's top picks for Wakarusa 2005

1. Wilco - Let's face it: Wilco is the reason we're going to Wakarusa this year. The announcement that Jeff Tweedy and his rotating band of prodigious ringers would be headlining this year's festival was a definitive affirmation of its good taste (after all, one can't subsist on String Cheese alone). For those in the know, Wilco is the twigs and berries of the modern rock machine; the bees knees of the elite realm of bands who juggle innovation with entertain-tion. Each album is a masterwork; each live show a watershed experience for those who attend.

2. Calexico - The pride of Tucson, Arizona, is the ever-eclectic Calexico. Are they a rock band? A mariachi band? An Ennio Morricone tribute band? Actually, they're all of the above, and they're A-1 on all fronts. Songwriter Joey Burns and drummer/percussionist John Convertino form the core of a group that also includes horns, accordion, pedal steel and your typical rock band stuff. The well-oiled unit is more than capable of bringing the rock, but don't be surprised if they unhinge the swanky Latin beats for the festival stage.

3. Split Lip Rayfield - Hillbilly hardcore, post-punk progressive bluegrass, Appalachian Black Sabbath - whatever you call what Split Lip plays, fact is this Kansas foursome plays traditional bluegrass instruments (excepting a one-string upright bass fashioned from a gas tank) with enough fury to whip the whole crowd into a sweaty frenzy.

4. Railroad Earth - Easily mistaken for a bluegrass outfit on account of their frequent appearances at festivals like Telluride, Railroad Earth is actually an acoustic rock band that incorporates mandolin, banjo and violin. Singer/songwriter Todd Sheaffer has an easygoing tenor that could give Don Henley fits, with songs that could hang with Cat Stevens' and/or James Taylor's finest. If an overdose of jam leaves you wanting for songcraft, check out Railroad Earth and find your way.

Wakarusa Festival 2005 June 16 -19 at Clinton Lake Son Volt, Friday at Wakarusa(3:10 - 4:00 p.m.) also featuring String Cheese Incident, Wilco, Calexico, Neko Case, Ozomatli and more...full line-up here Full festival info by day: ¢ Thursday ¢ Friday ¢ Saturday ¢ Sunday

5. Son Volt - Gravel-voiced singer/songwriter Jar Farrar recently reassembled his hard-rocking Son Volt outfit after a four-year hiatus (during which he recorded two excellent solo records). The former Uncle Tupelo frontman combines the narrative storytelling of Woody Guthrie with heavy doses of electric and steel guitar to create a singular sound within the nebulous rock landscape. Regarded as a father of the "alt-county" genre in many respects, Farrar is also one of its most consistently interesting innovators.

6. Neko Case - Femme fatale Neko Case may very well be our generation's Loretta Lynn - a crossover country singer with a voice like a lovelorn bluebird in the Appalachian dew. A cornerstone artist of the Bloodshot Records "insurgent country" roster, Neko commands the audience with her bold, sultry vocals and confident stage presence.

7. Ozomatli - Globalization may have hurt the working class, but it's been good to Ozomatli. The LA-based band is best known as a Latin rock/hip-hop hybrid, but the band's distaste for conventions is illustrated by its long list of collaborators, which includes Cut Chemist, salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri, gypsy violinist Les Yeux Noir and even The Prague Symphony. The band's live show bounces from Latin rock to hip-hop to funk - always a block party of the highest order.

8. Matisyahu - Don't believe the hype when the press latches on to a new hip-hop/reggae hybrid artist who happens to be a full-on, yarmulke-toting Hasidic Jew. Do, however, believe the music. Matisyahu backs his strange story of self-discovery (drop out of high school to follow Phish, meet a Lubavitch rabbi in a park, start a Hasidic reggae band...) with a powerful show that fuses elements of dancehall reggae and live hip-hop.

9. The Gourds - Austin's Gourds are a goodtime alt-country band with a boatload of goofy covers and some even better originals. The group's fluke-hit cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" was both a blessing and curse for a veteran band with talents that reach far deeper than ironic covers of mainstream rap songs. What it did prove, however, is that The Gourds will go to extremes to entertain their audiences - an attribute that presumably scored them a slot at this year's festival.

10. Galactic - Galactic is one of the most educated booty shakers on the scene today. The New Orleans-based "future funk" collective pays due respect to their elders (Dr. John, The Meters) while taking occasional sojourns into the worlds of electronica, pop and hip-hop. The band's latest headtrip is performing as an instrumental outfit, where the free-flowing funk jams have an all-access ticket to ride.

Also recommended:John Butler Trio
Truck Stop Honeymoon
Old Crow Medicine ShowString Cheese Incident
Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9)
Drakkar Sauna
Arthur Dodge and the Horsefeathers
Hackensaw Boys


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