Blue Ox Music Festival Preview: Arkansauce Talks Pinnacle Band Moments, Getting Back On The Road, & More

The time is rapidly approaching for the fiery, finger-picking string band Arkansauce to take the stage at Blue Ox Music Festival.

Tomorrow at 5:00 PM, the band will be kicking things off- and there will be no holding back. The four-piece string band was originally supposed to play this highly-anticipated Eau Claire, Wisconsin, festival last year, and after being disappointed about losing the show to the pandemic, Arkansauce is more than ready to bounce back, as they will be opening the entire festival this time around.

Arkansauce is no stranger to the stage, and they have been working to make a name for themselves as a unique group that bridges bluegrass, Americana, country, blues, and much more. They first formed in 2011 in northwest Arkansas, and have since put out four albums, with their most recent release being their single, “I’ll Be Yours” (2021).

What is apparent at any Arkansauce show is their positivity and desire to uplift the audience’s spirit, no matter the circumstance. The acoustic-style nature of the band’s instruments (despite light amplification to accommodate the venue) creates an environment of intimacy between themselves and their fans, leaving both sides wanting the show to go on forever.

After rehearsing regularly throughout the pandemic to create a bang upon return, Arkansauce is ready to hit the stage. They will use their Blue Ox show as momentum for tour dates to follow in late summer and fall, bringing together fans new and old with the energy of their strings, grooves, songs, and spirit.

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We got the chance to chat with the guys to talk more about the festival, what’s on the horizon, and more.

How has 2021 treated you guys thus far, and what have you been working on lately?

2021 has been refreshing for us so far. It’s felt really good to get back on the road and back to work building our fan base. We’re always plugging away at new music but we’ve also been working on bolstering the production value of our live performances. We’re currently practicing with a new in-ear monitoring system and moving towards touring with our own dedicated sound engineer to guarantee a top-notch and consistent show night after night. 

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and divisiveness in the air right now. What are you doing to keep your heads up amidst this exhaustive and difficult time, and did you find the past 17 months helped or hindered your creative process and artistic drive? 

On one hand it’s been helpful for us to focus on the future and our trajectory. At the same time, the hiatus has made it a little easier for us to be present in the moment and remain grateful for every show, no matter how big or small. Distance from our fans definitely made our hearts grow fonder!

The past 17 months definitely helped our creative process. We’re lucky enough to all live in the same town, so we continued to meet and practice twice a week the entire time. We also had a lot of extra time to enjoy a lot of the things that inspired us in the first place: the Arkansas outdoors, family, friends, etc. Sometimes the road provides inspiration, sometimes it all comes from the microcosm of home… we were overdue for a bit of the latter. 

So you’ll be playing the Blue Ox Music Festival in less than two weeks. How does it feel to be playing a festival of this magnitude again, and will it be your first time playing this particular one?

This will be our first time at Blue Ox. We were scheduled to play last year, and it was one of the hardest shows to lose when things shut down, so our excitement is unbridled this time around! It always feels good to get out to big festivals like Blue Ox, especially so far from home. The edge of the stage is always the biggest reward for us and to have the rail lined with new faces can really spark something special in a performance. That feeling of creating something unique in real time for a crowd that doesn’t know exactly what to expect is unlike anything else in the world.

With so many amazing artists on the docket, what part of the weekend are you most looking forward to? (other than your own set…)

Well of course I think everyone looks forward to their own set the most, and we’ve been long time fans and students of many of the artists on the bill. Sam Bush, Stringdusters, Salmon, and Jon Stickley have always been some of our favorites to catch when we have the chance. Festivals offer a lot off the stage as well. We’ve always enjoyed being accessible and engaging with all of our fans old and new. We always look forward to hanging out with fans in between sets and hearing stories of how they know our music or how it’s had an impact on their lives. There’s also something special about standing shoulder to shoulder with a fan of yours and watching another musician you both admire- what a way to bond with someone who cares enough to spend their time and money on the music we love.

On a scale from 1-10, where does Blue Ox fit in terms of big shows/festivals you’ve played in the past, and what would make for an ideal overall experience for the band?

10 all the way baby!!! Of course it’s tied with a couple of others, we’ve had some pretty amazing experiences at Floydfest, Hillberry, and the likes, but we expect nothing less from Blue Ox. We hope to have a ton of new faces at our set with folks dancing their hearts out! Sit-ins from a friend or two on the bill would also be amazing. Let’s face it though, being a touring musician is already an “ideal experience”. At the end of the day it’s our job to give the fans their ideal experience and we intend to deliver.

Do you deal with anxiety before playing festivals and shows like these, especially after being shelved for so long, or is it always business as usual? And do you have any pre-show rituals or things you do to prepare?

We do experience a little anxiety every once in a while but not where and when you’d expect. Honestly sometimes it’s the smaller, quieter crowds that can shake you up the most…. places like listening rooms or seated theaters. Our first tour overseas gave us a pretty good taste of that. One night in Bamberg, Germany, we were playing to a packed house. We took off into a pretty fiery setlist, but we were getting almost no response during songs and polite golf claps in between. We didn’t know until setbreak that we were playing to one of the most appreciative crowds we had ever encountered up to that point. They had hung on every word, every note, and could not wait to discuss. 

Those big rowdy festival crowds can inspire confidence, and the vibe in the air at those big festivals can really make you feel invincible on stage.

You’ve shared stages with a number of incredible bluegrass artists over the years. What are one or two pinnacle moments of your music career so far that stick out in your mind the most? 

For us, a lot of those memories have been at Hillberry Music Festival in Eureka, Springs Arkansas. One of our first performances their didn’t start until almost three in the morning. It was raining that night and the temp was well below 40 degrees… things we’re looking a little bleak to say the least. Folks had already spent a long day in the cold and rain listening to some of the best bluegrass artists in the world. We started our set, and people started filling up the space, and before you knew it we saw nothing but smiling faces disappearing into the darkness well past the reach of the stage lights. We proceeded to have one of the most high energy unforgettable performances of our career. 

A few years later, we had moved to the mainstage and we were lucky enough to have Sam Bush sit in during a set as well as Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth. That felt pretty amazing, looking across the stage and knowing you are making music with musicians you’ve been listening to for 15 years will always be a highlight… no matter how far we go. 

And finally, being invited to big festivals like Blue Ox! It’s nice when you finally start to notice your music catching on in other parts of the country. You start to feel that momentum build and you know you’re on the right track.

Lastly, what might fans expect to see/hear from Arkansauce as we barrel through summer and into the fall? 

We’re gonna keep giving it all we got! We’ll keep putting it all into these live performances as long as we can do it safely! We get better every day and it continues to show. We’ve got a ton of new tunes we’re putting the finishing touches on so fans over the next few months will get to see us road-testing some new material before we take it to the studio. We can’t wait to show them what we got at Blue Ox and at Hillberry in October. Arkansauce comes from humble roots but we trust the process and continue to grow. That means sauce fans get to change and grow right along with us and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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