One of the most common phrases uttered throughout the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Michigan is “How are we even going to describe this to people?” This idea resonates with anyone who has attended the festival, but more so with those who truly let go of all their inhibitions that they may go into the weekend with, and allow themselves to truly get lost in Sherwood Forest. Every tree is adorned with ribbons, glowing with colorful lights or draped with witty and encouraging phrases. There are towering art installations with intricate details that you won’t even see until you are close enough to touch them. There are bits with grown-up story time corners, magicians, hysterical improvisation actors, and cellists, violinists, etc that are strewn throughout the nooks and crannies of the Forest grounds. Electric Forest is, for all intents and purposes of the phrase, something you HAVE to see to believe.
The production of Electric Forest truly goes above and beyond almost any festival I have ever attended (mind you, it’s a pretty long list). But in the end, the main attraction for us all is the diverse and talented artists that grace the Forest. From jam bands, rock, string bands, bluegrass, electronic, classical, hip hop, trap, dubstep, house, trance, deep house and all the variations on each genre that I can’t even keep up with the technical names for anymore, you will find some of everything throughout your four days in the Forest.
There are seven stages at the Forest; the Tripolee, the Ranch Arena, Sherwood Court, the Forest Stage, the Jubilee tent, the Observatory and the Hangar. With so many opportunities to see great music, it’s hard to know where to be at any point in time, but there were definitely some major highlights of the weekend. As any experienced Forester knows, you will always have multiple opportunities to jam out with the String Cheese Incident. The Cheese went all out this year during their sets with fireworks, hot air balloons in the sky and little EF blimps floating above the crowd. You will also usually find many of the other headlining acts collaborating with the Cheese and this year was no exception. Big Gigantic popped in for a bit and even Skrillex came to shred on a couple of songs with the legendary jam band. We coasted into the weekend with the smooth experimental electronic duo from Seattle, Odesza, followed by the EDM powerhouse producer Kaskade who delivered a set that was nothing short of incredible from its beginning. (Seriously, it sounded like something out of a battle scene in the movie “300.”) Sherwood Court brought some really trippy sets by Flume, Goldroom, Gramatik and Phantogram. Front woman of Phantogram, Sarah Barthel, has such a hauntingly beautiful tone in her voice that you can feel the melody creep up your spine, but at the same time, you never find yourself standing still with their hard hitting bass. The Court also hosted some of our favorite jam sessions with The Werks, Electron, Break Science, Lettuce, The Motet and one of my personal favorite live acts: Lotus. The Tripolee is definitely home base for those ready to shuffle the night away. Some of the highlights from the Tripolee were Carnage, Datsik, Minnesota, Mt. Eden, Crizzly, Flux Pavilion, Black Tiger Sex Machine, and the legendary Paul Oakenfold.
A growing trend at festivals is the Silent Disco. This is a great opportunity for festival goers to get a chance to listen to some great DJs at their own volume and in a much more intimate environment. One of the most influential artists on this concept is Robbie Kowal, a.k.a. DJ Motion Potion. He has been in the business for 20 years now and has had a ton of influence on the creation and installation of the Silent Disco concept into more festivals and events. I got a chance to sit down and chat with Robbie at Electric Forest and he had some really interesting things to share about how he got into the business and where he thinks the Silent Disco is heading in the future.
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One stage that blew my expectations out of the water was the Jubilee tent stage. It was kind of tucked in the back of the festival grounds but those who ventured to it were surely not disappointed. The décor in the tent really intensified the ambience of the venue, particularly during EOTO and Lindsey Sterling’s sets. Lindsey Sterling made her first ever EDM festival appearance at Electric Forest this year and threw down an eclectic blend of sheer talent as a violinist, dancer and singer; all layered over experimental electronic dance music. She is truly a must see performance. The Ranch Arena stage brought the most diverse lineups varying all the way from jam and rock bands like SCI, Yonder Mountain String Band, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros and Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass to a wide array of electronic and bass filled acts like Shpongle, G-Eazy, Skrillex and Bassnectar.
I also had a chance to catch up with Mike Love, who performed the first night of the Forest. He is a really inspirational roots reggae artist from Hawaii. He radiates love in his music and especially in his personality. You can really tell when you talk to him that he is a proponent of peace and pure joy in the world. You can check out the interview with him below.
