With an incredible influx of music festivals happening all across the states due to this whole “EDM invasion” or whatever you want to call it, more and more festivals are popping up but lacking key elements to make them memorable. Sure the music will be great (maybe), sure you’ll see a few of your favorite artists, but is the festival really creating an experience that will leave a lasting impression on your psyche? Probably not. Two companies however seem to have all their ducks in a row and fully grasp what it takes to create the ultimate festival experience, Insomniac and Madison House Presents. Together, they brought 20,000 music lovers the second year of the Electric Forest Music Festival and we’re pretty sure it won’t be the last time either.
Perhaps best known now for its unparalleled attention to the seamless integration of music, art and community, Electric Forest continually takes the festival experience to the next level. The festival’s now-legendary Sherwood Forest, located in the heart of the festival site, each year raises the bar of patron expectations with its state-of-the-art, jaw-dropping light displays, intricate and earthy artful touches, and everything in between. – Madison House Presents
And they couldn’t be more correct. We embarked on a four day journey to the forest complete with a 13-car caravan, tents, food, and more boxes of glow toys than we knew what to do with. Follow us as we recap our journey to Electric Forest.
After a four hour drive over to Michigan from Chicago we finally hit the Double JJ Ranch in beautiful Rothbury, Michigan. After some slight traffic Thursday afternoon we made our way into the campgrounds to setup shop. All of the staff and people directing traffic were extremely helpful and accommodating considering we had a caravan the size of the Presidents. With camp setup and the distant sounds of music in the background there was only one thing left to do, explore.
This year the Electric Forest wristbands came equipped with a magnetic chip that required you to scan in and out upon entering or exiting the festival grounds so for some people that took a little getting used to. After you made your way inside you were greeted by the sounds from the Tripolee Stage and a pretty impressive ferris wheel. One thing I noticed right off the bat is that they had adjusted the layout of the festival compared to the previous year – obviously for the better. Music lovers dressed in neon to complete headdresses could be seen wandering the grounds making our excitement for the next four days even greater.
After checking out a few sets we finally made our way over to the legendary Sherwood Forest. This right here is the lifeblood of what really makes Electric Forest so special. Granted it was during the day so it doesn’t reach its full potential until the sun goes down but it’s still just as magical. Hammocks could be seen hanging from trees on both sides and we were pleased to see some new additions this year. Smack in the middle of the forest trail was a big clock tower. Probably one of the weirdest clock towers I’ve ever seen but either way it was still an awesome addition. Now lets discuss the addition of the Saloon or the “Salun” as it was spelled on the outside. You can just let your mind run wild with this one. A DJ booth inside, hammocks, couches, carpet, all packed into the forest. Absolutely amazing. I spent a good chunk of my weekend in and around this and I can’t wait to see it again next year!
After spending quite a few hours in the forest we made our way to check out Los Angeles’ very own, Wolfgang Gartner tear it up on the Ranch Stage. He dropped his signature tracks like “Devil’s Den” and “Space Junk” to a rowdy crowd. For me, the night wound down and I wanted to take a more relaxing approach so I went and setup camp in the forest to enjoy everything it had to offer. Afterall, being from Chicago we see so many musicians stop through constantly and with the forest only accessible 4 days out of the year, I wanted to take full advantage.
Now that we had Thursday under our belts, we couldn’t wait to check out some of the acts on Friday’s lineup. My schedule consisted of seeing String Cheese, Zeds Dead, and Crizzly. But enough about the music for a second, lets talk about all a few of the great things that Electric Forest does to give back to the various communities and organizations that it works alongside. Together with Food Drive partners Conscious Alliance, they collected more than 7900 lbs. of food during this year’s fest, all to benefit local Michigan food pantries. On top of that, Electric Forest’s Music in Schools Program partnered with Shelby High School and Montague Area Public Schools in Michigan to help support music education in local area public schools.
Electric Forest’s 2012 Music in Schools Program will donate $5000.00 to each of these school’s music programs, helping to support programming and ensure that today’s youth have the opportunity to learn about music in school. Electric Forest 2012 is proud to have hosted the talented and ambitious Shelby High School Jazz Band – who performed at the festival’s site entrance on Saturday morning of this year’s fest. Look for more details regarding the 2012 Music in Schools partnerships and donations to be released this fall. – Madison House Presents
Hands down the craziest part of Friday night was a set from Crizzly at the Wagon Wheel Stage. Crizzly had the last set of the night performing from 3:15-4:15am and by the look of the crowd when we got there, they showed no signs of slowing down. For those of you who haven’t been to Electric Forest before, let me try and paint a picture of the Wagon Wheel Stage. Imagine an old western two story house, but with no rooms, just openness. Inside is packed with Crizzly fans and its hot, real hot. So hot that the second my camera made it inside, the lens fogged up. This didn’t stop everyone from dancing and jumping around, including the people outside. This year, they added an LED screen alongside the lake so fans who couldn’t make it inside due to capacity could still hear and see what was happening inside. The end result: an enormous lakeside party to Crizzly. Such a great experience. Afterwards we made our way back to the campsite to rest up for day 3.
Saturday began for the IMF team and friends with an adventure to the forest in the afternoon to catch The Infamous Stringdusters who are an amazing Bluegrass band. I really wanted to check out some new artists while on this trip and they were highly recommended to me by a friend of mine so I listened and I’m thankful I did. Afterwards we made our way through all of the hammock people to the Sherwood Court stage to catch The Coop. Since it was incredibly hot out without much shade, people tended to gravitate more towards the forest instead of catching The Coop. They still had a nice little crowd right in front supporting them though.
