Electric Forest 2017 | Review & Photos

Inside the Double JJ ranch for two consecutive weekends, a magical Electric Forest of paradise awaits within this daily grind of purgatory we walk. Over 40,000 humans come together for the love of music and art and put the real world on hold for a weekend or two if you are one of the lucky ones that can put the real world on hold for two weeks. The spirit of unity abounds as every heart vibrates with trust that this is going to be a good weekend. “Happy Forest” is the standard greeting to all strangers and friends alike as they encounter each others’ eye contact. Despite what you may have heard, Millennials do make eye contact. I’ve seen it!

Electric Forest was born in the spirit of Rothbury, and although it has changed drastically from Rothbury, it still holds the secret to making a magical weekend. This being Electric Forest’s 7th year, the wheel of time spins and can’t, rather won’t slow down anytime soon.

You can't let go, and you can't hold on

You can't go back, and you can't stand still

If the thunder don't get you, then the lightning will

Won't you try just a little bit harder

Couldn't you try just a little bit more?

From mustache to man bun, the times they are a changin'. Round and round the wheel goes and if you are willing to give these young bucks a chance, you may just enjoy yourself.  It is a variegated Garden of Eden with musical fruits and artistic vegetables all around.  If you feel like you haven’t heard of most of the lineup for Electric Forest, you aren’t alone.  That is half the beauty of this festival.  You have to communicate with your neighbors and ask what's good. You will, in turn, also get asked that question enough and when we all hold hands, the spirit of new music and exciting new opportunities await.

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod

Big wheel turn by the grace of God

Every time that wheel turn 'round

Bound to cover just a little more ground

Electric Forest boasts seven stages of music.  Production companies such as Crew Love take over a stage for a day and curate some of their favorite up and coming acts.  If you have never heard of the acts, most are familiar with the production companies and trust them to put on a good show throughout the day. It’s like an expanded idea of listening to the whole album.  Hold off on your immediate opinion and take it all in.  This year included curations not just at the Tripolee stage, so I get the impression that this is something they want the audiences to consider.  In the past, each stage had their audience, but I could feel the blend and mix of that concept happening more there this year.  In general, the Tripolee stage is not my cup of tea but this year, wow!

The expansion of the stage design and the energy coming from it was something to behold. Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, Brazilian Girls, Autograf, Trevor Hall, Gentleman Callers of LA, Flint Eastwood, Lettuce, The Accidentals, Jon Wayne and the Pain, Black Tiger Sex Machine, and the hosts with the most, The String Cheese Incident. Do any of these sound familiar?  Some of them?  That’s good.  That is the idea of Electric Forest.  To get you in the door for one band but to discover something new.  That is exactly what happened when we went to see The Revivalists but ended up at Wocka Flocka Flame.

Is it possible to catch two more dramatically different acts on the same stage? Only at Electric Forest is it.  Wocka Flocka was interesting.  This is a guy that threw his hat into the ring for the Presidential Election 2016.  He has the media credentials to run in that race: arrogant, in your face, and quite photogenic.  If he could throw up a little less ‘west side’ symbols and get on the Page Side Rage Side theory, I could see myself enjoying his set more.  He is a ride or die guy but I don’t care for the robbing & stealing. Am I right?  Yo dawg.

The Revivalists! I have been dying to catch these guys live. Hearing their hit “Wish I Knew You” has been on repeat and definitely a jam but I have also heard some blues covers like “Sneaking Sally Down the Alley” on the JamOn station that piqued my need to catch this act live.  They did not disappoint.  The choice of a stage for a critical gal like myself was a curious one.  I would have preferred to hear them on the Ranch Arena but that is of minor consequence.  The Revivalists brought the bounce with an interpreter to remind you that music is more than lyrics.  It is frequency and vibration that even the deaf can feel.