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Aside from all of the killer music from those four days, there are many other aspects of this festival that deserve a nod. First off, the Forest Family is great about taking care of our veterans. The Electric Forces program gives veterans the opportunities to share their stories, light a Luminaria in memoriam of those who cannot be at the festival with us (for whatever reason), be involved in leading workshops (which gets you a festival wristband) or be on the build crew. Being a part of the build crew provides you with compensation for your work, a festival wristband with camping and 3 meals per day while working. I also saw a golf cart that took wounded vets from their campsites to the entrance of the festival and saw fellow Foresters saluting them as they went by. Love seeing a festival that gives back to those who have given so much for us!
The festival’s Electricology program also provided patrons with many opportunities to win tons of cool prizes such as posters, t-shirts, hats, hat pins, hot air balloon rides and for some lucky few, even tickets to next year’s Forest. I saw a golf cart with all sorts of prizes frequently popping up after big sets and for just a few minutes of cleaning, you would get to pick out some goodies from the cart. Electricology worked extremely hard to keep the festival as clean as possible so that the rest of us could dance without the constant crunching of cups and water bottles under our feet. For those as clumsy as I, this is greatly appreciated. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about; the traction on most of our cutesy shoes is essentially nonexistent. I have busted my butt on random plastic plenty of times. This is an effort that will always require tons of attention at festivals, so look into it next year and be a part of winning some great stuff while promoting a more eco-friendly environment.
I also have a few travel tips for any first time Foresters in 2016. Michigan is gorgeous in the summer. The daytime temps never capped out at more than low 80s this year, but at night it gets pretty chilly, probably around the low 50s. That may not be cold to some of you, but I feel it necessary to warn my fellow southerners that never see summer temps get lower than the mid 80s even in the middle of the night. Posting up in your hammock to chill in the Forest and listen to a set while you rest your feet is a must do at some point in your stay in Rothbury. However, definitely keep all of your belongings with you in your hammock when you do so. I unfortunately got a Camel Back (luckily, there was essentially nothing in it) swiped while I was taking a little catnap. This is a really rare occurrence, as the majority of the Forest Family is extremely loving and respectful of each other, but hey you can never be too careful. Also, when en route to the Forest, stock up on all your camping needs and food (except for ice obviously) early on in the trip. There are very few Walmarts and similar stores within half an hour of the venue and those get picked over pretty quickly. A couple of other side notes would be that this festival is seriously great about keeping the port-a-potties serviced on a regular basis so I don’t think its very necessary to go too overboard on toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Not saying not to bring any at all, but I definitely went way overboard thinking that it would be a much worse situation than it was. Tip of the hat goes to the gentleman whose job that was. If you do run out of any of the essentials, there is a general store in the campgrounds that has your back. They added 20 new water stations throughout the festival and the campgrounds this year, so taking showers at those or refilling solar shower bags (for us to-the-bone clean freaks) was never a hassle.
Lastly, if there is any festival that is worth splurging and going VIP, Electric Forest is that festival. There is a pool back in the Good Life area near the Ranch Arena. Special bars in all the Good Life viewing areas. You get early arrival to the festival on Wednesday rather than Thursday morning (that alone would be worth it, the traffic was pretty crazy this year getting in to the GA campsites). There are after party sets that are held in the Good Life Camping areas after the rest of the festival shuts down. This year Good Life folks got to see Cherub, Skrillex, Datsik and a bunch of other artists do extra sets up close and personal. The campsites are extremely well kept and if you really want to splurge you can live it up in style by renting out a cabin.
Madison House and Insomniac outdo themselves with Electric Forest each year. The festival continues to grow and evolve in such a way that trying to anticipate what is coming next year would be nearly impossible. There are many festivals out there right now, but few provide the experience and sense of community that takes a hold of a little piece of your subconscious and conscious mind for weeks after departing Rothbury. You find yourself day dreaming of the fantasy, lights, laughter, and overall wonderment that exists there. But rather than dwelling on the Forest-sized hole in your heart, it just makes you all the more excited to be back with your Forest Family next year.
Festpop Staff Writer: Lindsay Shearon