Even before a single artist was announced, the hype for Electric Forest 2016 was evident. Tickets sold out only two weeks after they went on sale. The Forest lived up to all expectations, as jam bands and electronic music echoed through the grounds all weekend.
Rothbury, Michigan once again took it’s place in the festival spotlight. Bringing in 45,000 attendees, Electric Forest Headquarters (EFHQ) delivered their biggest festival yet. They had to implement a few changes to handle the larger crowd, but overall the weekend went off with very few complications. It’s growing popularity is definitely bringing about changes, but the reception of those changes seems to be positive.
This year, general admission (GA) attendees had the option to pay a small premium for a Wednesday arrival pass, and over half of them pounced on this opportunity. With thousands arriving early, the line issues from Thursday of last year were seemingly mitigated. In similar fashion, single riders had to buy a special pass. This was done to combat the overcrowding issues from last year, and to encourage foresters to carpool to the event. These changes yielded very positive results.
Location, Accessibility and Set-Up
Rothbury is located halfway up Michigan, and sits near the Lake Michigan coast. It’s rolling hills, deep woods, and lakeside breezes make it an excellent setting for a music festival. Double JJ Ranch has hosted Electric Forest every year, and it’s the perfect venue to do so. The forest and stages were surrounded by the campgrounds and the waterpark. Insomniac and Madison House stepped things up this year and addressed many issues from last year. They improved the stages, increased the size of the security checkpoint, provided lit and air conditioned restrooms throughout the venue, and had water readily available.
Our drive up to the festival was beautiful, though some had to navigate through a pretty nasty storm in Indiana late Wednesday night. This year we decided to upgrade our previous tickets and went with the Maplewoods Camping option. This allowed us to hike our gear into the woods near the venue entrance and camp in the trees. It was a very spacious and interesting setting. Air conditioned restrooms, private parking, and free showers were also included in the ticket package. After setting up camp, we wandered around the GA campgrounds checking out the many pre-parties that were popping up. We stayed out late, met cool people, and then headed in to rest up for day one.
On Thursday, we got in line around 3pm, and were in the venue within a half hour. This was a huge improvement from the 3+ hour wait we encountered last year. Once in the venue, we were able to quickly grab water. After this, it was time to start exploring.
Tripolee was the stage nearest the campground. It featured a ferris wheel, carved rock faces on either side, a large LED screen and lights, and a few pillars used for shade. The pillars were a great addition from previous years. The ferris wheel offered breathtaking views of the campground and venue. The production from every stage could be seen up there.
After Tripolee, there was an area of vendors followed by the main stage: Ranch Arena. This year, they expanded the familiar steam punk theming to the sound booth. The stage was surrounded by vendors and a few scattered hammock zones. It played host to artists such as Bassnectar, The String Cheese Incident, STS9, Major Lazer, and many more.
The Sherwood Forest followed Ranch Arena. This was the heart and soul of Electric Forest. It housed many art installations, 2 stages, hidden mini-stages, the silent disco, and a ridiculous amount of lights and lasers that completely transformed the place at night. Though the forest was already impressive in the daytime, at night it really became surreal. Everything there took on a whole new life when the sun set. We spent lots of time catching shows here.
On the other side of the forest, we reached the final large stage: Sherwood Court. It kept the elephant theme from last year, but was much bigger. This stage played host to artists like Mark Farina, GRiZ, and The Disco Biscuits. Additionally, this side of the forest featured two other smaller stages : Jubilee and The Hangar. Jubilee was a large tent stage, and the hangar was a big metal structure. The Hangar featured a bar, a billiards room, a tattoo parlor, a barbershop, and even a hidden brothel (It wasn’t a real brothel, just a hidden area that could only be accessed after jumping through a few hoops).
The festival kept an almost identical layout to last year. The nearly mile long venue was surrounded by the campground, and had two entrances (one for GA and one for Good Life). All of the stages got some sort of upgrade from last year. EFHQ brought in PK Sound to address the sound issues at Tripolee and the Forest Stage. They added mushroom-like pillars to provide shade at Tripolee, and also added a new section to The Observatory. Jubilee and the Hangar received an increase in size and production. Additionally, Tripolee, Ranch Arena, and Sherwood Court all got theming added to their sound booths to match the stages. Sherwood Forest got new art installations, gathering areas, and improved lighting.
The weather was beautiful most of the days with a little rain on Thursday morning, and then a large storm on Saturday night. The wind from the storm destroyed many canopies, and also flooded sites throughout the campground. It got pretty hot during the day with temps reaching the mid 80’s. However, a sweatshirt was required at night.
Crowd and Atmosphere
With a few exceptions, the attendees were cheery and energetic. Some took the partying a little too hard, but they were few and far between. As always, salutations of “Happy Forest” were heard all weekend. I found it pretty easy to find great vibes and meet some awesome people.
Day 0 – Wednesday
With the introduction of early arrival this year, the party started a night early in the campground. Random DJ sets were popping up all over GA. Though most performances were by attendees, we managed to see Golf Clap perform on the roof of an RV. It was a unique and special start to the weekend.
Day 1 – Thursday
After getting through the line on Thursday, we headed straight to the forest to Sherwood Court. Here we caught the rapper, Prof, and then headed to Jubilee for DJ Jazzy Jeff. He threw down an incredible set featuring hip hop hits spanning many generations. Next we saw Coleman Hell send great vibes and get the crowd rocking. Next we made our way to Tripolee for Moon Boots, and got to see a bit of What So Not along the way. Up next at Tripolee was Lane 8. He provided a great hour of dancing and music. His set had the Anjunadeep stage shaking as nighttime came.
