Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How I became an honorary Bison

the Last Bison, continued from the Inheritance/Quill review found here.

How I became an honorary Bison.  the Last.

Seems whenever I find a musical act I love, they never come here. (Central Arkansas that is.) Our Indie-hipster Celtic-pirate chamber scene just isn't big enough to pull in would-be performers. So I go years between hearing the music I love.  This is why, in a “free music world” bands shouldn't stop selling CD's. If they want to make any money off of me, I need a physical product. My body won’t make it to your show to buy your t-shirt.  

So, when I see, after checking their tour calendar that The Last Bison are actually going to come to Arkansas, I am jubilant. --  And to a music-fest just a couple hours up the road. Then I spy the ticket price: 120 dollars just to go in the gate. Really? Not that the Last Bison had anything to do with that price. Turns out they would be in the company of about 60 other bands, sharing the woods with twenty-thousand neo-hippies spending days in tents at a festival called Wakarusa. They just didn't sell anything less than a two day pass. Parking and camp grounds extra.

Funny how this happens. Apparently a lot of people who aren't Arkansans’ know about Wakarusa, but a lot of locals like me say Whaka who? 

Background. Wakarusa started as a music festival on the banks of the Wakarusa River in Kansas, then moved to the big hills of Arkansas some 4 years ago. This year was the 10th year of the festival. Then I thought the music was mostly mountain music. Wrong again. Wakarusa features a blend of music that might be followed by your average neo-hip. You know, groups like Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Snoop Dog (ie Snoop Lion, and….The Last Bison. And while the aroma of burning vegetable matter was somewhat understated at the Bison concert, The place has a reputation. And a stink. But I am ahead of myself.

My wife said I was fishing. I was not. I simply wanted to let The Last Bison know how disappointed I was that I would not be able to pay the 120 bucks it would cost me to see their show. Then I offered, that if I could ever help with anything… like photos – let me know.  So,  about a week before the show I get a tweet, asking for my email. They follow up asking if there is any way I might help put up 13 people for a night or two. They have air-mattresses. The Last Bison are still waiting for their turn, and till then seek to save dollars where they can. (They in turn, would get us free entry.)

So I gently slipped the idea to my wife. She told me I was not in college anymore….But I knew that when she started telling some of our friends about the prospect that there was at least a chance. She said she was game if I could get a couple of extra homes to spread the load. So I started calling… and yes. Two family friends agreed to be groupies with us.

The next days I would join in cleaning house even as my wife labored over food preparations for a small ensemble. Musicians, sound guy, road manager (mom), merchandiser, media man etc. We would eat chicken spaghetti on the first night, quiche for breakfast to follow… sandwiches after that. (As it was they left several of their traveling brigade behind for a reduced group of 9.)

Teresa - eyes like joy lasers


Not too much to say after that. The buffalos arrived. Our hosting friends joined us for a meal, and the house was filled with loud banter as we got to know the band a little better. Turns out Dan-Dad is the worship and creative arts leader at their church in Chesapeake, Virginia. Carla-Mom serves as Tour Manager, setting up stops and meals and all that goes with keeping a dozen or so folks on the move. Beyond the direct physical concerns, there is also the concern that any parents, and specifically parents who seek to honor Christ as a traveling community when they go to places that run seedy. We found that Ben, the lead vocalist, has girlfriend, and that he writes all the songs and the larger part of the music, though each musician hones his or her materialized as they work together. We learned that the Hardesty kids (Ben and Annah) were home-schooled. We learned that two of the band members, Annah and Amos are an item and are talking marriage. We learned it takes quite a bit to move 9 to 13 people. We all agreed that we love the music of Josh Garells. We learned too what it means to record for a label, and how that process lets them do some things better, but at the cost of giving some control to others – even though their label has given them all the latitude they could ever want. 

Beyond that I talked to Mom and Dad a tad about theology, and what it means to see Christ, not us… as the cardinal theme of life, the universe, and purpose in general.

That next Day, Anna my youngest, joined the band in their traveling van as they headed west then North into the very soggy Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Family and I would join them a couple hours later.