I discovered new hits off the album Men Amongst Mountains like “Stand Up” and “Keep Going”  that just show what a great album the Revivalists have on their hand.  Of course, the crowd waited for “Wish I Knew You” and that song was held out until the end.  The beginning notes mirrored a memory of a few years back here at Electric Forest when Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes played.  Their hit single “Home” was all the rage, but when they performed it, you could tell that Jade and Alexander were not in love anymore.  It kinda killed the magic for me.  The rest of the songs took on a whole new life when you could see the band dynamics weren’t what you thought it was.  The Revivalists are in love with the music, but you could feel that they are perhaps a little tired of playing that same song for everyone.  Their repertoire is deep, and they are eager to give the audience more than just one breakthrough hit.

The Revivalists brought out the big guns of their bold music, slide guitar, saxophone, and the spirit of collaboration that is my favorite part of Electric Forest.  Jennifer Hartswick joined them onstage, and their encore song version of Hey Jude brought me to tears inside.  Imagined in a whole new way, the chorus of “na na na na na na na, na na na na, Hey Jude” done with brass instruments, David Shaw’s incredible voice, and his Tigger like energy finally slowing down to bring the fans some peace. As the crowd left the set was distinguishing for this band and I hope to catch a full show in the future - unlike the fallen out of love Magnetic Zeros.

Peeking Jennifer Hartswick, I knew that she’d be back for Big G’s late night set.  “Got the Love” is on my get pumped mix for summer 2017.  Big G is a set that I cannot go too deep into, meaning close to the rail.  I don’t have the energy at 11:30 that these kids can readily burn off and probably need more than I do. To stand at the back, take it all in as the cool night breeze caresses your sunburnt skin - that is what sets me to sweet dreams.  When Wocka Flocka Flame also got on stage to collaborate with Big G, I knew it was a wise call for me NOT to try and fight the crowd. It was awesome. The track Highly Possible brings Wocka into a jam family that I can completely shake my booty to. It’s my new Tribe Called Quest. I believe in the future. I also enjoy sleep. I left the Sleep When You’re Dead kids and hunkered up, dreaming of the art yet to explore and my favorites SCI that awaited me tomorrow.

Almost ten years ago, after getting done wth work, my friend Zee and I slipped down to Nederland CO to grab a drink and unwind after slinging Mexican food at a restaurant all night.  It's hard to serve a bunch of margaritas and not want one yourself.  We caught this merry named band by pure accident that night.  Now here I was in Rothbury, MI exploring the forest and on the main stage, to my delight, I see them again: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.  They are the return of the Jam band!

Pigeons play improvisational music with some funky, groovy lyrics. “I’ll take anything that you won’t keep, anything that keeps me moving.”  The crowd for this show was not too crowded but friendly and fun. It was quite the contradiction to the Big G set last night. “Melting lights off the walls, I think I’m losing my mind y’all.”  This would be a fun band to see with some melting lights again. I am so glad to see them stick it out. Don’t call it a comeback; they’ve been here for years.

Gentleman Callers of LA were the renaissance act of the weekend for me.  I believe this is called Electro Swing.  Acts like this and Jai Wolf are giving me hope that EDM isn’t exclusively DubStep.  No offense to the Dubstep lovers out there but I am ready for the heavy bass to have more than a build up and drop off rhythm. JaiWolf’s song Indian Summer is aptly named as it’s a summer song with beautiful Indian classical sound interweaved into its tapestry.  Gentleman Callers had all the panache of LA but the swing music release of tension that leaves me longing for Charlie Chaplin’s brilliance of the silver screen of yesterday.