We headed back to Sherwood Court for The Disco Biscuits. They experienced some sound issues early in their set, as the guitar feed kept cutting in and out. This issue was eventually resolved. The production at Sherwood shined during their set. Many sets of lasers mesmerized the crowd. To end the night, we headed back to Tripolee for Bonobo. Since we were camping so close, we were able to take the party back to the campsite for him.
Day 2 – Friday
We started Friday with the sibling duo known as Tennyson. They played chill, live music on The Observatory Stage in the middle of the forest. Next up was Nahko and Medicine for the People on the main stage. Their live instrumentation was incredible. As the afternoon rolled on, we caught a special mushroom jazz set by Mark Farina. His set embodied the forest’s vibes. After the perfect start to the afternoon, we headed to the Observatory for Stephen. He played a few of his hits including “Fly Down”, “Crossfire”, and his cover of Adele’s “Hello”.
Afterwards, we headed to Ranch Arena to grab dinner and catch some of The String Cheese Incident. We got lucky and got to see a special moment where they brought out Russ Liquid to play sax for a few songs. Next up was STS9 who had the main stage booming as night time rolled around.
We decided to head into the forest for a special secret set put on by ThisSongIsSick. The set featured 12th Planet b2b Brillz b2b Mija b2b GRiZ b2b NGHTMRE. This set actually did turn into a bit of a nightmare as the head banging got too intense, and a portion of the Observatory Stage had to be shut down in fear of a collapse. This area remained closed for the remainder of the festival.
After becoming a bit overwhelmed by the chaos, we headed to the Forest Stage for Soul Clap. They had the whole crowd moving and provided a more relaxed setting. We stayed there for a while dancing and conversing with fellow foresters, and then headed to Jubilee for Paper Diamond. His high energy set was fantastic, and had us dancing the whole time. On our way back to camp, we passed by Adventure Club at Tripolee. They had quite an impressive crowd gathered by the time we arrived. The bass rang out through the campground until nearly 3:30 am!
Day 3 – Saturday
Our Saturday started off a little later in the day for a special, acoustic STS9 Axe the Cables set. It was impressive seeing them create such beautiful and energetic music. Next we headed to The Hangar to see a forest staple, Delhi 2 Dublin. If you’ve never seen them, do it! They played fantastic, globally inspired music with some live instrumentation and audience interaction. We stumbled upon them last year and made sure not to miss it this time! Just a short walk away, we went to Gorgon City (live) at Sherwood Court. They had the whole crowd dancing and grooving to their relaxing tunes.
We left their set a bit early to head into the forest for the All Good Records Secret Jam Thingy. It was a bit of a letdown, as they were getting all of their gear set up for the first 25 minutes of the set. Regardless, it was pretty special getting to see GRiZ perform with many different artists like The Floozies, Manic Focus, Russ Liquid, Marvel Years, Muzzy Bear, and many more!
It wouldn’t be Saturday night of forest if we didn’t catch some String Cheese Incident. They always have something special up their sleeves, and this year, they paid tribute to recently lost rock and roll legends Prince and David Bowie. They played a series of their songs switching back and forth between the artists, as fireworks, confetti, hot air balloons with acrobats, and large inflatable objects circled about the crowd. It was an incredible display! They concluded their set with a few more hits including “Jellyfish”, and “Colliding”.
Up next was a live set by Porter Robinson. He played many hits from his recent album “Worlds” including “Sad Machine” and “Lionhearted”. It was a fantastic performance that had a story-like feel to it. Following this performance, we headed to the Observatory due to rumors of an unannounced GRiZ appearance. Sure enough, he came out with Shooka, and they made their debut as The Shiz. Their set was an absolute party! Playing a wide range of genres including house, dubstep, hip hop, and even some classic rock, they were the perfect conclusion to our Saturday.
Day 4 – Sunday
Our final day started in the afternoon with Stick Figure. After a bit there, we made our way through the forest to see Sunsquabi, and stopped by Miner along the way. We spent a lot of Sunday wandering because the artists we wanted to see were seemingly always on opposite ends of the venue. Back at Tripolee, we got to see Hayden James. He mixed in his song “Something About You” as well as “Laser Beams” by Green Velvet and Harvard Bass. Next, we made our way back across the fest passing by Greensky Bluegrass on the way to Rufus Du Sol. The Aussies came out with many of their favorites like “Say a Prayer For Me” and “Innerbloom”.
Our next stop was Sherwood Court for Manic Focus. We had a great time dancing our way through the sunset. After this concluded, we had to make the trek to Tripolee, but we stopped by Ranch Arena to catch some of the weekend’s final appearance of The String Cheese Incident. It showcased their incredible skills and synergy. At Tripolee, we chilled on the ferris wheel and saw part of Gryffin’s set. Our final stop was back across the venue at Sherwood Court for The Floozies followed by GRiZ. What an incredible conclusion for the festival! Both acts delivered some excellent funk. After this we had to bid the Sherwood Forest farewell, as we made our way back to camp one last time.
Music – 4 out of 5
The lineup provided plenty of music to satisfy everyone in attendance. At any given point, we were able to rage or chill. The variety and artist selection were refreshing.
Experience – 4.5 out of 5
Having addressed many of the issues from last year, we decided to increase our rating from the previous review. The stage improvements, flushable bathrooms, speedy entry, and crowd management really enhanced the experience.
Value – 4.5 out of 5
Though our tickets came out to $500 with the Maplewoods option, we felt that that value was definitely provided. The proximity to the entrance, fancy restrooms, free showers, shade, and unique camping experience made this year’s forest unforgettable.
Overall – 4.33 out of 5
They really put on something special this year. With Wednesday arrival, the Forest Family got another day to grow closer. The crowd was always incredibly welcoming and positive. We couldn’t recommend Electric Forest more highly.