Long story short, my wife and two daughters opted to stay home. Not up for the crowds.. So I took the van used by my daughter Kayla – still packed with the stuff of her recent college-to-home move. On the way to the Festival I get a call from Carla-tour-manager-mom. Something about trouble with transmission. I am having trouble hearing her, and agree the transmission is kind of bad -- not many cell towers in the hills. Turns out to be that the band made it just fine up the windy mountain roads to Wakarusa, then after fully arriving at stage site, find that their van will no longer move. Except backwards. The transmission is gone I, in turn, , pick up a couple of bottles of transmission fluid. It sure would be nice if this is a cheap fix.

As is, I arrive at Wakarusa a little late, missed my proper entry point down the mountain, then presented myself at the media gate. (As a professional photographer in real life, and with ties to the band I was able to slip in direct, transmission fluid in hand.)
Nothing prepared me for the sight ahead.

Wakarusa Mudfest 2013.

Twenty thousand something   campers…5 stages… 4 days of music and revelry. 

Like I said, not many Arkansans really know about Wakarusa. We knew that for several days, we had been hammered by torrential rains, and that folks at some music festival were having to battle flooding mud.  The scene before me looked like a refugee camp, but with better tents. Thousands and thousands of nylon shanties, over acres of cleared mountain, littered with cars and campers, porta-potties – a Ferris wheel, and mud. (which together with Waterlogged hay gave the whole place a Razorback kind of smell.

How did I ever not know about this? (maybe we should get a TV.)
So I spent the next twenty minutes slogging through the main grounds in ankle deep muck, to find the distant stage where the Last Bison would play. I arrived just as they took the stage, in something that looked like the back of a barn.

And they burned it down.

Not literally of course, but I must say. Amazing. I have listened to my share of Bison tunes… I know how they sound in studio… and live (in the sense of You-tube.) but I this was a different animal. There is something about the volume of big bass drum, sending it sonic wave through your organs. And what is funny… I listened to my few live video clips… and they sound like the other stuff on You-tube… Nothing like the sonic brilliance and shimmer that blessed my ears right then.

This is one tight musical act. Full of life, and passion, and practice. Full of soul, and grace, and beauty. Tight turns, curves and bells. Sound just doesn't get much better.

The crowd loved them too. The stork woman danced. People bobbed. While we represented only a fraction of the larger Wakarusa crowd, is was obvious that many in this group knew the lyrics… or made them up, free style. 

Andrew, on an instrument I cannot identify.  It required breath.
My pleasure  Seeing these people that I was getting to know, perform in such as way that I was seeing them now as distinct people with names and personalities.  Forgive me for just mentioning two.  Violinist Teresa simply radiated joy as she played.  Pure Life sparked through her fingers and her hair.  And percussionist Andrew... Well he came across as the most Emo member of the band... subdued and pretty  moody on stage.  But he was a most engaging conversationalist in our home.


After an hour, mining a full emotive range, The Last Bison left the stage. They gave. Now what do?

Another long story short: Someone finally managed to get their unmoving van, by way of tow truck to my van, then transferred the dirty clothes and college furniture from my van to their trailer, then scrunched eight passengers into a van meant for six. I took the curves down the mountain a little slower than usual. Mom and Dad Hardesty would spend the night in Ozark, seeking solutions…the band would crash one more time at my pad (and those of our same friends.) Somewhere in the next day, Mom and Dad Bison came up with a solution. No easy fix in Ozark, they packed their band-van in the back of a big U-haul box truck, added the trailer and rented an extra van. So, After cards, music, and sandwiches, the family reunited, then headed back to Virginia by way of Nashville, late that afternoon.

For all their good sounds, the ordeal around the van is where this band really showed their grounding.  Folks may have been stressed, even unhappy but no one murmured or cussed or got too out of sorts. They handled the whole thing with a grace befitting people who feed at the banquet of God.

My daughter Anna, with Annah and Teresa

Carla and Dan
When sound-men butt in.

So. Final thoughts.. 

 That was one expensive “complimentary" CD.

As for the band, with van, they lost every penny and more. As for the joy to be found in new friendships, and seeing a band bloom before my eyes – Priceless;  a story for a thousand campfires…and a whopper of a tale to tell my grand-kids. Yes… I knew that band… back before they hit it big, they ate off of our paper plates.

The Last Bison with Van in a box.  Conway,  Arkansas.

Closing Joke.

What did the Mother Buffalo say to her teenage son as he left the house to go to school?


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