For those of us who are heavily involved in the music scene, those of us who consider our love for music a passion and a way of life; the ones who feel the depth on a level so deep we are moved and inspired.
Music, community, love, family, strength, inspiration, tribal, festivals. We travel far and wide to take part in them, to open up, find ourselves, dig deep within, connect with those around us and the music that brings us together. We leave reality and find another dimension of what is and could be a new way to view it all. With that being said, Electric Forest is the pinnacle festival experience. I braved the 16-hour drive from Boston to Rothbury, Michigan and it was worth every mile driven and every little drop of gas. A month later I look back and see that it left me with an abundance of self worth and a new appreciation for the music communities in our country. For those of us who are heavily involved in music; calling it home to our ears, thoughts, time and energy, those of us who consider it something beyond a passion, a more rather way of life; we feel the depth, move with it and are moved by it. Some would call it getting “lost in sound,” as we give into the a force that moves us around the country to take a musical led journey someplace new with thousands of strangers. What I found at Electric Forest was by far the most enchanting and the most inspiring with the strongest pull of love between the people, the music and the land.
The momentum that built up on the highway while nearing the end of my journey there was contagious and invigorating. After a long drive, day had turned into night and then back into day again and we knew we had almost made it to the forest; an enticing unknown that was going to change us forever. When I arrived I knew I was about to embark on a journey, not realizing how much of myself I would leave behind and how unbelievably much I would be taking with me afterwards. What was once simply known as Rothbury was reincarnated into Electric Forest, a revolutionizing utopia of what a festival can be. A true experience for all.
The sea of cars that moved in waves through the gates of Double JJ Ranch were full of people hailing from numerous states embodying numerous styles of music, as our hosts, Madison House and Insomniac represent styles of music that are unalike. From heady hippies, raging ravers, our elders and our youths, traveled far and wide entering through the gates ready to coexist on a level that truly left me stunned. The lineup was bountiful, bound to tickle an assortment of tastes in the crowd. As I dive into describing the constant flow of music at this festival, let me be honest by saying it was somewhat overwhelming. Here are some valuable Jenny Z Fun Facts to further reiterate what I mean: My gateway drug to music and this scene entirely was The String Cheese Incident. “Jamtronica” turns me on (in every which way.) EDM, not exactly my cup of tea but I can surely sip on it. I love to twerk it, as trap is my guilty pleasure. I love anything funky, all things groovable and I can get DOWN to some deep bass.
Now that being said, Electric Forest taught me the true meaning of making musical sacrifices. At any given moment, a band or musical act that could be a headliner was playing. Not to mention, the stages were absolutely phenomenal in both size and sound, making it impossible to walk by without getting sucked into it’s active vortex of goodness. The need for a watch or a phone and a “menu of performances” was necessary, and on top of the plethora of action through sound happening from stage to stage, Sherwood Forest is always calling, inviting you to get lost within its utter bliss. As loud as any performer was, the forest was equal in its call, beckoning to submerge you in its magic. Each and every time one entered, whether aimless wandering or simply passing through, they’d find something new; Something incredibly special ranging from artwork, interactive installations of sorts, LED light displays, enchanted gardens and small, secret stages. Its uniform trees were standing tall, as far up as the eye could see, lending hammocks galore to lay back on and take it all in. At the forests center was an Asian style Zen Garden where we could sit and savor a 360 degree view of what was going on among the trees. Not to mention, it had a full service bar and a small, alluring stage called The Observatory. Weaving in and out of the trees were elvish beings giggling and laughing with one another, beautiful women dressed as butterflies fluttering about lending smiles, silly characters on stilts calling down to us, and doll-like lollipop ladies passing out candy for us to enjoy; all of which came with the forest. It was like Disney Land only for young adults who live to expand their minds, play with their consciousness and dance wildly and free from sunrise to sunset. Time spent in the forest was a constant invitation to exist outside of oneself.
