From the nervous anticipation and sweaty late-night antics to the sweet, blissful afterglow and knowing look that accompanies it, a girl never forgets her first.
Her first music festival, that is. Now, this means music festival in the purist, Woodstock sense of the term. While those all-day festivals in big cities, complete with stunning views of skyscrapers and the luxury of a cold shower and plush bed at the end of the day may be good fun, they comprise the metaphorical equivalent of the “just the tip” mentality. In order to really go all the way, one must venture past the limitations of personal hygiene, recommended sleep schedules and, well, most other necessary precursors for a person’s sanity and truly take the plunge. I’m talking about a bona fide on-site camping, middle-of-nowhere, at the mercy of the elements, weekend-long music festival. Once you enter you either come out aghast at the smell of hippies or become a believer for life. I’m of the latter variety.
Rothbury Music Festival was my first, back in 2009 . Set in the idyllic Double JJ Ranch in western Michigan, Rothbury seemed like a dream from a bygone era — I watched the Dead play “Scarlet Begonias” as a naked couple gallivanted through the crowd and experienced countless moments of goodwill and genuine human solidarity. Sadly, Rothbury was cancelled the following year due to financial and scheduling issues, and I was understandably crushed. The gods are good though, and no event as amazing as Rothbury could stay on hiatus for too long. The festival returned in 2011, this time with a new name, Electric Forest, but with the same core values of its predecessor. Fast forward to 2012 and there I was, backpack full of glitter and glow sticks, ready for more.
Gates opened early on the morning of June 28 welcoming the caravans of excited festival-goers eager to get the party started. Setting up camp in the sweltering heat was a sweaty affair for the over 20,000 in attendance, but the excitement in the air was tangible and kept spirits high. Israeli hellraiser Borgore started the evening off right on the Ranch Arena stage, unleashing a filthy dubstep-heavy set upon the all-too-ready crowd. Navigating from his original songs, including the delightfully naughty “Ice Cream”, to remixes of Flux Pavilion and Kaskade tracks, Borgore ended the set with his spin on Benny Benassi’s megahit “Cinema.” As the sun began to set, Wolfgang Gartner took to the stage, bringing the forest to life with his special blend of electro-house. Flashing lights pierced the navy sky as glow sticks rained down, the crowd moving as one great, jumping mass to hits such as “Illmerica” and “Space Junk.” After catching the tail end of EOTO’s always on-point set on the Sherwood Court Stage (and feasting my eyes on their insane 3D Lotus Flower light show), I was disappointed to find that Ghostland Observatory’s sound system was seriously glitching. Although they remedied the sound issues about ten minutes in, something still seemed a bit off, so I retired to my tent to catch some much-needed sleep.
Day Two passed in a dazzling blur, as most days at a festival do. I spent the afternoon exploring the opulent wonders of Sherwood Forest, the heart of Electric Forest in more ways than one. Set in the middle of the festival site with stages at each end, Sherwood Forest is a true delight for the senses. With interactive art and music installations intricately woven into the trees, jaw-dropping light displays forming a neon canopy above, and stilt walkers, jugglers, mimes and other circus performers seen at every turn, it was easy to curl up in one of the forest’s hundreds of hammocks and feel transported to another world. Almost as much a part of Rothbury as the forest itself, beloved jam band and Electric Forest hosts The String Cheese Incident played the first of three marathon sets on Friday, the perfect way to get the night started. Up and coming dubstep artists Minnesota, Paper Diamond and Zeds Dead each put on fantastic performances on Friday, with Paper Diamond’s hip-hop and dub-laced set proving to be one of my favorites of the weekend.
The crowds seemed to grow exponentially in size on Saturday, with excited two-day ticket holders heading to the forest in droves. Brooklyn-born songstress Santigold’s early evening set provided a welcome change in more ways than one. One of the only female performers at Electric Forest, Santigold’s easy charm, outlandish outfits and full band complete with two endlessly fly back-up dancers were an impressive display of what commanding a stage truly means. Performing classic hits as well as songs from her brand new album, Santigold enchanted the audience with perfect renditions of “L.E.S. Artistes”,“Big Mouth” and “Unstoppable”. Following her at the Ranch Arena stage, String Cheese’s second show was a pure joy — a giant LED puppet troupe, circus performers and massive inflatables and flags brought out the child in everyone. Next, crazed Swedish duo Dada Life put on another weekend favorite, dousing the crowd in their characteristic bananas and champagne at the Tripolee Stage. Throwing down with bangers such as “Kick Out the Epic Motherfucker” and a mind-boggling Knife Party remix, Dada’s show was as high energy as it gets. 12th Planet and STS9 also performed notable sets, with Major Lazer playing until the close.
With a plane to catch on Monday, I sadly had to leave the forest early on Sunday before the music began. Covered in dust and tired to the bone, the forest had taken nearly everything out of me. Reflecting back on the four days of constant elation and the immeasurable wealth of all that I had seen and heard, the forest had also given me so much more. A girl never forgets her first, and I left Electric Forest’s gates knowing that this festival would be a force in my life for many years to come.