Seeing the art exhibits from the past years was fun.  To wander through the forest and decide where this was or from what year that was was like a personal museum of pleasant memories.  As we relaxed for a moment near my favorite stage, The Observatory, a living memory split open and melted all over. Some of the friends we have made we didn’t have the means to keep in touch with but here comes Yusuf, our neighbor from the first year! Oh has he grown! It was incredible as we made acquaintances again and exchanged our artistic endeavors for 2017.  He had a notebook that was enclosed in an airtight bag with markers and instructions.  The idea was to keep this journal going for every year of forest and see how far it goes.  We all jotted down something, and Yusef left.  He also left the bag with us.  We quickly turned to the nearest group and greeted them easily. “Happy Forest!” we explained to them what this bag was all about and asked if they were interested.  They came from all over the country to hang out for this special weekend, so they thought that was a very good idea. Off they went to journal to new adventures as well.

We had passed off one piece of art and now we wanted to give our wheel a spin. We created the Grateful Web Wheel of Fortune, inspired by fidget spinners. “Happy Forest!” and we charmed another group of friends into playing along.  We aim to create durable festival artwork that is fun to engage other concert goers into chatting with us.  Every year, Electric Forest inspires me the most.  I consider it a win if millennials want to engage with older folks such as myself and my husband.  Fidget spinners seem like such a fad but there are some pretty trippy little versions out there.  We wondered if we could add some philosophy and some culture to these cheap little pieces of plastic all the kids seem to be so into.  Always relying on the timeless classics of the Grateful Dead, we created the wheel.  It still spins and to our gratification, it seemed well received.

The wheel had 8 options to spin.  Keep it Casual or Dress Up, Try Harder or Let Go, Move Forward or Reflect Back, and in the collaborative spirit of Electric Forest where you never know who is going to jump up on stage - Collaborate or Go Solo.  We had a deck of playing cards to take the fortune to a deeper level and would ask players to shuffle the deck of cards while they contemplated a specific question.  Once they gave the Midwest a good think, they can spin the wheel.  It’s hard to go introspective when you are taking a break from reality here at EFF but the results were enlightening.  I hope they helped.  One girl spun the wheel and when it said let go - the fortune I read for her was that she had spoken to someone for the last time, there is nothing good in some relationship and you should walk away.  She almost cried.  If you are reading this Miranda, don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened. Another couple, after spinning the wheel she looked at him and: said “I told you to quit the coffee shop!”

We met a girl that played along as she awaited her marriage at the -new for 2017- Chapel. There was an ordained minister on hand at all times, and you could get married to whomever, or whatever your heart desires.  This gal was from Louisiana, and she was getting the jitters as she was about to marry her blunt.  Of course, this is a law abiding festival so it couldn’t be an actual blunt but she would be up next to make it legal with her blunt. That wasn’t a blunt.  Love is Love and that is the reality inside a dream here at Electric Forest.

Speaking of marriages, The SCI collaborations from last night had me at full FOMO.  I hope they could concoct something as great as the sound lab from the 1st weekend.  Check out the set I missed at the 1st weekend:

6/23/2017

S1: Believe, Can't Stop Now, Falling Through The Cracks > Mouna Bowa, Sometimes A River, Song In My Head, Nothing But Flowers

S2: Let's Go Outside*, Sugaree* > Unconditional Love*, Impressions^ > Soul Shakedown Party^ > Zombie^ > Impressions^, Matisyahu/Liquid Strangerdub jam, Without You# > Valley Of The Jig#, Pussy Pussy Pussy Marijuana$, The National Anthem$

S3: Rosie, Sirens, Freedom Jazz Dance%, Can't Wait Another Day, Colorado Bluebird Sky

E: Could You Be Loved

* = w/ Eric Krasno

^ = w/ Kamasi Washington & Robert Sput Searight

# = w/ Matt Hill (The Floozies)

$ = w/ Brazilian Girls

% = w/ Borahm Lee (Break Science)

You know how some people use coffee as the vehicle for the creamer?  Or french fries as a vehicle for the ketchup?  Electric Forest is my vehicle for the Cheese.  The String Cheese Incident hosts this nature inspired launch pad.  While I sample the musical fruits and artistic vegetables of this Garden of Eden, I make the trek for the feast of Cheese.  I love the Brazillian Girls’ hit “Pussy Marijuana” but I would have LOVED to hear that jam with some Cheese on top.  Friday night I heard a song I have heard before, “C’Mon” by Big G but I got to hear it with some Cheese on top.  Now I’m hooked on Big G.  You never know what is going to happen with SCI.