Onto the music! The feeling of “roadlag” was no excuse to miss EOTO’s set in the Forest, afterall, this is String Cheese’s festival! They played the first notable performance of the weekend (for me), though I must discuss their obvious sound malfunction throughout the first half of their set. I was up front and having a full conversation with the people around me, speaking in my indoor voice! Once they got out the kinks they got it good and the crowd clearly amped up as the amps pumped their sound right out at us. The stage was nice and warm for Lotus, who was the absolute perfect treat for my mind body and soul after the long day of travel I was leaving behind me. Mid-way through Lotus I found myself thinking about Benny Benassi– thoughts of the“Satisfaction” music video kept catching my intrigue (if you haven’t seen it its a must) and ultimately wound up driving my feet to the Ranch Arena where he took power. My intentions were to simply walk by the show to see what Benassi was all about, but boy oh boy was it something. His booming sound filled the outdoor space fully and pulled me right in closer to get down with his large crowd of movers and groovers.
Day 2 of my music adventure began with Railroad Earth, a “newgrass” (new age Bluegrass) band out of New Jersey. Bluegrass usually isn’t my preferred method of music intake but let me tell you, this was the most perfect band for me in the moment, as I lounged on the sunny day watching the hippies around me getting their jig on. It was impossible not to smile from ear to ear. Keeping the smiles long and strong was Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, who took the stage immediately after. Oooo weeeee, was this a tasty delight. Never have I ever seen a man whipping the trombone like he, belting out funky Jazz tunes as the sun shined over the forest. They surely helped me fasten up my dancing shoes for Break Science, who awaited my arrival at the Sherwood Court stage. I mean, come on. If you haven’t checked out the high energy electronic duo yet its time to step it up. Anything that Adam Deitch touches is pure gold, as he is one of the modern drumming greats and the sounds that he and Borahm Lee create are seamless.
Moving right along to one of the most special performances of my weekend, Dispatch took the Ranch stage from 7:45 until 9:30, a beautiful time slot for one of the bands that defined my youth. After all these years, I still felt giddy while singing along to the songs that not only sparked my interest in music, but led me to the see that music is my passion. Though they sounded as good as ever, there was no way I was going to miss GrizMatik beginning at 9. Are you starting to see how its almost too much damn goodness happening one after the next?? As if the combination of GRiZ and Gramatik couldn’t have gotten any better, they welcomed Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli to rip the sax alongside them. The sun was low in the sky, and fire was emanating off the stage with their energy, the crowd was vast and feeling it, getting down hard from root to tip. Definitely a solid warm up to my main event of the night.. String Cheese at 10:30.
They fully renewed my epic love for them through this first night’s performance. I walked away from the performance repeating over and over, “String Cheese is the best band of my life.” They give me everything I could ever want, and then some; lyrics with depth atop elements of Bluegrass, Rock, Electronica, Reggae, Latin, Funk, Jazz with a psychedelic twists and turns. Their style is so eclectic, musicianship and skill hardly beatable; they flow fluidly through different sounds and ‘scapes, truly creating a journey as we listen. They write music that is meaningful and empowering, if you listen to the words you’ll take so much out of them. This is why they are special. Their fans are elevated to a level beyond just listening, as their force is something we feel, and I find, as I’ve always found, there is simply no crowd like a String Cheese crowd. Throughout the show, everybody is circling about, smiling at each other, caring for one another, a transfer of love and appreciation between bodies in a way that has to be seen to understand fully. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, be there at when the opportunity arises. Their set was absolutely enlightening as I dove head first like a fish swimming in the crowd.
After it ended, I was in awe, full of glee ready to frolic in the woods. What I found kept me stunned; I stumbled upon the last 15 minutes of Atmospheric Entertainment by Quixotic. Two men who looked like they fell off an Emo-circus wagon (if that exists/happens?) one playing an electric violin and the other an electric drum set. Their sound which juxtaposed somewhat of soft melancholy with bright optimism filled the forest with lights and lasers which ricocheted off the trees. It helped me wind down and feel at peace, as I was a solo traveler at this point.
