Rothbury Michigan’s four day music festival (June 27-June 30) Electric Forest is one of the most buzzed about festivals of the summer, so the choice was easy to investigate on behalf of Fake Plastic Tunes. The festival has been said to be “The String Cheese Incident’s Festival,” but whether you’re a fan or not the festival booked an incredibly diverse lineup, so there is music for everyone. Having attended similar festivals in the past with similar lineups (such as Camp Bisco, RE:Generation) the question I still needed to answer was; What sets Electric Forest apart from the rest?
Day 1 & 2
I arrived late Thursday night just shy of 2am, no thanks to the typical Chicago traffic, unfortunately missing bands such as Lotus and EOTO who I later heard put on one of their best sets to date (which seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the festival weekend). With Thursday gone I had my work cut out for me Friday. Doldrums were first on my schedule at the Tripolee Stage, but with a last minute cancellation I was able to catch the New Orleans brass band known as Trombone Shorty at the Ranch Stage. I’ve never been a fan of the song “American Woman”, but the group covered it and was dialed in. Frontman Troy Andrews not only played trombone, but also sang on a number of songs.
Next, I walked in over to the Tripolee Stage, and joined an eager crowd watching Milkman, who resembled Justice quite a bit, strangely enough mixing a rendition of the song “D.A.N.C.E.”. The music quickly became a bit heavy, gravitating a little too closely towards the Dubstep genre for my liking, but being up front I had the opportunity to check out the live painting that was occurring during the set. Still eager to experience the forest, I held off and stuck around to catch Baauer, another EDM act who’s name is becoming more and more popular for one reason or another (mainly the internet meme “The Harlem Shake”), but the guy definitely knows how to work a crowd. At one point I was having difficulty shooting photos due to the vibrating structure I was standing on.
Finally it was time to check out the Sherwood Stage, the furthest stage with only one obstacle, The Sherwood Forest. Located in between the Ranch Stage and the Sherwood Stage, the entrance was elegantly lit up along with an impressive array of lights that shined, flickered, glowed and glimmered off in the distance, something that needs to be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated. Mesmerized, I powered through to the Sherwood Stage to catch DFA Records native, Holy Ghost! who put on one of the most memorable sets of the weekend. Following shortly after Passion Pit rushed the stage to put on the most energetic performance I have seen from them, with frontman Michael Angelako’s vocal ability to hit the high notes especially on songs like the “Reeling” from their debut LP Manners. The group seemed somewhat in shock by the positive feedback from the populous crowd even as they blasted through an incredible set featuring crowd pleasers such as “Carried Away,” “Moth Wings,” and of course “Sleepyhead.”
Without a chance to recover from the previous night I welcomed the bassline to “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” from Empire of the Sun’s soundcheck, which they played later on. Before heading back into the festival grounds I examined the map, which reiterated how well planned the layout was. General camping is just outside of the main gate, but also contains vendors and other amenities so you don’t have to make the 5-10 minute walk into the grounds if you need food, ice, or anything other goods. Golf cart taxies were also patrolling throughout the camp grounds for a small $5 fee. Another feature I particularly enjoyed was the straight forward layout providing easy access throughout the festival grounds. Upon entering the venue area, the layout is as follows: Tripolee Stage, Ranch Arena, Sherwood Forest (Forest Stage, The Observatory & Silent Disco) and lastly the Sherwood Court.
With time to kill I headed in, passing the Tripolee Stage where a large mass participated in yoga daily. On the other side of the grounds within the forest, hammocks were drawn in every direction as campers lounged while performers on stilts weaved through the trees. At one point I came across a trained professional juggling knives before hoping on a unicycle, which was interesting to say the least. Home to three stages, the “Forest” was easily the most diverse area of the festival and despite my general dislike for hulu hoops (don’t ask), the performance at the forest stage added another unique element to the festival as festival goers casually watched from their hammocks and blankets on the sprung out across forest floor.
The observatory is a visually appealing, newly erected structure in the forest that was created after an invasive species of insects infected some of the hardwood trees last winter, which resulted in cutting dozens of existing trees down to preserve the entire forest. By day it served as a lounging area or a nice meeting spot and by night hosted some of the more unique experimental acts such as Dixons Violin who both opened and closed the festival with jaw dropping improv skills on the violin. The stage was also home to the emerging bluegrass group Tumbleweed Wanderers who not only played 3 impressive sets over 3 days, but also play a mean cover of “Shadow People,” by Dr Dog.