How many musical genres does SCI cover in any given set? I attempted to count how many different flavors were in this Cheesy mix: calypso, acoustic, alternative, ragtime, trance, country, jazz, pop, folk, beach rock, bhangra, bounce, conga, dubtronica, contemporary, jungle? Dance music, delta blues, salsa, dang. This music is like Tom Selleck’s mustache.  It does it all!

Friday night’s set was pretty good.  It was excellent to see the boys putting a pretty bow on this crazy Forest package.  But in comparison… I was sure that I had missed out.  I should have come to 1st weekend.  That Sound Lab was to die for!! Here is Friday night’s setlist:

6/30

S1: Outside and Inside > Jessica, Get Tight, MLT, My One and Only > I Know You Rider > Stir It Up > I Know You Rider, It Is What It Is, Hi Ho No Show

S2: Just One Story > This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) > Just One Story, Dirk, Born On The Wrong Planet, Black Clouds, Black Market* > Jellyfish* > C'Mon* > Jellyfish*, BollyMunster* > I've Gotta Know* > BollyMunster*

* = w/ Dominic Lalli & Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic)

I am in love with the new album Believe.  Hearing “Get Tight” was a highlight.  Obviously, “I Know You Rider” was a highlight.  The Jellyfish with Big G, a Big G Incident, was incredible.  I couldn’t help but worry just a lil inside tho.  Had I picked the wrong weekend?

The next set of Cheese would answer back an infinite NO to that question.  I may have missed an incredible Sound Lab but I did manage to hear a sound Lab comprised distinctively by String Cheese Incident that covered summertime skankin’, easy jammin, brown eyed soul, world beat, and techno, and that Saturday night shabang was everything. It was a pure artistic endeavour of grandeur and glory.  If you count all the incarnations of Rothbury and EFF combined, none of them have been during a time of such political unrest.

They opened the set with Close your Eyes from the album Inside Outside. “Close your eyes, look inside and see what you can find.”  What an excellent way to remember that all of this is about your experience in this world.  From there they went into Little Hands, a tune I had all but forgotten about. I love the accent on percussion in this tune.  In retrospect, a funny choice for what was about to happen.  “In these little hands…”

They played a solid 1st set. Still, I wondered. I had not gotten a text update from the EFF app to say that they were going to have a crazy collab.  I visited the craft cocktail bar and had a refreshing sip while waiting eagerly for second set. I was pleasantly mystified to get back into the groove to Stop Drop and Roll off the new album.  Such a jam! My mixed drink was feeling good to be acknowledged too.  “Mix the drinks and crank the tunes, gotta get on the bus and make some moves.”

What happened next was the thick of it. Forgive me if I dip a into stream of consciousness writing style here but… the disco grooves of Stop Drop and Roll gave way to what may be my favorite SCI performance to date.  Tinderbox from Untying the Not began and that’s when the hill of my mind got steep.  While RESIST was flashing on the backdrop in Star Wars letterhead, live art on stage and the boys were asking “Can you hear the sirens song when you lie awake at night? Do you hear the sirens song Dream of love that's lost and gone?” My eyes could roll back inside my mind.  All of Electric Forest was inside my consciousness - the bowling alley, the waterpark, the hot air balloons, aerial dancers, tattoo parlor, loving flower mandalas, Mechan9, all of it, and on marched the new beloved central art display Ellie the techno elephant bringing me back into the moment.  I opened my eyes when the soundclips “GET UP RIGHT NOW” interrupted the song but supported the drumline that had formed on stage taking the set interstellar.

The intensity hit.  What must be worth millions of dollars to make happen was priceless when the band hit the relief and broke into Dear Prudence.

