as much as I was. Michael Schembre, on the fiddle, is a delight to watch play and dance around on the stage, and he was having a great night Friday with the band.
The crowd danced swayed and sang along as they brought us into a musical daze. I couldn’t have left this set for anything else if I tried.
June 2 is the release date for Opal Agafia and the Sweet Nothings new album. If you’re in Fayetteville, or near, you should come to the album party they’re throwing at George’s Majestic Lounge. Its going to be a great night.
Will it top this set at Mulberry Mountain? We shall see.
Arkansauce was an act that I honestly couldn’t wait for. In the weeks before Backwoods, I often listened to their song Mulberry Mountain and tried to envision what it would be like to see them perform it on Mulberry Mountain again. As soon as they started to play it, I almost cried. The crowds response was exactly what I hoped for. We all sang along, loud and proud, elated we were getting to share that moment with each other. I asked the members of Arkansauce what the experience was like for them. Tom, the Bass player responded “We really enjoyed our time at Backwoods. The crowd turned up for our set ready to get down, so that always sets a great tone starting a set. At one point during a song, I was able to look around and take it all in and see the smiling people in the crowd, many familiar faces and lots of new faces too. Everyone was having a great time and we were getting to share these songs we love dearly with them. I was also aware of the great times I’ve personally had watching music on that stage during the several Wakarusas and Harvest Festivals and connecting everything in that moment. It was special!” It was special for all the hearts joined there that night. These are the moments I live for.
On the last night, Andy Frasco and the U.N. had a special treat for us by bringing out the horn section from The Floozies.
By the way, if you haven’t sent The Floozies with their new horn section, ya gots to. It’s important. I couldn’t believe the energy at Andy’s set. Its more common for people to be winding down and tired from the festival by the last night, but not this crowd! It was 3 a.m., and we were still getting down in that Arkansas mud.
Another act that had a special guest on this stage was Muzzy Bear, when he brought out his best friend, Griz, to share the stage. When they play as a duo, they call themselves Sugar Cookies. Cute, and so much fun.
Honestly, if anyone came to the Globe Theatre and didn’t have fun during this festival, they may need to get their hearing checked.
Last but not least we have the main stage. Full of fun surprises and electrifying performances, The Mother Land drew us all in for show after amazing show.
Higher Learning, Modern Measure, The Werks, Michal Menert, Figure, Emancipator, Zoogma and STS9 were all brilliant. I loved the energy of the crowds for all of the sets. I got up front and center and head-banged with the bass heads at Snails, who also loves to instigate mash pits at his shows.
It didn’t happen as big as it normally does for him. I think this crowd was too into the music and a bit more kind than normal, but it was worth a try, guy.
Afterward Griz, accompanied by Muzzy Bear, gave a one of a kind performance. It was Griz’s personal happy 4/20 to all who attended. If you’ve been to a Griz show, there’s always something special about it — but the vibe was a tad different than any of the previous shows. The best way to describe it would be a jazzy, electronic blues-rock jam session.
The crowd was diggin’ it, and I’m personally thankful for Griz, and the message of love and unity that he always brings with him to these festivals. Not only is he talented, he’s someone who’s morals and ideals are ones we can get behind. Griz, if you’re reading this, thank you for all that you do. Keep it up brother.
Space Jesus also brought an unforgettable set to The Mother Land. I heard so many people talking about it afterward. Everyone was entranced in his sound, moving around like caterpillars to the beats.
On Saturday I got to check out Ryan Viser. His electro/funk mixes and handy trumpet was fun to dance to. And in the rain! Looking around the crowd, everyone was in a rain jacket or poncho and not letting the weather dampen their clothes or moods. Shout out to the ones who didn’t have rain cover. Y’all showing up was awesome. I had never been to a show of his before and I loved the vibe.
Another one to mention is Fractal Sky. Music producer Aaron Spence, from Fayetteville, started our Sunday evening off right. His sound of glitch-hop and trance had a funky feel. I didn’t hate it at all. I loved his vibe and stage presence. You could tell that he was loving the crowds reaction.
“Being given the opportunity to perform on that stage is a major milestone in my book,” he said. “(I’ve) been watching iconic artists perform on that particular stage atop the mighty Mulberry since 2006, so it literally felt like a dream come true. I was as nervous as I’d ever been and as well prepared and ready as I’d ever been.”
He went on to say that his only complaint is how quickly the set flew.
“It was a magical and oh so powerful experience,” he said. “Cheers!”
His new single ‘Perseverance’ is out now and it’s delicious, so get on that new music train and check it out.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a spanish poet from the 1500’s once said, “Where there’s music, there can be no evil.” I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a conscious effort indeed, but one made easier in this type of setting.
Music to me has always been an beautiful escape, and somewhere I can take refuge from the outside world. I feel this is the collective mindset for us all, and I cannot wait for the next time we all meet on this magical mountain again.
A special “thank you” to all the workers and volunteers who helped put this together.
To the lady walking around with the megaphone on Earth Day, telling people to pick up their trash, you rule.
Thank you to Jasmine Traylor, Brandon Johnson and Vespertine Vulpine Media for capturing the beautiful moments pictured above and letting me include them in this piece.
Thank you to Aaron Spence from Fractal Sky, Oscar Torres from no.faces, Tom Andersen from Arkansauce, Hayden Meshell, Jon Jackson and Austin Floyd for sharing your experiences with me.
I am honored that shindigmusic.net has allowed me to write this review and I hope to have brought Backwoods the credit it deserves.
Much love friends.