Near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan lies a town called Rothbury, which for 4 days every year hosts a music and art extravaganza called Electric Forest.
Forest is known to be a best-in-class festival among the electronic music community, even though the music spans more than EDM. It is THE festival. People refer to attending it as, “going home,” and I’ve been told countless times over the last few years that I should go. So this year, I did.
As Forest weekend approached, I was excited but not too excited. I didn’t want to let all the wonderful things I had heard get my expectations up too high. While I love music festivals, I know they can come with a lot of headaches: getting dirty, waking up at 7am in a 90 degree tent, lugging heavy camping gear over long distances, buying overpriced food, etc. I was sure Forest would be full of them.
Now that I’m back from the festival and trying to catch up with my life, I’m overcome with a general sense of sadness and loss at not being there anymore. Electric Forest was certainly full of those standard music festival headaches, but otherwise, it was so much more than any other festival I’ve attended. Usually, I write 2 post-fest recap blog posts: one about the logistics and one about the music. But writing about the artists I saw or what the bathroom lines were like can’t possibly capture the essence of Electric Forest, so I thought it warranted a different type of post.
What I loved so much about Forest was its spirit. It wasn’t just thousands of people going to watch live music; it was an adventure and a community as well. People radiated positive energy, yelling, “HAPPY FOREST!” to anyone who passed by. Spontaneous group hugs were frequent, and you could become instant friends with basically anyone. In fact, the group of 3 that I went as became a group of 8 before the festival even began. We set up our camp together, circling our tents around our 2 combined canopies, with everyone contributing supplies and gear, each person complementing the next as if all 8 of us had gotten together beforehand to talk about which things we were each going to bring. We were 4 separate groups of people coming together, and even though we had only just met on the bus ride up to Michigan, we were already a family.
The true life of Electric Forest isn’t just in the good vibes – it’s in, as one might guess, the actual forest. Sherwood Forest is the heart of the festival, and it’s something that I was totally unprepared for despite hearing stories and seeing photos.
The forest is massive. It comprises the middle chunk of the festival grounds, and serves as a pathway between the northern and southern stages and other activities. But the forest is much more than just a walkway from point A to point B. There are 3 different paths you can take to get through it, and each one contains art installations, stages with music, interesting hangout spots, areas to set up a hammock and relax (hammocks are a huge part of the Forest experience), and more. There’s a silent disco. There’s a giant bird’s nest you can sit and rest in. There’s an old timey store with a bluegrass band playing out front. There’s a peaceful teepee. An “art bar” where you can make jewelry crafts. A treehouse with live painters below it. A “Giving Tree” where you can give and take items and trinkets. Costumed actors walking around interacting with attendees. And more. So much more. I discovered something new each time I went into the forest and missed quite a few of the music sets I had intended on hearing because we were too busy playing amongst the amazingly lit trees. I don’t regret it.
In fact, Electric Forest is the only festival I’ve ever been to that I would attend again, no questions asked, without knowing or caring about the lineup. You could put my least favorite artists in there and I would still go, because that would only open up more of my free time to experience some of the workshops, panels, and artist meet & greets that I missed this time around.
I can’t wait to see what Electric Forest 2016 has in store. Only 1 year until I can go to my beautiful home again.
* Most of these photos are from the Electric Forest Facebook page because the ones I took were few and far between (and terrible).