After three days of music, madness, heat and police, Wakarusa hits high note

Crowds soak up atmosphere, tunes

Bainbridge Fitzgerald, 7, was ready to hear the band Keller Williams & the Keels take the stage Saturday evening at the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival.

It was the soon-to-be third-grader at Wakarusa Valley School's third Wakarusa festival. His family's mere presence this year is a testament to their enthusiasm for tunes and the event's outdoor atmosphere.

Bainbridge's new little brother is due today, but mom, Ali Mangan, was at Clinton State Park on Saturday and ready to rock out.

"We're just popping in every day - just to 'Waka' the baby out," Mangan said.

Mangan and her common-law husband, Justin Fitzgerald, Bainbridge's dad, have been together for almost 10 years.

Bainbridge, his parents and their friends were part of the thousands who made it to the campgrounds for a good time and to hear music on a day when the festival's stages were jam-packed with bands for hours.

"It's just the atmosphere, man," Justin Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald's friend, Brandon Emberton, of Lawrence, said he embraced getting together with old friends and "celebrate being buds."

"It's a time of year where everybody's got such a positive attitude. It makes everything so much easier," he said.

Several people at the festival - in its third day on Saturday - said they cherished the free-spirited and easygoing setting that the jam sessions and musical acts complemented.

Clouds shaded festivalgoers from the heat late Saturday afternoon, and the festival appeared to dodge a bullet as most of the heavy rain appeared to fall north of Douglas County.

In the middle of a large crowd, wearing a tie-dye shirt and listening to Bernie Worrell and the WOO Warriors, Jonathan Mader, of Kimberly, Wis., flew a kite with the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon character as its insignia because it was a "beautiful day," he said.

"Dude, the SquarePants, rock on," a passerby said.

Rachel Merriman, of Denver, made the trip to Lawrence with friends. Earlier in the week, they nixed the camping idea and are now spending their nights in a hotel after seeing the festival's stricter security days ago, she said. Merriman said at this type of music festivals people "tend to take care of each other."

"I'm here for just the experience of being around a lot of people who are here to experience something different," she said. "I like the music scene. I like to travel, and it's summertime."

As of 10:30 p.m. Saturday, law enforcement agencies had arrested 101 people since Thursday, mostly on suspected drug- and alcohol-related possession charges, said Lt. Doug Woods, of the Douglas County Sheriff's office. A majority of the arrests involved charges of minors purchasing or possessing alcohol, he said, and no major disturbances had occurred.

Officers with the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control have assisted at the festival. According to Douglas County Jail records Saturday evening, law enforcement officers had arrested about 30 people since 8 p.m. Friday.

Medics at the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical reported few injury incidents on Saturday, division chief Jerry Karr said Saturday night. Capt. Pat Talkington said earlier that medics had treated a few people for minor injuries and transported two people to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Of those transported, one person suffered from a "medical condition" and the other person suffered an apparent drug overdose.

As the guitar solos and booming sounds continued on the stages Saturday evening, many festivalgoers said they were waiting for the headlining band, The Flaming Lips, to play at 10:30 p.m.

Dawn Steelman, of Lancaster, Pa., drove in with a friend and has enjoyed the performances in the first three days.

"I liked hearing Delta Nove last night. That was my favorite so far," she said.

Recent Kansas University graduate Sam Shepherd relaxed in the shade and enjoyed his first Wakarusa Festival. He and his girlfriend, Rachel Deem, of St. Louis, brought their bicycles so they could move easily from stage to stage.

"It's nice that some of the smaller bands I've heard have been good," Shepherd said. "Some of the larger bands I've been disappointed with."

They also enjoy the variety of bands.

"This is nice because it's so laid back," Deem said.

Amid the beats resonating from the stages, crowds began to emerge from their campsites and trickle toward the grass area in front of the stages for the evening acts.

One family's dedication was not in question.

"We'll be here next year with a 1-year-old boy," said Mangan, who is due to have her second boy today.

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Staff writer Ron Knox contributed to this report.

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