Electric Forest Review

I’ve been to quite a few music festivals over the last three years – Chicago’s Lollapalooza, the mythical Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN, and Wisconsin’s own Summer Set. Each seems to offer its own niche, some iconic cornerstone that makes the festival fantastic in its own way. For instance, the bright Chicago skyline you can see from Grant Park as the sun descends on Lollapalooza is absolutely breathtaking. But I can safely say that none of the iconic elements can compare to the unbelievably unique experience that one experiences at the Electric Forest in Rothbury, MI.   After I showed up at the Forest on a hot, sunny Thursday afternoon, I immediately made friends with many of my neighbors setting up in the campground. For many like myself, it was their first time to the Forest, and many wore their excitement on their sleeves. We shared drinks, stories of past shows, and the acts we were most looking forward to seeing. The lineup at Electric Forest featured many electronic DJs, jam bands, and hip-hop artists, including many up-and-coming talents.
Thursday’s best show, in my humble opinion, came from Cherub, the dynamic duo of Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley. Cherub has become a household name mostly in part of their smash hit, “Doses & Mimosas”, a bubbly no-fucks, free-spirited anthem for young adults. A lot of their music revolves around the classic principles of drugs, sex and rock & roll, but their electronic sound puts a totally new twist on things.   Their set started nearly 45 minutes late, after an apparent mishap at the airport that almost caused them to miss their flight to Michigan. Nonetheless, the two took the stage to the delight of the crowd and plunged into their catchy, high-energy tune “Jazzercise ‘95”. Given how early in the afternoon their set was, the crowd turnout was nothing short of remarkable – a testament to how popular Cherub has become in recent years. The set spanned both old and new songs, most of which were crowd favorites, including “Hearbreaker”, “Disco Shit”, “Monogamy”, and, last but not least, “Doses & Mimosas”. As the set wrapped up, Kelley summarized their whirlwind of emotions as he told the crowd: “This went from being the worst day ever to the best day ever!” And my day was just beginning.
As the sun set on the first night of the festival, and the darkness of night ascended onto the Forest, the entire atmosphere changed. Suddenly, surrounding trees were lit up with multicolored lights and various totems carried by festivalgoers featured neon lights, trippy pictures, and true creativity. One that really caught my eye was a clear umbrella transformed into a full-fledged blue and green jellyfish, one of the cooler homemade “rage sticks” I saw at the festival.   Walking from the Ranch Arena to the Sherwood Court Stage required a walk through Sherwood Forest, the festival’s most iconic feature. I had heard stories, of course, of all sorts of odd, funny, or downright cool encounters in the Forest, but nothing prepared me to experience it in person. Firstly, it was a lot larger than I expected; enormous trees lined the walking paths, which were lit up with colored lights and lasers. Hidden smoke machines sent out fog that further contributed to the mysterious, almost spooky vibe of the Forest. Once deep inside, you could stumble upon the Silent Disco, joining strangers dancing to a DJ that could only be heard while rocking wireless headphones. Or perhaps you might spend some time at the Psychedelic Friendship Bingo stage – a completely real Bingo game, only made more preposterous by the eccentric MCs hosting it. There were so many distractions in the Forest, it’s almost easy to forget you were there to see music at all. Anywhere you’d turn, you could find people posting up with hammocks in between trees, relaxing or just enjoying the scene from afar (One of my biggest regrets of the weekend was not purchasing a hammock of my own, as it seemed like a major power move).
The coolest show I saw all weekend had to be The Ms. Lauryn Hill Incident – a collaboration between Lauryn Hill (of the Fugees) and the String Cheese Incident, the jam band that was hosting the festival. String Cheese played multiple sets over multiple hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, but Ms. Hill joined them on stage Saturday for a performance to be remembered. Switching up from their usual bluegrass-esque jamming, Ms. Hill took control of the set as the band played an hour of reggae-based tunes, including a very original take on “Something” by the Beatles. Typically known for her fast-paced rapping, Lauryn Hill showed off some serious pipes during her time on stage. They covered several Bob Marley favorites such as “Jammin” and “Could You Be Loved”, two songs that really got the crowd moving. Additionally, they covered popular Fugees tracks like “Ready or Not” and “Fu-gee-la”, allowing Ms. Hill to go in on some familiar tunes.   All in all, Electric Forest encompassed an incredible vibe all weekend of positivity, collectiveness and awe. Strangers became immediate friends looking to help one another at any given moment. Look no further than an experience I had Sunday evening at What So Not’s set. I had a stomachache, so I sat down for a quick minute to collect myself. The dudes dancing and partying in front of me noticed my fatigue, joined me on the ground, and offered up some water and a pack of Cheetos. While it may seem like a small gesture, their behavior was pretty representative of everyone’s attitude all weekend. People were proactive in making sure their neighbors had the best time possible, and it really went a long way. While it was my first Electric Forest, it surely won’t be the last time I make my way to Rothbury, MI to enjoy the Forest.
Cam Ariana