That's what I thought, walking down the long road from the box office by the daytime parking lot to the entrance of the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival. It was probably 90 degrees that Saturday, with the breeze offering little relief. I could already feel a blister forming on the sole of my foot. Rain clouds loomed in the distance.
Walk-arusa was spread out across Clinton Lake State Park, just west of Lawrence, like a sprawled-out city. In the vast main area, vendor stands straight out of a state fair lined the fence: a food court, clothes, barbecue, veggie pitas, funnel cakes, corn dogs, jewelry, incense, snow cones. There were also three bloated, expensive commercial booths (for Motorola, AT&T and the video game Quake 4) stationed in the field like logo-ridden plastic vessels manned by young sailors in company polo shirts.
Farther down the road were the campgrounds and two smaller stages, one for local bands and one for less-famous acts. These tents, together with the main area's elaborate Sun Up and Sun Down stages and Revival Tent (sponsored by Harrah's VooDoo Lounge), housed a huge roster of bands, most of them in the jam camp.
The real attraction, however, was the people.
You could tell real Wakarusans not so much by appearance but by their propensity to begin dancing anywhere at any time to any beat. More important, unlike the festival's volunteers or security staff, real Wakarusans knew where everything was. There was an unsettling absence of maps and schedules inside the gates, and unless you were at one of the two information booths, no given worker had any idea where anything was. (The DJ stage wasn't even on the map that I downloaded from Wakarusa.com.)
By dusk, I'd seen a few bands but had spent my time walking all the festival areas, hoping to encounter something weird and memorable, and, if possible, generous with its pot. I fortified myself with a Sunshine Wheat and sallied forth to the Sun Up stage to check out Les Claypool. Before a huge audience, the ex-Primus frontman led his band in heavy-hitting freak-funk while the MC, the famous, mop-topped Beatle Bob, grooved just offstage.
By the beer tent, I spotted a woman in her early twenties smoking with a Hunter S. Thompsonesque cigarette holder. I approached the slender blonde and told her that her smoking accessory was the classiest thing I'd seen all day. Abby had come to the festival with her friend Whitney, a petite brunette. Once I got accustomed to their thick Mississippi accents, we talked about the bands they'd come to see Bela Fleck, Keller Williams, the Yonder Mountain String Band, the Flaming Lips.
And then they saw my press pass.
The two had designs on meeting the Lips. I wasn't about to surrender my pass, but after a few moments of reflecting on the phrase carpe diem, I decided to try to lead them through the nearby entrance to the backstage area. We walked over, I flashed my pass, and the security guy let us in, friendly as a Wal-Mart greeter.
My new friends and I were ecstatic. I don't remember what led to the next surreal occurrence, but a few moments after our infiltration, we were standing behind a giant black tour bus, helping Abby change into a pristine Dorothy costume that she'd produced seemingly from nowhere blue-checked dress, pigtailed wig, ruby slippers, stuffed black dog.
Crew people walked by with flashlights as we struggled with the zipper on the back of the dress, but no one asked us what the fuck we were doing, which was this: readying Kansas' most famous fictional character for a surprise appearance onstage with the Flaming Lips.
As we scoped out the guarded staircase leading to the wings of the stage, Abby endured the attention of loud, male backstage guests who were excited by her costume. I kept my eye out for band members, desperately texting a friend in Lawrence in hopes of getting the cell phone number of the band's touring drummer, hometown boy Kliph Scurlock (no luck). After spotting him and bassist Mike Ivins, I turned and saw multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd standing right behind us. Abby went up to him, and though he was extremely polite, he failed to invite her to join the show. (Also, she failed to ask.)
The stage setup took ages. After a 40-minute eternity, Abby and Whitney's resolve was shaken. Abby was afraid to rush the stage, and Whitney began expressing a mutinous desire to wander down the dark road to the Sun Down stage and look for Keller Williams, for whom, evidently, she had a thing.
Then I decided to appeal to the suddenly nearby Les Claypool for advice.
"Hey, Les," I said casually, "what do you think Dorothy here's chances are of getting onstage with the Flaming Lips?"
"I don't know. I don't have anything to do with the Flaming Lips," he responded, thinking that I was asking him to pull strings.
I explained that I just wanted his outlook on the situation, and once he understood, he told us that, realistically, it probably wouldn't work. I was disappointed that a musician with such a bizarre sense of humor wouldn't offer more creative advice or encouragement.
But we were no nearer to accomplishing our mission. The women decided to go around front and enjoy the show.
As I watched the band's elaborate performance which included flying streamers, giant orange balloons, a huge video screen and singer Wayne Coyne traveling atop the crowd in a giant, inflated hamster ball I couldn't help but feel let down. On either side of the stage, the band had choruses of people in frivolous costumes Santas and aliens, the latter looking like people in tricked-out graduation gowns.
Surely there could have been one small spot for Dorothy.