John Muir once said, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”.
From June 21 – 24, people from all walks of life gathered in Rothbury, MI for Weekend One of the eighth annual Electric Forest music festival.
Before the festival gates officially opened, attendees used early arrival passes to set up camp and start the party on Wednesday.
As the sun set on the first unofficial night, Forest Family from all over the country started to arrive and the field began to fill up with cars, tents and people excited to return to a place many consider “home”.
After camps were set up, exploration of Main Street began. Main Street has always been a place for attendees to grab food, a drink, or shop at the various vendors. This year, two larger-than-life lions greeted the Forest Family at one entrance [of Main Street], while two gigantic dogs created to look as if they grew from the Earth, greeted attendees at the other entrance [of Main Street].
The Brainery had a new home on Main Street this year. The Brainery was created by HQ and the Plug In Program. It provided opportunity for learning, relaxation, and different workshops to enhance the mind. In this space, attendees could play bingo, attend panels, create art and meditate.
Electric Forest is built upon love, acceptance, freedom, respect and peace. To Write Love On Her Arms partnered up with EF to create an interactive growth experience, the “Breaking Barriers” Project. All weekend, Forest Family were seen painting their intention for the weekend on a tile on the wall. The wall was broken on the last day of the festival and Forest Family got to take a piece of the wall home. The aim of this project was to acknowledge everything the Forest family feel keeps them apart from each other and then broken to show we are stronger and more connected than our barriers.
After exploring Main Street and reuniting with old friends, it was almost time for the festival gates to open. The energy felt in line when the gates opened was electric.
In line, smiles, laughter and high fives were abundant as Forest Family walked past one another. After going through the security checkpoint, attendees stepped into the festival grounds.
As the Forest Family made their way into Sherwood Forest, smiles grew even wider and excitement intensified as they were greeted by two statues made out of vines, the “Guardians of the Forest”, and then led into a path shaded from above by rows of upside-down umbrellas.
Upon entering Sherwood Forest, many members of the Forest Family were in awe of the signature “Electric Forest” sign [which changes every year]. This year, two hands, made out of various flowers, wire and shaped to form a heart, were the centerpiece on the main path. All weekend attendees were seen photographing it. This installation really captured the vibe of love and happiness felt at Electric Forest.
As per tradition, Dixon of Dixon’s Violin opened the festival with a welcoming performance at The Observatory stage.
“I wanted to honor the land we are on, I wanted people to honor themselves and I wanted to remind people to honor each other and look out for one another,” Dixon said.
Opening the festival is a blessing for Dixon, and he treated his performance as an opening circle, full of energy. “It was a way to prepare ourselves for the expansive weekend ahead of us,” Dixon said.
The energy conveyed throughout his set could be felt almost immediately and it bestowed upon the festival [some of] the magical vibes Electric Forest is known for.
As Thursday continued, the Forest Family explored Sherwood Forest and all the festival grounds had to offer. From interacting with the performers roaming around to exploring the various art installations, attendees were all smiles, laughter and good vibes.
Good vibes also emitted from the 1940s themed area, The Hangar. Here, attendees could be found listening to music at the new stage, The Carousel Club. The Forest Family also could be found receiving haircuts, back massages, temporary tattoos, having their hair braided, bowling, playing pool, drinking, dancing, or participating in a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt began once attendees received a passport [in The Hangar]. The scavenger hunt took attendees all over Sherwood in search of clues to gain access to secret rooms [in The Hangar].
The first day ended with getting down to Space Jesus at Jubilee and then going to see Green Velvet back-to-back with Kerri Chandler at the curated event, “Green Velvet Presents La La Land” at Tripolee.
On the morning of the second day, some festival-goers began their day mindfully, with focus on their breathing. This was done by attending the “Upgrade your Brain through Breath!” Workshop at The Brainery, or by attending Yoga with Hannah Muse at Tripolee.
After centering their minds, bodies and souls, it was time for the Forest Family to make their way into the festival grounds. Attendees were seen relaxing in hammocks, interacting with performers, finding new art installations and discovering new music.
Groove-Rock band, Aqueous, who have performed at EF in the past, performed a killer set at The Observatory on Friday. Mike Gantzer, guitarist/keyboardist, and Rob Houk, drummer weighed in on the magic and vibe of Electric Forest.
“It’s like a nature spaceship,” Houk said.
