Bad Vibes For Wakarusa

The Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival at Clinton State Park in Lawrence, Kan., will be moved to a new location next year because of alleged discrimination, according to event promoter Brett Mosiman.

Mosiman said the decision was brought on by a combination of losing money the last two years and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ favoritism toward the Country Stampede music and camping festival in nearby Manhattan. Both festivals take place in June, with Stampede taking place at Tuttle Creek State Park.

“Wakarusa just finished its fifth year and we look forward to our sixth, but we won’t be going back to the state park because of inequities in contractual terms versus other events,” Mosiman told Pollstar. “Over the last four to six years, [Stampede’s] rent has gone up a total aggregate of 10 percent. Our rent went up somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 percent. What business can afford an 800 percent increase over three or four years?

“I’ve made the claim of discrimination and prejudice probably the last three or four negotiations with these guys,” Mosiman said of his festival, which attracts a mainly “hippie” crowd. “I wasn’t dreaming this up.”

Other disparities Mosiman claims include a requirement that Wakarusa pay about $100,000 for law enforcement and security that Stampede doesn’t, an attendance cap of 13,500 compared to Stampede’s 30,000 cap and Wakarusa’s three-month contract versus Stampede’s three-year contract.

Amy Thornton, an attorney with the parks department, denied the claim and said Mosiman’s accusation of discrimination is nothing new.

“We’ve heard that over and over again,” Thornton told the Lawrence Journal-World. “But, frankly, it is the management of the festival we’re concerned about, not the people there.”

The attorney told the paper there have been business-related problems with Wakarusa – late payments to vendors, violation of quiet zone provisions and some missed deadlines for presenting security and traffic control plans – and drug use at the event was “very rampant,” citing 80 arrests at Wakarusa 2006.

However, that was the year law enforcement elected to test covert, high-tech surveillance equipment on the Wakarusa crowd without Mosiman’s knowledge. That led to complaints of civil liberties violations from festivalgoers as well as reduced attendance.

“That happened in year three and it certainly hurt our reputation. It did a lot of damage to us financially without a doubt, and it’s a big part of why we’re going to move to a new site,” the promoter explained. “I don’t think we ever re-established that trust between the fan and the park or law enforcement.”

But the final straw may have been when the promoter was denied permission to feature activities like bungee jumping, a parade or a costume contest – activities similar to what Stampede offers.

“The vast disparity of activities allowed is a big one,” Mosiman said. “[Officials] vetoed us legally from doing any of these activities that we considered fun and entertaining while other [events] had those kinds of activities.

“I’m a huge supporter of [Country Stampede]. It’s a great thing for Kansas, too. I just wish we’d gotten half the shakes that they got.”

Thornton told the Journal-World the department is looking into adding a law enforcement reimbursement to Stampede’s contract when it expires in a couple of years but as far as Wakarusa’s situation, time will tell.

“I’m not sure giving ultimatums to us is going to work that well,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mosiman is looking at site options for about 25,000 in hopes of moving forward and attracting more top-name acts.

“The remarkable thing about Wakarusa was the peacefulness of the event. When you get about 15,000 people together over a four-day period … to not have any traffic accidents, or assaults or violent crime whatsoever, that’s remarkable,” he said. “[But] in the final analysis, we’re a business.

“It’s sad that all this has occurred. I think we have a wonderful event put together by great people.”