Shambhala's RaveMom Visits Electric ForestArticle by: Britz Robins|@britzbitz
Mon June 29, 2015 | 00:00 AM
Before making the journey to Rothbury, Michigan for Electric Forest's 5th annual event, I had a very different idea of what I was in for. I’d seen the photos, knew some of the EDM headliners, had an idea of the crowd demographics. “It’s a giant rave,” I thought, “I’ve got this.”
A giant rave, Electric Forest is not . Though there are undeniably rave-y elements, EFF transcends traditional music festival labels. Trying to describe Electric Forest Festival to someone who’s never been is a little bit like trying to describe color to the blind. And to be sure – if there’s one thing the Forest and attendees are, it’s colorful. In all honesty, I’ve never seen so much tie-dye at a festival, and I kind of loved it.
The festival can feel overwhelmingly large at times – especially if you find yourself and one of the massive outdoor stages: Sherwood Court, Ranch Arena or Tripolee. These behemoths pack in with thousands of people, hosting artists like The String Cheese Incident, Mr. Carmack, Flux Pavilion, Skrillex, Bassnectar and more. While large stages like this aren’t my personal favorite hangout spaces, the artistic vision and attention to detail for each were fully realized, and created beautiful environments to enjoy some really incredible musical talent. I happily enjoyed some fantastic sets at these stages from a distance, or at the edges of the crowd, and it sounded absolutely perfect.
If a smaller stage is more your speed (and it is mine), there are still plenty of incredible music venues to enjoy at the Forest – new this year were The Hanger and Jubilee stages, and tucked inside Sherwood Forest, you’ll find a Silent Disco, The Observatory, The Forest Stage, and a handful of other distinct zones that aren’t quite stages, but always seem to have bumpin’ music playing.
Coming from an electronic music background, I can’t remember the last time I experienced so much live music as I did at EF. Daytime is dominated by bands, hip-hop and other live music, and that's a welcome change from my personal norm. – though I still enjoyed finding little pockets of electronic music here and there during the day. What can I say? I’m a raver at heart. And it seemed whenever I stopped by, The Hanger had the most delectable housey vibes.
Let’s talk about The Hanger. Part stage, part nightclub, part vending area, I found myself completely fascinated by this space. And not just because I always found the music there particularly appealing. The area itself is in, well, a hanger, with a level dance floor, and even while it was packed, it felt comfortably cool during the heat of the day. Chandeliers and delicate lights draped from the ceiling, and at the sides of the stage were standing tables draped in luscious red fabric. This was also my favorite place to get a drink – Tito’s vodka had a beautiful wooden central bar, serving divine craft cocktails. Lining either side of The Hanger were some intriguing vendors – an old-timey Barber Shop, a Pin-Up parlour, a “tattoo” shop. And just to keep things interesting, an “out-of-order” photo booth with a door in the back, where, if you were lucky, a bouncer would poke his head out and invite you into the mysterious secret room beyond.
The other new stage, Jubilee, is housed in one of the most stunning tents I think I’ve ever seen in my life. Pardon my “Festival Production Geek” moment here, but it is a really, really sexy big top. I probably walked around it for about twenty minutes just in awe – it’s perfectly bubblegum pink with swirls of purple, with flags on each peak. Inside, the high ceilings make the space feel expansive. Blacklights, geometric chandeliers and spheres – some with a jellyfish-like fringe, gave this stage an otherworldly, almost “underwater” feel that I thought was so unique.
Sherwood Forest is seriously visually impressive. Aesthetically, it reminds me of Shambhala’s Fractal Forest meets The Grove meets at least a dozen Burning Man art projects in a thicket of trees that seems to go on forever. It’s a large-scale immersive art zone like you’ve never seen. As you wind your way through the trees, you never know what you might stumble upon – a library, tree houses to climb, sculptures and art installations, a blonde woman dressed as a cop rapping about her white girl booty at The Grand Artique or the comedic stylings of Super Tall Paul at The Jive Joint. Really, the possibility of incredible, random, “is this really happening?” moments are infinite.
Magic is everywhere at the Forest, and not just in the more obscure nooks and crannies – it’s front and center on the big stages too. Anything can happen – Skrillex might pick up a guitar and cover The Doors with The String Cheese Incident. The violinist from SCI might join Bassnectar on stage. Or you might be lying in a hammock, looking up a canopy of leaves and blue sky, and on the mic you hear Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros say of totems, “These emoticon staff poles... what do they mean?”
Oh yes, and hammocks. Let’s talk about hammocks. I’ve never seen so many in one place in my life. I think EF was home to all the hammocks in Michigan last weekend. But seriously – ENO Hammocks was one of the festival’s sponsors, and I have to say, what a brilliant sponsorship. Hammocks. Hammocks everywhere.
If I had one criticism of EF, it would be that the food trucks and vendors were seriously lacking in veggie options. I’m not vegetarian or vegan by any means, but I found myself experiencing a bit of “meat fatigue” by the end of Day Three. That being said, as my companion who grew up in Wisconsin reminded me, “This is the Midwest.” This West Coast girl could have gone for some greens or even a side slaw with the amazing pulled pork we had... but this is a minor issue, in the scheme of things, and if you’re someone who generally incorporates a lot of veggies into your diet, I’d recommend making sure you plan that aspect of your festival eats yourself when attending this festival. (Bonus points for having a poutine truck at a U.S. festival, though.)
Electric Forest is a masterpiece of a festival with high-quality production, tons to explore and incredible attention to detail. What I’ve written here only begins to scratch the surface. If you’ve been eyeing this festival up, do yourself a favor and make the journey in 2016.