Mother Nature tried her best to spoil the party this year at Electric Forest. Despite sporadic lightning storms causing stages to shut down, heavy rain gathering into large mud pits, and entry delays due to venue cleanup/reconstruction, the first weekend of the Forest Family’s annual gathering in Rothbury, MI went off in full force.
The grounds crews worked throughout the night each night adding mulch to high traffic paths, and blocking off muddy areas. Both the venue condition and the weather got better each day of the event leading to a fantastic Saturday and Sunday. Even as we were leaving on Monday, crews were working hard on the campgrounds preparing to do it all again on Wednesday for EF’s inaugural second weekend.
The addition of a second weekend was an ambitious step for Madison House and Insomniac. Based on the official app’s user schedules, attendance should be significantly smaller weekend two. Regardless, they managed to sell at least 65,000 tickets making 2017 their biggest event yet. It will be interesting to follow along in the offseason to see if Rothbury citizens can handle a two-week invasion of crazy people every year.
Location, Accessibility and Set-Up
As usual, Double JJ Ranch played host to Electric Forest. Double JJ’s immense fields, neatly aligned trees, and permanent facilities make it the perfect home for the festival. Occupying most of the fields, the General Admission (GA) campground was massive. It was divided by a central avenue with shops and food vendors. Group, RV, and tent camping were all nearest to the venue entrance, with the rest of GA stretching nearly a mile farther.
On Wednesday, we set up camp just behind main street in the Maplewoods campground. Though it came at a premium, we had lots of space, privacy, amenities, and protection from the storms. Additionally, we got a little glimpse of Sherwood Forest each night with the lights in the Maplewoods trees. After getting situated, we went out to explore the campgrounds. We hopped around the many pre-parties in the RV campground until the weather started to pick up.
Other than the hour-long entry line on Thursday, EF was very organized and waits weren’t too bad the entire weekend. Water was readily available thanks to the many stations set up by VIBEDRATION. They had a variety of food vendors and bars, some even hidden, scattered throughout the venue.
With a ferris wheel looming, the GA venue entrance spilled into the back of the Tripolee stage. The stage kept its usual look featuring large carved faces flanking a massive LED board. A few umbrella-like structures were placed around the field to provide shade in the daytime, and additional lights during the evening performances. Tripolee had the entire campground booming each night with late night performances by Claude VonStroke, Oliver Heldens, and Nero.
Venturing further into the venue, Ranch Arena was the next stage. It was a massive, steampunk looking structure that acted as the main stage for the weekend. It housed a crowd of 20,000+ people for Bassnectar’s Saturday night performance. Equipped with dozens of lasers, tons of confetti, and impressive pyrotechnics, Ranch Arena was quite a spectacle.
The Sherwood Forest was located right in the middle of the venue. The forest was home to numerous art installations, permanent structures, hammock areas, two stages (The Observatory and the Forest Stage), the silent disco, and even a psychedelic wedding chapel. To top it all off, the whole place was rigged up with a ridiculous amount of lights, projections, and lasers. Pictures don’t do it justice.
On the other side of the forest, there were three more stages: The Hangar, Jubilee, and Sherwood Court. The Hangar and Jubilee were both big tent stages, with the field of Sherwood Court nearby. The 1950’s themed Hangar had a central bar and building facades along the sides including a tattoo parlor, pie shop, bowling alley, and even a hidden speakeasy. Sherwood Court kept it’s familiar elephant decor and stage design.
The layout remained the same as years past with three large stages, four smaller stages, and a silent disco. The sound booths of Ranch Arena and Tripolee received a little more production love this year, and Tripolee also changed its head sculptures on the side of the stage. Jubilee seemed a little less flashy this year as well. They removed the section of The Observatory stage that nearly collapsed last year, reverting it back to 2015’s setup.
The first two nights of the festival had brief thunderstorms and light to heavy showers rolling through. The weather was mostly pleasant during the daytime, but got pretty cold at night. Rain created lots of mud, flooded some of the restrooms, and destroyed the paths each day. Again, props to the grounds crews for working around the clock to fix the damage.
