The Power of Electric Forest

A music festival is always an other-worldly event. Lineups, weather, activities. All of these really do become moot points. As Jeremy Stein, Madison House Presents promoter and producer of the Electric Forest Festival said, “the experience of being there trumps any headliner.” As this reporter discovered for a second year in a row, that is absolutely true.

Electric Forest, which began last Thursday, June 28 and went through Monday, July 2 had its second year of fun, heat, amazing art, and of course, a wide array of great music. The festival, which was held on the sprawling Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, north of Muskegon, Mich., attracted around 25,000 people.

While the music genres were diverse (indie-rock, hip hop and roots music were all present), jam bands and electronic music were the most heavily represented, with String Cheese Incident playing three multiple-hour sets, STS9 playing two sets, and artists like Beats Antique and Keller Williams drawing large crowds.

On the electronic side household names like Girl Talk, Steve Aoki and Major Lazer rocked stages late into the nighttime hours. While it’s possible that the lineup didn’t have the star-studded makings of last year (there was not an artist like Skrillex or Tiesto), there were many big names to represent the resurging electronic and dubstep scenes.

“In order to have a successful show it’s important to at least have a little bit of dubstep on the lineup,” said Troy Beetles, better known as Datsik (a well-known dubstep producer). “There are enough people that like it now.”

One of the exciting things about festivals is discovering acts that have the crossover appeal to go between scenes. Quixotic out of Kansas City is one such group. As a three-person live instrument-electronic act with the added bonus of having a Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobatics act. Having two shows on the Forest Stage allowed the group to show off its skills as a major league festival band while having a hypnotic, and sometimes scary stage show happening just to the side.

“[Quixotic is] really honored to have been invited to be a part of this festival and I think it’s a perfect fit for what we do,” said group member Anthony Magliano. “Especially the installation side ... we try and create something unique and special ... complementing all the beautiful lighting and artistry that’s already been done in the forest.”

The forest is a major part of the festival (obviously, it’s in the name), but it works on a couple of different levels. On a purely literal level, the Sherwood Forest acts as a major congregating and meeting place. It offers some of the only shade to be found on the grounds so during the day people simply swing on hammocks and enjoy the company and chill vibes. By night the forest becomes a place where dreams (or possibly nightmares, depending on various factors) could come true.

The main aspect of the Sherwood Forest is the art work. Festival Artistic Director Tia Christiansen, along with her team, do everything they can to make this area one of the truly unique experiences in the wide array of summer music festivals.

Being chock full of abstract sculptures hung from the giant trees, neon lasers anywhere you look, and people all over mesmerized by the stimulation around them, the forest is something that has to be experienced. Even if a prospective attendee has not yet had the opportunity to be at Electric Forest they can be assured that the forest will offer something entirely different next year.

“[Keeping the art different] is the most wonderful opportunity we have. I think a lot of it is bringing in new artists,” Christiansen said. “[I love] having the opportunity to come back and work with the variety of artists year after year.”

These days, the summer music festival is big business. Every city has some kind of festival with a wide variety of artists to draw a little from every demographic. Electric Forest has now gone with a bit more of a niche style. However, it’s gaining a positive reputation amongst fans and industry types alike. Datsik even said he would be staying the whole time on the advice of his colleague, Excision, who performed last year. It seems quite clear that Electric Forest is poised to take its place as a must-visit festival like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.

Photo: Jason Hite