“Won’t you come out to play? Greet the brand new day.”

Everyday. This is not obsolescence this is eternity.

“The sun is up. The sky is blue. It’s beautiful and so are you. Dear Prudence, open up your eyes. Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies. The wind is low, the birds will sing. That you are part of everything… Dear Prudence”

Cheese Please! In that moment, with giant Rubix cube inflatables bouncing amongst the biggest crowd with yet still dancing room and the ariela dancer swinging from the hot air balloon above us, I thought to myself how beautiful life is. What a magical reset button for the hum drum of the daily grind! This is paradise.  How is it possible to imagine a hard hitting bliss from this Beatles classic? SCI brings you right to the center of their creativity and gives you room to dance on top of it.

“Happy Electric Forest!” - Michael Kang

I didn’t grow up with the String Cheese Incident. I grew up because of  the String Cheese Incident.  Adulting is awesome.  There is a gravity in Leading with Love (that was now on the backdrop instead of RESIST) These millennials, our kids, are the future but it is adults that are the present.  It is time to unwrap that present and allow the future to see what can be accomplished if we stop fighting and start working together.  Hopefully to create more magic moments like this.  Hard work and effort have a way of unfolding into magnificent beauty.

With the release of Dear Prudence, they played on to land the spaceship of a set.  My heart could  beat again to the comfortable triumphant version of “Shine.”

The intergenerational buzz and rush of thoughts I was having did not stop however.  It was a fitting triumph that they went on to play “Restless Wind” in dedication to the man that planted this Electric Forest, Wally.  I thought for sure the “CARL” game would turn into “WAAAALLLLLEEEEEEEE” but maybe next year.  I think everyone knew who he was by the end of the festival.  Wally’s spirit was felt but it was a hollow feeling to not see him riding thru the festival grounds on his trusty gater cart this year.  The gator was there, but Wally was not. Not physically, anyway. RIP Wally. Thank You for all you have done.  

7/1

Close Your Eyes, Little Hands >Don’t It Make You Want to Dance, Ophelia, Way That it Goes, Rivertrance, Best Feeling>Desert Dawn

Stop Drop Roll, Tinderbox> Dear Prudence> Shine, Until the Music’s Over, Restless Wind, Way Back Home> Texas> Kashmir

Yes. Kashmir closer. It was ridiculous.

Did you know that when an animal encounters trauma, they shake in tremor like convulsions to release the stress of the incident?  They can literally shake it off and return to deep breaths, then heal themselves from the impact.  I think being shaken by the bass can heal human’s emotional trauma.  There is something so wonderful about feeling the bass in your heart, the wind in your hair, the smiles from your closest dance companions, and the safety of the trees enclosing you into this magical campground.

Now I know that the great EDM debate will always rage when we discuss Electric Forest.  Rothbury gave birth to something completely different and people by nature, fear change.  It has been 7 years and now Electric Forest is changing to accommodate all needs.  Centrally located in the lush light temperatures of the mitten Michigan, EFF offers a unique experience that you cannot find at other midwest festivals. To be plugged while being inside a thicket of trees, Electric Forest is light years above and beyond the typical festival going experience. To be innovative, convergent, everyday, appropriative, networked, global, and intergenerational - all things at one - sets a playing field that can only be unequal to other summertime music festivals.

Electric Forest delivers commerce and consciousness together wrapped in a beautiful environment brimming with potential and possibility.  The only thing they don’t provide is the people and the attitude that is what makes this festival the best that summertime has to offer.  The connections made here, both within your own mind and with the people you meet will last a lifetime.  This is my idea of heaven.  When inclusiveness and the pure love of music is what the festival is all about, you know that EFF has done the best it can to provide a playground of unending possibilities.  Each square inch has a concept or an idea behind it - it only takes you to unlock the mystery and discover it. I’ll take the unlimited package, thank you very much.

Check out more photos from Electric Forest 2017.

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