Photos and recap by Chris Kocher
Electric Forest took place in Rothbury, Michigan on June 23-26, 2016 at the Double JJ Ranch. The event hosted upwards of 45,000 people across a span of five days, a new feature this year as a select number of attendees could purchase an early arrival pass to enter the campgrounds on Wednesday afternoon. This was the sixth year of Electric Forest, the love child of the Boulder based booking and management company Madison House Presents and the Los Angeles based event production company Insomniac Events.
One hundred seventy-two music artists performed at Electric Forest this year. Easily topping any previous year’s number of performers. Headlining acts included the annually performing The String Cheese Incident, who played a large role in the creation of Electric Forest and performed 6 sets across the weekend. Also returning this year was Bassnectar, a surprise artist for this year as historically headliners do not perform two years in a row, though no doubt a pleasant surprise for ticket holders. The third headlining act was Major Lazer, electronic artists Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire, who together bring the party vibes to their performance.
Other notable artists include Griz, the Michigan born electronic producer, saxophone player, who appeared several times over the weekend. He guest played with SCI on Friday night then performed a late night set at the Good Life Stage. He also guest performed with Shooka, Sunsquabi and Dumpstaphunk, as well as lead a roaming marching band through Sherwood Forest on Saturday afternoon with Muzzy Bear, all before closing out the festival on Sunday night at Sherwood Court.
Nahko and Medicine for the People performed on Friday afternoon to a beaming audience. As Nahko stepped up on stage immediately the crowd began cheering. The band performed new songs and old with the audience singing along towards the end of their set.
Electro-jam band Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9) performed two sets at Electric Forest this year. Friday night they closed out the Ranch Arena with their spellbinding light show and danceable beats. On Saturday afternoon they unplugged and played their Axe the Cables acoustic set. Even at the hottest part of the day they still brought a huge crowd out to Ranch for sunshine filled dance moves.
At the core of the festival is The String Cheese Incident, of whom play 3 nights with 2 sets a night. Their explosive Saturday Night Cheese is THE set to catch. Each year they pull out the stops with live performers and fireworks to accompany the 2nd set of the night. This year we saw trapeze artists ascend 50’ into the air on either side of the stage while blowup pegasus and giant balloon marbles were set loose into the crowd. All the while fireworks exploded overhead creating pandemonium of pure joy and disbelief. The band paid tribute to the late artists David Bowie and Prince performing covers of “Let’s Dance”, “Kiss”, “Space Oddity”, and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
After SCI left the stage Saturday a 30 minute intermission began and immediately the mood changed from one of bliss to intense anticipation. This was the set many were waiting for. Porter Robinson had just finished up his set and thousands of people were flocking from Sherwood Court to Ranch Arena. An influx of colorful and LED lit humanity began to fill into the bowl. Bassnectar was about to begin.
Carefully curated music played over the speakers covering old school dub to rock to heavy metal, setting the atmosphere for Lorin Ashton’s highly anticipated set. Slowly the lights dimmed. A hush took over the meadow. Flags flew erect in the wind, almost perfectly opposite the stage. Then over the speakers came an electronic voice, “Hello.. Hello.. Hello..”
The next 90 minutes were something of another world. Bassnectar has a talent for leading his audience along on a journey encompassing heavy beats, beautifully created samples of voice and instrument, and deep, bone shaking bass.
His set sampled music from his newest album, Unlimited, with tracks collaboratively created with artist Lafa Taylor, G Jones, and The Glitch Mob. The first hour he lead us along heavy mixes of bass and rush music and concluded with an encore performance of Wildstyle with the entire crowd screaming along.
At one point Lorin got onto the mike:
“Doesn’t this feel like the perfect … festival to you?”
The crowd reflected his sentiment perfectly.
Aside from music though, what really is Electric Forest? Is it just a music festival? And why does this event sell out all 45K tickets before a lineup is even announced?
Electric Forest is more than a music festival. It is an experience co-created by attendees and artists, a place where freedom of expression is celebrated, individual exploration and growth encouraged and fostered. Conscious festivaling is taught by veterans and newcomers alike with efforts like picking up trash after performances and organizing ‘green camps’ to promote a leave-no-trace attitude in the campgrounds.
In fact, Electric Forest has become a place where many have found a home away from home. Attendees return to Electric Forest as Foresters and welcome new faces to the Forest Family every year. As the event grows more and more people find their place within the community and pay it forward with good vibes and open hearts. Sayings like “Happy Forest” can be heard in every corner of the great open fields to the shadowed dens within Sherwood Forest.
In an attempt to give context to this event’s review, I as the writer would like to say a few things to you, the audience direct. I have attended festivals since 2005 from the punk rock Warped Tour in Camden, NJ all the way to indie rock Outside Lands in San Francisco, to the infamous Burning Man in Nevada. No where, yes, no where, have I encountered better vibes and a brighter attitude than Electric Forest. Perhaps it’s the woods. Maybe it’s in the air. Wherever it is, this festival has something deeply right in its roots. The Forest is alive in every aspect and is worth a trip in the last week of June, just as the summer heats up and the nights are still a little cool.