Back near the Ranch Area where the majority of the vendors were stationed, I made my way through the artists’ tents who were selling mostly jewelry, paintings, prints and other goods you typically find at festivals. The Conscious Alliance tent was among the vendors who teamed up with EFs food drive program proving to be quite successful as individuals dropped off bags of non perishables to the existing pile. On the same corner, the Toyota tent, consisted of a photo booth, spin the wheel to receive swag and a very cool postcard program. Without limitation and with postage paid, postcards were provided to those who chose to send them anywhere in the world, but they also made for a nice souvenir.
Still at the Ranch vendor area, the “Shelby Marching Band” stomped through the field with their assortment of instruments. Shortly after, Jeff Austin & Friends took the stage with their blues infused jam rock. He played electric mandolin with the accompaniment of a wailing electric guitar, slide guitar, bass in sync with the banging drums, while the audience slowly grew. The ranch stage became a mecca for bluegrass acts with Greensky Bluegrass who played the following day.
Up to this point the weather couldn’t have been any better, so it’s only natural a few rain clouds moved in for Party Supplies, an Electronic Pop duo, at the Tripolee Stage. Unfortunately as the clouds broke the two had to cut their set early due to vocal issues, which ended up being an ideal opportunity to eat and rest before embarking on another 10 more hours of music into the late night.
Rested up, BoomBox kicked off Saturday night with their funk infused house at the Sherwood Stage, playing to one of the largest crowds I had seen up to that point until the English dance group Above & Beyond took over. String Cheese put on an unforgettable performance at the Ranch Arena, playing an impressive three and half hour set catering to both the jam and electro fans until Empire of the Sun performed the most extravagant on stage performance of the weekend.
As “Lux” played into “Old Falour’s”, both off their new album Ice on the Dune, two dancers appeared through the fog with Empire of the Sun following shortly after. I don’t think anyone expected to see the group playing instruments, which is another thing I immensely enjoy about the duo who had another member helping them out with the percussion section. The Australian group performed a good mix of songs with the obvious crowd pleasers, “Walking on a Dream,” “Alive” and as mentioned above “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” to put on yet another memorable performance.
Although I didn’t spend too much time at the Tripolee stage, I did enjoy A-Trak’s mix of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll,” but left shortly after for the Silent Disco. Yes, you heard that correctly and you may laugh at the name Shreddie Mercury or even the term Silent Disco, but together they made for one of the most fun festival experiences I’ve ever had. Located deep within the Sherwood Forest, the Silent Disco featured a DJ who could only be heard through the headphones given out upon entrance, so what you get is a few hundred people who appear to be dancing to absolutely nothing. Allegedly Passion Pit played the secret set Friday and Shreddie Mercury made such an impression that I had to check out his set at the Forest Stage Sunday night.
Day three started off similar to day two with Greensky Bluegrass at the Ranch Arena, while the Athen’s group Reptar treated us to another overly energetic performance at the Sherwood Stage. About halfway through the set, the recently added three man horn section hoisted the lead guitarist up for a solo. With time to spare before my personal favorite and most anticipated act, Yeasayer, I checked out Emanicpator and Elliott Lipp, two respectable names among the festival community who delivered as always. Even though Pretty Lights and Nervo’s set overlapped at different stages, Yeasayer sealed the deal as the perfect cap to complete my festival experience. They carried on the reoccurring theme of unforgettable performances with a tremendous set that consisted of songs from all three LPs, also bringing the horn section from Reptar out for Ambling Alp. On my way towards the festival exit, I dropped by “The Saloon,” which is another hidden gem deep within the forest and can be described as an ever changing saloon with the appropriate vintage decor, lounge area and small venue.
In conclusion, the thing that set’s Electric Forest apart from all of the other camping festivals alike is the actual “Electric Forest.” Simply put, there is nothing else like it and if there I encourage you to enlighten me. Although the forest is home to various art sculptures, the “Saloon,” an elaborate light display, three stages that feature music and performing arts, the festival couldn’t survive without the given diverse musical lineup and involvement from the thriving community.