The members of Aqueous have been hard at work on a new EP, set to release soon. Electric Forest was a chance for them to perform and do what they love. “Electric Forest is one of those things that is hard to convey. We play a lot of festivals, but this is different. There’s something super unique about the vibe,” Gantzer said.
The vibe within Sherwood Forest is magical in the sense of immense acceptance when expressing oneself. Over at Jubilee, Jessica Anne Newham, known to her fans as Betty Who, felt this vibe during her debut Electric Forest performance
Ever since she was young, Newham has been an advocate for freedom of expression. “My parents always tell this story of when I was very young and we were traveling, I stood up on an airplane seat, and started singing and dancing. Everyone, [in the plane], was like, ‘cute, but shut her up’,” Newham said. Newham was able to share in freedom of expression during her set, where she performed songs off her newly released EP, “Betty Pt. 1”.
During The String Cheese Incidents’ set on Friday evening, a world record attempt took place. Together with Odai, The String Cheese Incident had the Forest Family dress like superheroes for a record-setting meet up. Although the record was not broken, this was a moving event as it showed anyone can be a superhero and you have the power to become who you want to be and to positively change the world.
At Tripolee, the superpower was the power of bass. The curated event, “BASSRUSH” featured hard-hitting sets from NOISIA, Jauz, Cookie Monsta, Herobust and more. The Forest Family was seen shuffling, head banging and dancing all night.
Saturday began with the sun shining down on the campgrounds and attendees feeling the heat. As Forest Family made their way into Sherwood Forest for shade, some braved the sun to catch late-afternoon and early-evening sets from Muzzy Bear at Jubilee and SoDown at Tripolee. Others explored Sherwood and conserved their energy for the night ahead.
As the heat began to subside, Dutch electronic music duo DROELOE threw down their debut EF set at Tripolee. Vincent Rooijers and Hein Hamers, members of DROELOE, enjoyed the freedom of expression and vibe of the festival.
“It is a little more alternative, and there is definitely a different dynamic than the more ‘mainstream’ EDM festivals,” Hamers said.
Rooijers and Hamers hoped fans enjoyed their set and that it exceeded expectations. The duo are currently working on their sophomore EP. “Playing with the expectation of what our fans have come to expect from us [music-wise] is a very interesting way of going about making music,” Rooijers said.
As the sun set, the Forest Family chased the golden hour to Tripolee where GRiZ performed his “Chasing the Golden Hour” set. The crowd danced and grooved to the sounds of the saxophone as the day turned into night.
After chasing the golden hour, many attendees made their way to Ranch Arena to watch ZHU perform and to lock-down a spot for resident DJ, Bassnectar.
The energy during Bassnectars’ set was felt even more than the bass, which if one is familiar with Bassnectar, is a feat all its’ own. The Forest Family truly does have a magical, unified energy. When the set was over, many made their way to Tripolee to close out the evening with a spirit-lifting set from Dutch producer, San Holo.
The energy that filled during Bassnectar and San Holos’ sets, continued into Sunday, the final day of Weekend 1.
This uplifting, positive energy was palpable that afternoon, as the Forest Family bonded and showed their Pride for the LGBTQ+ community with a colorful parade through Main Street.
After the parade, attendees ventured into the festival grounds for one last day of music and exploration.
The sense of connection felt within Sherwood Forest and between members of the Forest Family was stronger than ever.
One band with a big influence on family and forming new connections is American-instrumental band, Toubab Krewe, who played at the Carousel Club. Justin Perkins, the kora/kamelengoni/electric guitar player, hoped fans shared in the culture of the band during their set.
“Everyone is on the same page, in the same place, for the same reason – music, culture and to have fun,” Perkins said.
“When attending one of our sets, I hope people heard something they never have before, and maybe it will inspire them to delve further into our music and the culture behind it,” Perkins said.
To close out the festival, members of the Forest Family returned to The Observatory stage just after Midnight on Monday to watch Dixon’s Violin one last time. “At the end, it is a closing circle. The reintegration of what has happened and preparation for the transition back to the ‘default’ world,” Dixon said. To help ease this transition, members of the Forest family can check out Dixon’s new cd, “From the Forest” – which was recorded last year, at Electric Forest.
The transition back to the “default” world may not be easy, but members of the Forest family always know the Forest will be there to welcome them home.