Sincerity – The Theme of the Electric Forest Experience
Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan is as much of a social experiment as it is a music festival. If there is one thing that it proves, it’s that human beings, by nature, are overwhelmingly positive and good to each other. The key words here being, “by nature.” And that is what Forest provides each and every one of its some 40,000 attendees.
EF 2014 was my very first camping festival experience. And even before that, my traditional music festival pedigree was pretty slim. For the record, I am a 24 year old male, two years removed from state university with a 9-5 corporate job and bills to pay. In the real world like many others out there, I have suddenly found myself shuffling through life and doing my small part to maintain the “machine” of a society we’ve created for ourselves here in the states. Simply put, we live for the weekends.
My small group of four festival goers arrived in Rothbury, Michigan on a warm Thursday afternoon to smiles and high-fives from the crew working the event and searching the vehicles. Strangers don’t usually act this kind. The uplifting aura set in immediately as we were ushered into the campground and directed to our home for the next four days. In line with several other vehicles, we pulled into our row, parked, and began to unload camping gear. Cue a mad dash to setup the chillest campsite on the block. The competitive nature of the real world that we had just left behind was shifted to a collaborative mindset. Every individual around me had one focus, and that was to enhance everyone else’s experience with an open door policy on our now completed temporary village. Within the hour, our neighbors all felt like close friends and we proceeded to crack open some celebratory adult beverages and toast to our first accomplishment together.
Before ever stepping foot into the venue, it was at this point that I realized why people travel from around the world to attend festivals – and I hadn’t even caught a live show yet.
Upon finishing our drinks and gathering our things, we agreed it was time to head into the venue and let the real magic begin. A stroll through vendors selling an assortment of tapestries, custom glass, decorations, paintings, and delicious food lined the campground’s main walkway which led to the queue into Sherwood Forest. I am confident this queue only existed for the high-fives and the cheers that you got when walking through it. This final connection with other fellow foresters was enough to pump everyone up like a team running out of the tunnel for the opening kick-off to Monday Night Football. That’s how electric this place was.
Suddenly I found myself inside of Sherwood Forest in the midst of a crowd. It’s daytime, sky is blue, trees are green, and overall it’s exceptionally ethereal. The bass was reverberating through my sandals and to find a person not bumping to the music or walking with that hop-dance funky two step thing people do as they navigate a crowd during live music was completely impossible.
Good. Fucking. Vibes.
The hippie stereotype was alive and strong with the crowd showing off plenty of skin and a seemingly endless ocean of tie-dye and bright colors hypnotically swaying to the groove at the big Ranch Arena stage. Amid the masses, a pink shirt worn by a cute girl that read, “You Can Sit With Us” caught my eye. As the girl smiled at me and walked by, I knew she meant it. And we all knew that everyone else felt the same way. It was comforting.
Focusing back on the show, I couldn’t help but laugh as I enjoyed Paper Diamond’s set while the sun drifted under the tree line. People flowed in and out of my group’s zone and almost everybody initiated a conversation, or at the very least, wanted to dance. Some people even opted to enjoy the music from the ground while lounging on moon mats and blankets. But whether standing or sitting, people expressed simple and genuine curiosity about their fellow men and women here. I loved to see it, and nobody was avoiding eye contact or staring into their smartphones. How refreshing. Questions like, “where are you from?” “how are you feeling?” and, “is this your first Forest?” became common in every encounter and most are eager to hear your story and then tell their own. The unity of the crowd was infectious and everybody looked to be in their element. No hidden agendas, no lying, no cheating. There was no hierarchy here.
Sincerity, in its purest form.
By this time, darkness was rapidly approaching. The sweat began to dry and all of the sun-kissed necks and shoulders were welcoming of the cool, dropping temperatures at Sherwood Forest. It was now dark. The mood immediately changed from an incandescent blast of positive energy, to an otherworldly sexy and seductive sensory overload that everyone had fully accepted as their new reality moving forward. At this stage in the night, the Glitch Mob began to perform and the music was like voodoo magic in command of the crowd which was bobbing and weaving and dancing and screaming to their performance. Glowsticks and neon totems bouncing to each bass drop might as well have been hypnotism; it was obvious this crowd had just been elevated to a new level. As they say, the place was going wild.
Each music set I adventured to in the forest felt like a unique one hour dramatic theatrical production. No two shows carried the same flavor or premise. Each taught new lessons and brought crowds to new places. Intros and rising actions and climaxes complete with all the ups and downs of any great book, play, or movie were all prominent. Not to mention the storybook setting. It was all on display for the crowd at Electric Forest and it just goes to show how far these artists and production crews have advanced with their ability to tell a story through music. This is why I believe the popularity of EDM and jam bands continue to rise at an astonishing rate. And when the laser light show is illuminating a pristine forest all around you, you’re bound to experience something at Electric Forest that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Once The Glitch Mob ended, Zeds Dead took over and brought the crowd through yet another moving set leaving everyone begging for more. Eventually, the music subsided. Everyone danced and chanted in unison into the glowing and mysterious forest on their way back to their campsites. Eager as I was to do it all over again.
The magic lasted four entire days. There are so many ways to experience this festival, with the best experience having a little bit of everything. Campsite pow-wows with strangers late at night into the early morning, chill sessions in a tangled web of hammocks amongst the trees during the day, impromptu dance-offs at the silent disco, endless amount of sharing what you have to offer with anyone out there willing to stop by, and finally all of the strange realizations and life lessons you will encounter that you will most certainly take home with you stored deep within your soul. Electric Forest was more akin to a spiritual awakening or epiphany than just a concert. For me, it was a lesson on the potential good within all of humanity. For many, it’s an eye opening realization of inherent positivity that most people possess, and maybe some people even learn of a new positivity that they themselves can harness and use moving forward. Above all of the spirituality and deep-rooted meanings that people love to discuss, Electric Forest is just really just fun to be a part of. And it feels bigger than you.
Speaking back to the music at this festival, after all, that is what it’s all about, the variety was amazing. From the jam bands to the huge EDM names, every show that I caught sounded great. There were 4 hour jam sessions with The String Cheese Incident, there was a melodic tropical house set from Kygo with beach balls floating through the sky amidst trees and sunshine, Zedd melted everyone’s face on Friday night, Umphrey’s did their usual thing, Schoolboy Q turnt everyone up, and then Tycho and Emancipator turnt everyone back down. Each individual show was worthy of its own full review. So I in turn wanted to focus this piece on putting the experience as a whole into words by describing what it feels like to be at Electric Forest, and not just discuss the music itself. If an average guy like me can find a new home and a new escape from the “machine” in a place like Forest, then it really can be a special place for anyone to enjoy and cherish. It’s not just about the music; it’s the community, the camaraderie, and the sincerity of everyone in attendance.
My friends and I are already planning our return and yes, we’re bringing way more hammocks. Electric Forest, thanks for the memories, and until next year.
Check out more photos from Electric Forest here.