Crowd and Atmosphere
The crowd was incredible as always. The positive energy that the Forest Family is known for radiated throughout the grounds the entire weekend. Rather than complain, attendees joked that this year was the “year of the rainforest”, and embraced the special moments as the rain ac-companied the light displays for String Cheese Incident, Bob Moses, Above & Beyond, and Claude VonStroke. The mud acted as a bit of crowd control, as everyone had to pay close attention to where they were walking, but overall it was a very chill and positive atmosphere.
Day 0 – Wednesday
All who purchased early arrival passes got to enjoy a free evening to wander the campgrounds, and catch pop up sets from EF artists. Unfortunately, as things were starting to ramp up after midnight, we got a surprise set of Rain b2b Lightning.
Day 1 – Thursday
Brasstracks got us off to a nice, funky start at Sherwood Court, followed by a high energy set from The Revivalists. After hearing hits, such as “Wish I Knew You”, “Stand Up”, and “All In The Family”, we headed towards Tripolee to see what Claude VonStroke had cooking at the Birdhouse event. There we were greeted with a proper dance party courtesy of Sonny Fodera and Jimmy Edgar.
As the sun started to set, it was time to get cheesy. In an unusual Thursday night appearance, The String Cheese Incident gave Electric Forest a proper welcome as the rain started to sprinkle. We caught a good portion of their set taking in the display of improvisation and instrumentation. At that point, we went towards Sherwood Court only to be told that the venue was shut down. Officially bummed out, we headed back towards camp.
When passing back by Ranch Arena, The String Cheese Incident were still rocking hard through the storm. Closing with an incredible jam combining their hit “Colliding” with “Moves Like Jagger”, lightning accompanied the stage production. We took this as a message from the forest gods that the show would go on! To our pleasant surprise, we returned to Sherwood Court to find Bob Moses playing as expected. The live set featured their crowd pleasers “All I Want”, “Tearing Me Up”, and many selections off of their Days Gone By album.
Next, we had a little group therapy in the rain with the uplifting tunes of Above & Beyond. Between the pouring rain, smiling faces, and positive messages from the Anjuna frontmen, this would go down as one of the most special sets of the weekend. To end the night, we returned back to the campsite and danced to the selections of Claude VonStroke as his Dirtybird beats echoed throughout the campground.
Day 2 – Friday
After a nice breakfast, we headed into the venue for a soggy Friday. We started with a cold brew at Sherwood Court accompanied by the relaxing sounds of Chet Porter. After a while, it was time to head to Ranch Arena for the one and only, Matisyahu. His eclectic set featured rock, hip hop, beat boxing, and of course some top-notch reggae. As the afternoon turned into the eve-ing, we returned to Foreign Family Collective event at Sherwood Court for Big Wild. At this point, he had the crowd going crazy. He had them singing along to “Aftergold”, “Empty Room”, and “When I Get There” to name a few.
Our next set was a special treat for weekend 1 attendees. Dubbed their “Sound Lab” set, The String Cheese Incident came out with a star-studded crew. For a couple songs each, they welcomed fellow artists from the lineup like Eric Krasno, Kamasi Washington, The Floozies, Liquid Stranger, Matisyahu, Break Science, and The Brazilian Girls. I’ll never forget this set going down in real time, as we were gifted with surprise after surprise.
When it came to an end, we moved onward towards the relaxing vibes of Tycho. Closing out Sherwood Court for the evening, they performed to a pretty packed field. Due to schedule conflicts, we couldn’t stay for the whole set. We made a brief pit stop by Jubilee to catch Ott throwing down some psychedelic dub jams before moving on to Ranch Arena for Odesza. The Foreign Family Collective bosses had quite a performance up their sleeves for Electric Forest. They included hits such as “Line of Sight”, “Sun Models”, “iplayyoulisten”, and even brought out an entire drum line at one point. After being in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, we ended Friday at The Observatory with Barclay Crenshaw (aka Claude VonStroke) getting real weird with his new space hip hop sounds.
