Just getting the name of the event to roll off the tongue is the first challenge: Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival. The second is to choose an itinerary, missing at any given moment artists playing at three venues while you’re at the fourth. But, really, you can’t go wrong. With 85 performances by 75 or so artists from noon to 3 a.m. for three days (Oct. 17-19), if you can’t find something that tickles your fancy, your fancy just can’t be tickled.
The festival takes place on Mulberry Mountain just north of Turner Bend on the Pig Trail in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. Harvest is a smaller, tamer version of Wakarusa, which occupies the same location in June. By tamer I don’t mean tame. Just tamer.
Harvest Festival is heavy on bluegrass/newgrass, but you’ll find blues, rock, reggae, electronica, R&B and even a little rap. And you’ll be sharing it with about 7,000 youngsters and a few oldsters from all over the country, but especially from within a few hundred miles. And you’ll know your neighbors before you go home because you’ll separated from them only by the fabric wall of a tent and a few feet of air.
Big names this year included the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Yonder Mountain String Band (host of the event), Railroad Earth, JJ Grey and Mofro, Elephant Revival, Steep Canyon Rangers (without Steve Martin) and Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang. Some shows you go to just because the band’s name sucks you in, like Roadkill Ghost Choir, Ice Cold Fatty, Gangstagrass, and my personal favorite, Cluster Pluck. Pipeline Productions out of Lawrence, Kan., manages the many, many details that an event of this magnitude entails, everything from ticket sales to port-a-potty placement. And they seem to do a very good job of keeping everything running smoothly.
If you don’t mind sleeping in a tent or — if you’re among the upper crust — an RV; if loud music until 3 a.m. doesn’t bother you; and if you accept that it’s going to rain on you now and then, there’s no place better for a music lover in Arkansas in October than the Harvest Music Festival.
More photos from David Lewis and Grav Weldon after the jump.