I walked back to my campsite to sleep with the same smile sparked by Railroad Earth, and stumbled upon a big scary beast playing at the Tripoli Stage. Now, the Tripoli stage hosted the EDM acts for the duration of the weekend. It was the stage closest to the camping area, and furthest from the forest. It was not in one bit trying to be enchanting or mystical, it was there pumping out massive amounts of dirty electronic beats from when the gates opened until closing time. This beast that I had found was Krewella. After being opened up by Cheese and my awe-inspiring find within the forest, I was frightened by the crowd and terrified to go in there. I walked home to the tune of what felt like somebody’s car alarm going off for 30 minutes straight…sorry Krewella but you weren’t the nightcap I had been longing for.
Alas, Saturday! Lettuce day! In the past year Lettuce has become my absolute favorite band. If you want to get down and feel good, get into Lettuce. Repping the Royal Family with an all-star cast, they’re composed of Soulive’s Eric Krasno and Neal Evans, Adam Deitch, Erick aka Jesus Coomes, the horn section who call themselves “The Shady Horns,” with the voice of Nigel Hall to top if off. They certainly brought the daytime funkadellic goodness. All yipped up on good vibes, we ran to catch Boombox whose fluid funky Electro sound brought us into the evening hours. From start to finish, their set was a smooth and sensual dance party in the crowd.
Before I knew it, it was time for some more Cheese! This time, full of surprises! Firstly, the brought out Dominic Lalli who was apparently the resident special guest of the weekend. But, the most notable occurrence of the night was the high energy, bass heavy Bassnectar cover they busted out, sending the crowd into a frenzy of booty dropping and straight up wild’n out! I think everyone around me’s faces were blown off and heads melted away. There were fireworks booming one after the next and ladies rolling over the crowd in giant balls; jaws were dragging on the floor as we two stepped until midnight. And then what?
Above and Beyond transported me into a state of energetic trance. Although, being transported elsewhere was truly defined by Empire of the Sun, who I had never even heard of before but figured was something worth catching being that they were given the 12:45-2 am slot on one of the main stages. Talk about pushing the possibilities, this electronic act out of Sydney, Australia created a visual performance of the future. What they create on stage resembles a Sci-Fi fantasy performance seemingly hailing from another world with intricate make-up and costume to go alone with their electronic/psychedelic/pop sound. Literally staring at the stage in complete awe, I had to force myself to keep moving to A-Trak, since I was long overdue for some heavy trap induced twerking and tonight was the night. The fact is, A-Trak has never once failed me. He knows what I want and how I like it. Time and time again he has me dropping my booty, smiling so hard I might chip a tooth or something, though knowing it would be well worth it. And oh what fun it was!
When I woke up Sunday I almost had a hard time believing that I had a whole ‘nother day of it all. Four day fests are awesome like that, at least for me- I’m so accustomed to the three-day experience that this fourth day seems like like a bonus round! Another round of Cheese! which started while the sun was still out and ended under the night sky. Intertwined with Emancipator’s sweet sound on the nearby stage, it was perfect for winding down while still feeling the full energy of the festival. And if you weren’t still feeling the energy by then, it was slapping you in the face during Pretty Lights, who drew the biggest crowd of the entire weekend hands down, with lasers and lights hitting the hands of those way in the back. When I felt like getting lost again I found Russ Liquid who gave me something to see, feel and crave as I watched him play numerous instruments creating a unique soundscape full of emotion. His deep improvisational ability coincided with the forest intentions of widening wonder. There was no better way to close out the experience than with Beats Antique, who I had been eager to see for a while now. Their unique and sexy Middle Eastern vibe is infectious, provocative, and sensual. It was the perfect dynamic of hip shaking while feeling at ease and ready to return back to the “real world.”
I went into this festival with an open mind, hungry for the unknown and left feeling beyond satisfied and full. Full of life and full of knowledge as to what else is out there, what the people of our country are into and how as strangers we can form tribes in no time. I cannot think of one flaw throughout it all, and even a month later in still left in complete awe over the incredible imagination, time, energy and talent that went into this event. I cannot wait to return back and I cannot wait to share the time with all of you, my fellow American music lovers, movers and groovers. Make the trip! Let the trip make you! Go to Electric Forest and feel what I felt!
Electric Forest Photo Albums (Photos by Taylin Draper Media):