Day 3 – Saturday
Following a groovy, talk box heavy set by TAUK, we spent a good part of Saturday afternoon exploring the Sherwood Forest. It was a nice change of pace from constantly being on the move the previous couple days. Stumbling upon performances by The Bluegrass Generals, Win & Woo, Dixon’s Violin, and others, we took in everything the forest had to offer. There seemed to be new areas and art installations to check out in every direction.
Before heading to Ranch Arena for The Floozies, we took a brief detour by Jubilee for the THISSONGISSICK secret sets. Their surprises included b2b sets with Autograf, Louis the Child, Whethan, Ganja White Night, Big Gigantic, and others. Last year, this set took place on the Observatory, and was the ultimate cause to the near collapse of that stage. It was a good move by HQ this year to put this set on a stage that could handle a bigger, more raucous crowd.
As nighttime rolled around, it was time for ever-talented singer, Jim James, to lead a three-hour performance of My Morning Jacket. The psychedelic rock band took Ranch Arena on an audio-visual excursion, as they improvised their way through their discography. Though we were missing Cheese’s normal Saturday night shebang, MMJ was an excellent replacement.
We moved on to Tripolee to catch a bit of Rezz who had the crowd going mental. Her crazy, space bass sounds with high energy releases were just what her fans were wanting. She included selections such as “Selector”, “Edge”, and her remix of Porter Robinson’s “Shelter”. To beat the crowd that would surely be migrating soon to Bassnectar, we headed back to the forest. While nearly half of the festival gathered at Ranch Arena for the bass king, we took the opportunity to end our day with some late-night forest exploration.
Day 4 – Sunday
Our final day in the forest started in very relaxed fashion. Between the bluegrass sounds of The Infamous Stringdusters, the percussion-heavy reggae jams of The Hip Abduction, and the feel-good vibes of Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers, we were full of positivity heading into the evening. After a fantastic conclusion of Autograf at Sherwood Court, we caught the opening of pop artist, Matoma. In the rare times that he wasn’t screaming over the microphone, his set featured mashups and tropical house tunes with popular hip hop verses laid over the house beats.
Our next stop was Ranch Arena for Papadosio, as we entered our final evening of performances. Their vibrant visuals paired perfectly with their psychadelic jams as the sun set. We made a quick trip out to Tripolee to see a bit of Haywyre. His live performance was impressive featuring an overhead camera that allowed us to closely watch him work his magic. We also took our final opportunity of the weekend to ride the ferris wheel.
To close out Ranch Arena for the weekend, Dillon Francis threw a party for the ages. With a variety of trap, moombahton, hip hop, and house (courtesy of his deep house snob alter ego: DJ Hanzel), he had the crowd raging into the night. His visuals were hilarious, referencing many hilarious inside jokes with his fans. Before we could call it quits for the weekend, we had to venture back into the forest one more time. Giving us a near storybook ending, self-proclaimed musical shaman, Dixon’s Violin, serenaded The Observatory with his whimsical improvisations.
Music – 4.5 out of 5
With a little something for everybody, the lineup was incredibly diverse. At any given time, you could find performers ranging from the grimiest of bass music, to meditative, peaceful instrumentalists. Since we encountered such great music nearly the entire weekend, it gets a 4.5 out of 5.
Experience – 4.5 out of 5
Though the rain tried to ruin the weekend, crews worked hard to make things better each day. Given that weather was out of our control, the experience was great! We still found the togetherness and positivity that we’d grown accustomed to the past couple years. This year also had many unforgettable performances and art installations.
Value – 4.5 out of 5
Even though the restrooms flooded one day due to rain, our Maplewoods tickets were still worth the $500 price tag. Between the free showers, shade, and proximity to the venue, the amenities definitely delivered. They also had sections of air conditioned restrooms near each large stage. On top of that, they had water stations and food vendors all over the venue and campgrounds. With nearly every inch of the venue accounted for, the attention to detail of this festival was in-credible.
Overall – 4.5 out of 5
With 4.5’s across the board, Electric Forest gets a 4.5 overall this year. The “year of the rainforest” went down in classic fashion. A weekend of mud, rain, and killer music is sure to bring great stories for years to come from those that got to attend. Despite the weather, we had a blast, and look forward to the next time we get to explore the Sherwood Forest!