With the majority of our afternoon behind us, we looked forward to the night. My schedule was looking like some more Cheese, STS9, and then wrapping things up with the dynamic duo that is Major Lazer. With a blanket sprawled out on the lawn of the Ranch Stage, we prepared ourselves to get “cheesed”. Their set included massive amounts of glow sticks being thrown in the air, fireworks, and a huge octopus that maneuvered its way around the huge crowd. You know, typical things you see at a music festival.
After catching quite a bit of Cheese we decided to make our way through the forest only to get sucked in for a good hour or so. We setup camp right next to the Saloon and enjoyed the sounds of their DJ’s they had coming in and out of what looked to be a spaceship. With beautiful ladies dancing on their bar, good music, and wonderful lights emanating from inside, the forest was the place to be at that moment. The sounds of STS9 could be heard in the distance as we relaxed and looked up at the stars and all was right in our world.
STS9 had about 45 minutes left on their set so we decided to pack up camp and walk over to the Sherwood Stage to catch the tail end of it. As we came out of the forest you could see a sea of people getting down to their sounds. Entering an STS9 show is like being on another planet I’m pretty sure. It’s just so surreal how different of an environment it is when looking at other artists’ sets. I’m a huge fan of crowds at shows and STS9 always brings a great crowd. The time to catch Major Lazer was approaching so we made our way all the way over to the Tripolee Stage, not getting stuck in the forest this time. Luckily we made it about 30 minutes early so the whole crew and I were able to catch a spot right up front for the madness we were about to be a part of.
Major Lazer, Major Lazer, Major Lazer. Where to begin. This was probably one of the most rowdiest sets of the entire weekend. Diplo, the producer behind the “project” came out on stage as he typically does during his sets in a full suit despite it still being 80 degrees outside at 2am. With this being my first time seeing the Major Lazer project, I was curious as to what the set would be like. Diplo was also joined by a “hypeman” who was extremely annoying in my opinion and also off on a lot of his cues to get the crowd ready for the drop. My vote: find a new hypeman. Despite the constant yelling of “Bounce”, the show was still pretty good. Diplo made his way inside a huge blow up ball and they pushed him out into the crowd for a new variation of crowd surfing. The set was about to close until the hypeman asked security if they could play one more track, he obliged, as they proceeded to drop a little Bob Marley to see everyone on their way. Great stuff Diplo!
Day 4 (The Final Day)
The final day approached sadly and we woke up feeling a little anxious that we wouldn’t be able to come back for another 360+ days. Either way, we got ourselves ready for the day and embraced all that the forest had to offer one last time before we would have to leave. We packed our bags and made our way over to the Tripolee stage to catch the Canadian-duo that is the Adventure Club. After seeing these guys in Chicago during the winter I knew I had to go check out their set. We arrived and it looked like everyone else wanted to see what these boys had to offer as well because they had quite the crowd. Between crowd surfing and jumping around on stage, the energy was high, but we wanted to make time to go hear Wally Wojack storytelling so we decided to head out.
After our experience last year running into the Double JJ Ranch owner Wally Wojack, we knew we had to go listen to his storytelling segment at the Forest Stage. We arrived to Wally sitting up on stage and a nice crowd of people listening to what he had to say. He went on to share with us his love for the Double JJ Ranch and how he and his ex-wife had a lot of differences regarding his “lifestyle” which ultimately lead to their splitting up. It was great to hear about the ranch and we’re so blessed to have someone like Wally provide his ranch for the Electric Forest Festival. Thanks Wally!
After things wrapped up with Wally we decided to spend some time in the forest relaxing until it was time to hit the Ranch Stage to catch Keller Williams. We headed over to the Saloon as usual to see what kind of things were happening around there. We came upon what seemed to us as the “leader” of the Saloon just hanging out front in a rocking chair. It looked like something straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie and it was awesome. We said hello and continued our walk to the Ranch Stage for Keller. After seeing Keller at the Summer Camp Music Festival a couple years back, I wasn’t too impressed but I really enjoyed his sounds this year. I think my ears may have grown or something.
After Keller we caught a little Cheese but then had to head back to the campsite to pack all our belongings. We had to head out a little earlier than expected, but those things happen sometimes. After almost four days of being in the forest we felt that we got our fill. I love Electric Forest and everything it has to offer and I highly suggest those of you who were on the fence this year take the plunge next year. You won’t regret it.
It wouldn’t be a complete recap unless we provided some sort of recommendation or our thoughts for improvement next year. It will only help make the forest more amazing than it already is. Our list is extremely short, and this was probably out of the hands of the organizers, but the iPhone application didn’t release until Saturday and by this time, everyone sort of said f**k it. It would have been great to have ahead of time but we realize things happen and ultimately we had our paper schedules which suited us just fine.
Lastly, for the sets that are on the Sherwood Stage during the day, the field is so huge and it makes for great shows at night, but if there’s someone you want to see during the day and the sun is shining, you’re going to roast. Maybe throw up some cool umbrellas or some sort of shade totems so people can utilize the field a lot more during the day.
Thanks you Insomniac, Madison House Presents, Megan McFann, and everyone who came together to put on yet another amazing Electric Forest Music Festival. Until next year!
*Header photo courtesy of Tobin Voggesser. All photography on this write-up by Zachary Walker.