Last June, the annual flood of good people, music, and vibes returned to the woods of Rothbury, Michigan. One year later, the Electric Forest Festival kept the tradition alive and took it to new levels with the assistance of game-changing performances from the nation’s top acts, an incredible venue, and a smoothly conducted weekend.
The excitement for four days in “the Forest” budded February 1st when the initial lineup was announced, boasting three nights of String Cheese Incident, two nights of Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Thievery Corporation, Girl Talk, Santigold, Steve Aoki, Ghostland Observatory, Richie Hawtin, Major Lazer, Big Gigantic, Mimosa, and more. The all-star electronic music lineup with sprinkles of top-notch jam and bluegrass attracted music fans of all shapes and sizes. To some festival-goers, it was a no-brainer when budgeting summer travel plans.
“When the lineup came out, the multiple nights of both Sound Tribe and String Cheese sold me right away. I also attended Bonnaroo, but I needed the electronic fix as well,” said Drew Carpenter, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska. “I saw both Cheese and Tribe and Hangout and they took it to a whole new level at Electric Forest,” added Carpenter, “it was an incredible experience.”
Walking through the forest to the different stages was the perfect emotional warm-up for the set of your destination; enormous lit decorations including a growing butterfly and LED lasers that shot for what seemed like miles between tall, hammock-tethered trees. During the day, fans could tie hammocks in the forest and get a much-needed break from the heat (regularly in the upper 80s and 90s during the day) and the skin-blistering sun. Water, proper nutrition, rest, and shade were essential components to surviving four days in the Forest. Food vendors included pizza, gyros, a general store with packaged snacks and fruit, as well as organic and vegan options. Beer options were rather limited, and hard alcohol was limited to vodka drinks and margaritas, which were fantastic and refreshing during the hot days. If lucky, you could also catch a tasty homemade bloody Mary in the wee hours from one of many festival entrepreneurs (the best of which donated to Conscious Alliance, a Colorado-based nonprofit). Nothing served by vendors gave fans the feeling that some of the musical artists delivered with some next-level performances.
The main-event, String Cheese Incident, did not use playing three days straight, as well as percussionists Michael Travis and Jason Hann performing an EOTO set, as an excuse to slack for a note throughout their 6-set Electric Forest run. A first night “Desert Dawn” encore led the way for Cheese to melt Foresters on the second night with a neck hair raising rendition of “RiverTrance”.
“This RiverTrance was unlike any I have heard before. They slowed down the beginning which provided the perfect buildup for a knee-slapping ending that was a perfect backdrop for fireworks and the Octopus parade through the crowd,” said first-time festival goer Matthew Rapp, 23, of Boulder, Colorado.
Cheese finished the run with fireworks figuratively and literally (multiple smuggled artillery shells were set off during the sets) by inviting Big Gigantic and The Motet tenor saxophonist Dominic Lalli out for a timely “Jellyfish” to start off their last set. A three-track encore including an outrageously fun “Johnny Cash” convinced some to purchase tickets to SCI’s three-night Red Rocks run the following weekend. The few children enjoying Cheese were treated to a hilarious Cheesy “Sesame Street” on the first night. Some fans have become disappointed with Cheese’s integration of dubstep sounds into their sets, but their timing and use of thundering bass was perfect for the Electric Forest vibe.
“Cheese just gets it and they are witnessing the power that dubstep is having. Cheese doesn’t shy away from any sound,” Rapp added,” and they are coming up with ways to stay fresh and entertain the crowd.”
STS9 brought two nights of their “Great Cycle Spectacles” show to Rothbury and invited fans onto a spaceship of sound, light, and energy. Bassist David Murphy kept the crowd in full-on boogie-mode and connected the crowd back to earth in between spacy, alien-like announcements that have kept Tribers buzzing about the bands new Spectacles sets. Saxton Waller, STS9’s lighting designer, created a beautifully illuminated combination of his Mayan temple LED screen and crossing, geometric patterns with spotlights.
“The way that STS9 incorporates their lighting into the full production is breathtaking,” said Tyler Albrecht, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska. This was Albrechts fifth time seeing the Spectacles show this year and for him, it “just keeps getting better and better.”
Tribe secured thousands of believers with a powerful “EHM” on the first night. The build-ups leading into an ever-appropriate crowd “woo” turned the Ranch Stage into one of the rowdiest parties of the weekend. Tribe also earned the Encore Trophy for dropping the ever-smooth “Metameme” on the first night and answering begging fans with a “Circus” on the second night (what Waller accomplished during Circus brought tears to some glowing faces).
Electric Forest 2012 MVP Dominic Lalli closed down the festival by joining drummer Jeremy Salken for an outrageously impressive Big Gigantic set. Lalli had already performed with String Cheese Incident as well as accompanying Griz, Pretty Lights Music artist Gramatik, and Salken as Big Gigantic for a surprise set on the Forest Stage Saturday night (unfortunately during a mesmerizing String Cheese Incident set). Big Gigantic wrapped up the amazing four day weekend with a combination of new tracks off of their newest album, Nocturnal, and older rap remixes, including a “Notorious Thugs” remix and a remix of Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”. Lalli’s tenor saxophone melodies lay perfectly atop their top-notch electronic production, and his constant crowd connection kept worn-out festival goers alive and dancing throughout their longer-than-planned set.
No word-count restricted review could ever encompass all that can be and was experienced over four days in Rothbury. The combination of the beautiful venue and stages filled with amazing talent from sunrise to the wee dark hours make Electric Forest one of the most talked about music festivals in the nation. After attending Snowball, Bonnaroo, and now Electric Forest, I confidently claim that the Forest is the best festival of the summer.
Best Set: Tie between STS9 Saturday and String Cheese Incident Saturday 2nd Set
Disappointing: Mimosa- Young, talented Bay-Area dubstep producer brought the tent down at Bonnaroo, was rather average and borderline corny during his early evening Sunday set
Best Food: Spicy Pie Pizza, three slices every day (www.spicypie.com)
Hottest Purchase: Moon Mats, all-purpose foam mats were scattered throughout the forest for sleeping, dancing, or claiming territory (www.themoonmat.com)
Overall Grade: A-
-An impressive remix of Three Six Mafia’s “Gotta Stay Fly” by Zoogma brought smiles to the faces of hip-hop fans throughout the crowd
-The artillery shell that fell over and shot through the String Cheese crowd. It’s all fun and games until you’re Cheesin’ and you take an artillery shell to the face
-Both Mimosa and Big Gigantic dropped remixes of Wocka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in the Paint”. Both outrageously fun and crowd favorites
-Michiganian’s (?) were incredibly friendly and the farmers along the campsite provided hose-downs to overheated campers, much love to them!
Photos by Jordan Selan