On a vast estate of wooded property in Rothbury, Mich., the annual Electric Forest Festival, held June 25-28, once again illuminated the rural stomping grounds and tall pines with grandiose light displays – creating a haven for hippies and ravers partaking in the psychedelic experience.
One of the many totems held by the fest goers read: “F***k Real Life” – a punchy way of letting you know the forest is meant to be an alternate, sometimes hazy, dimension. “Happy forest” is a universally used salutation at the event: a nutshell explanation of the peaceful ambiance the festival delivers. Unlike many concerts and festivals, Electric Forest is free of macho, me-first ‘tudes. Say what you want about hippies but they sure know how to make people feel safe and comfortable while navigating through dense crowds. If you’re looking for the closest mosh pit, this won’t be your jam.
While the forest itself was peppered with oddball sculptures, gong circles, club house-like structures and modest music stages, the sonic boom you’d hear likely emanated from outside the trees.
The dusty forest paths, overflowing with some of the 40,000 attendees, lead to the colossal main stages. That’s where you’d find open grass to dance, sit with friends or, as some did, take a power nap during a thumping concert.
The event always hosts a balanced mix of big-name rootsy-jam bands and EDM superstars. This year’s roster boasted Skrillex, String Cheese Incident, BASSNECTAR, Carl Cox and Paul Oakenfold, to only name a few. Yonder Mountain Sting band also performed, the band’s singer was quick to note, “It smells like Colorado out here!”
For many attendees of the sold-out, smoked-out fest, it’s wasn’t hard to catch a bulk of the exhaustive lineup. Most attendees take refuge in tents on one of the campsites lining the grounds though virtually every hotel within a 30 mile radius was also booked solid. The Econo Lodge in Whitehall, which one attendee described as “The Bates Motel,” was charging a staggering $177 per night during the run of the fest.
At first, security procedures slowed things down. The first day was hurry-up-and-wait day. The roads leading to the car check-in point were bumper-to-bumper gridlocks. Once your car was parked, and your campsite was set up, there was yet another wait: A seemingly endless line to get into the concert area. Luckily for the campers, after the first day the line to the concert areas mellowed out and moved along more fluidly.
While security was friendly, they were not knowledgeable about the stretch of land or offering any help with directions. If you had a question or were turned around you’d be better off approaching a fellow concert goer. I asked one security guard where I should park my car if I plan on leaving that night for a hotel – he told me to “call someone at the festival” and ask them. Not what you’re hoping to hear when you’re in the middle of nowhere with spotty cellphone service.
Uniformed security guards and a few long lines aside – the festival was a success. Attendees had fun and, according to the Michigan State Police, there were very few arrests for an event of this caliber. Even if trendy EDM and patchouli-smellin’ jam music isn’t your thing – the people watching and extravagant light displays are worth the price of admission alone.
Quotes from the Forest:
“Fizz,” 28, Pittsburgh
“I think it’s the trippiest place I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It’s absolutely memorizing and euphoric. I want to come back every year and make it an annual experience.”
Maggie Cunningham-Bradshaw 21, Boulder Colorado
“Dude, it’s so good. It’s really big. It’s definitely the biggest festival I’ve ever been to, but the people are great. I love everyone here. I haven’t had a run in with any bad people.”
Gus Vincent, 23, Adrian
“The atmosphere – it’s mind blowing. This is probably the best thing I’ll go to all year.”
“T Chill,” 19, Minnesota.
“I took a bus here. This is my first big festival but I’ve been to a lot of ones around Minnesota. I love it, everyone just gets along. You can be yourself and not have to worry about anyone judging you. There are no fights. It’s just so chill.”
Raeyln Jewison, 19, Williamston, Mich.
“This is my second year. I’m camping with quite a few more people this year. I love the forest, I’m a tree lover and I just love how unique it is. The colors and light shows, how they light it up makes it look so beautiful. They have the creative structures but they don’t look as cool without the illumination and lights. That’s what gives it the electric feeling. This year the structures and lights are completely different. It was more rustic last year, this year it’s more about color and I really like that.”
Claire Kelly, 17, Michigan City
“It was really long but it was exciting even being in line. Last night when String Cheese was playing, they had a really nice show going on. They had people floating in balloons doing tapestry tricks, they were floating in the air and looked like UFOs.”
George Heritier, 64, Oak Park
“I have been coming here since 2009, back when it was Rothbury. Compared to last year, it’s bigger and there are a lot more people. It was a bad thing on Thursday trying to get in. We had to wait in line for over two and a half hours. That’s hard on these old feet and legs. As for the cops, they’re great. If they are needed, they step in. Otherwise they’re greeting people, saying ‘hi.’ They’re being really nice.”
Sissy McCloud, Bay Miller, MI, 24
“This is my third year. I’ve been to other festivals like Bonnaroo, but you can’t get this vibe anywhere else. Bonnaroo is really commercial. Here it seems like there’s more unity. I don’t know if it’s just my age, but it seems like there are a lot of young people here. I’ve never met any rude people here, whether it’s at the front of the stage or way back by the campsites. Everybody has been awesome every year. The best part is meeting people. My neighbors at the campsite are cool, they’re from Texas, we’ve been hanging out a lot. I’m a Yooper-bitch, I don’t mind camping – this ain’t nothin’.”
Shannon Hiott, 21, Columbus
“My favorite part so far is hanging in the hammocks. I got a really good spot in front of Sherwood Court because I got there early.”
“Mitzi,” Italy, 24, New York
“I didn’t want to come back this year because last year I had such a life changing experience here. I thought it could never get any better, but it did. It f******g did. I think I fell in love here. He just happened to be dancing next to me during Skrillex set.”
Hunter Griffin, 21, New York
“This is my second year. Honestly, the shows are even more amazing this year. String Cheese has blimps and people riding in hot-air balloons, but the fireworks are better. There are more people here, but everyone is just as friendly. Everyone wants to have a good time.”
Brian Baer, 27, New York
“You’re at ease here. You feel at home. There is so much love and positivity here. Everyone is embraced, there is no judgment and everyone can be who they are. But it is a little hectic, you can get a little lost at night, but that’s the joy of it. You see something new every night and experience something new. You take it all in.”