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Everybody Loves You Here: An Electric Forest 2013 Recap

posted by Hillary Weiss on July 03, 2013

Photo: Electric Forest 2013 by Cal Millner

Rothbury, Michigan -- Last Wednesday night, as I made the 15-hour drive from New York City to Michigan for Electric Forest Festival, I knew exactly three things:

1. EF is a four-day fest spanning a rainbow of genres, focusing mainly on jam and electronic bands, and featuring a heap of additional amenities and events (including a water park, daily yoga, gourmet food trucks, live art, comedy shows, disc golf, etc.). Insomniac Events and Madison House are the minds behind the mayhem.

2. It’s been held at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, Michigan since its debut in 2011, as the next evolution of Rothbury Music Festival.

3. Every one of my Forest alum friends tell me it’s their absolute favorite festival. Period.

So, notebook in hand, I curled up between the crates of water and duffel bags in the backseat, and geared up for a weekend of non-stop dancing and adventure.
Here’s how it all went down.

Day One (Thursday)

On its premiere day, EF got off to a damp start. As we headed towards the gates to catch our first set (L.A.’s Morgan Page), black & gray clouds filled the sky.

But despite the gloom, spirits were high. “I feel home already,” a friend said as we joined a crowd peppered with neon-haired hoopers, muscled bros in bandanas and trucker hats, and eager barefoot hippies raring to get weird. A foam dolphin totem balanced on a pool noodle swayed above us. The excitement was contagious. I put one hand on the poncho hooked to my fanny back, and stepped forward with a fluttering heart.

After our bags were searched and wristbands scanned, we walked into the massive grounds, past Eelrock blowing up the Tripolee stage, while women in silver cat costumes danced seductively around small platforms nearby.

We found Morgan at the Ranch Arena stage, just as he was throwing down Body Work, followed by his latest track Against the World. As “I guess it’s just me and you for now, against the world, against the world,” burst through the speakers and an enormous beach ball bounced over the clapping crowd, I couldn’t help feeling this track was setting the tone for the rest of the weekend. Buh-bye reality - I was in the Forest now.

I’m Right for You played behind us we ran to see Digital Tape Machine (featuring Joel Cummins and Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee) at the Sherwood Forest stage, and the drizzle began. The Chicago group, who recently released their debut album Be Here Now, mix their signature jam band instrumentals with dub and house beats to create an absolutely infectious sound. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed a few glorious minutes of funky jams, the rain got worse. DTM closed early, and we sped off to Madeon.

We caught 19-year-old French prodigy throwing down in a major way. As we approached, he was blending Zedd’s remix of Empire of the Sun’s "Alive" into "The City" while the crowd sang along. "Icarus" flowed effortlessly into "Mr. Brightside" and "Raise Your Weapon", stars filled the screens on stage, and the energy was unstoppable. It was damn near impossible to drag myself away... but experimental dubstep duo EOTO was up next.

Beers in hand, we danced into the raging throng. Despite the fact I was leading the way, I successfully managed to lose every member of my group in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, I was alone in the mud in a massive crowd of people. I walked to the vendors to gather my thoughts and see if anyone could find me.

Sitting at a picnic table, I was discovered - not by my friends, but by a group of strangers who immediately introduced themselves. At that moment, I realized I was at an exceptional festival. Not only were attendees making an effort to meet one another, there was a palpable sense of unity among the people of the Forest. Despite myself, I felt safe.

My new friends and I dove into the Lotus crowd together before I left (after about a dozen hugs) to see a few minutes of Benny Benassi. As a four-year Ultra Fest attendee accustomed to seeing oceans of fans at the Italian legend’s sets, I was surprised to discover his audience was relatively sparse. However, Benassi seemed to be enjoying himself - reminding everyone to have a great weekend at least three times before mixing Baauer’s "Harlem Shake" with his own "Satisfaction."

Entertained as I was, it had been a long day. On my way back to camp, I dropped by the Headhunterz set to discover two friends dancing hardstyle with wild abandon. It was a perfect ending to a near-perfect night.

Day Two (Friday)

As our second day dawned pleasantly overcast and cool, we kicked off with a non-musical activity in mind: shopping. With so many unusual vendors to browse through, we had our work cut out for us.

Standing in line at the gates, I picked up an absurd pair of shades covered in googly eyes, courtesy of Monkeybrains13 before strolling in to grab a cilantro & lime steak taco and a margarita to fuel my venture. Clothing, crystals, jewelry, tapestries, holographic artwork, paintings, Spirit Hoods and glow gear lined the grassy streets.

The most unusual art on display was the ultraviolet swirlings of Brad Lawrence (BL Visuals). Featuring both body painting and custom clothing designs (I picked up an awesome fitted cap from him) he’s created a head-turning dip-dye technique that caught the attention of attendees all weekend long.

After I’d lightened my cash load a tad, I walked over to spread out my moon mat and join the dancers at the end of the bluegrass-rock Railroad Earth set. While I only caught the last 10 minutes, I had a great time bouncing to "The Jupiter & the 119" and "Dandelion Wine," watching barefoot hoopers with abs of steel blow minds with their speed and insane tricks. Afterwards, I dozed under the endless blue sky while a young woman behind me played a miniature accordion and sang love ballads in a charming soprano.

I couldn’t help thinking how, on top of everything great about this festival, the people made it so much better. Not a single person bumped into another without apologizing immediately. Everyone was polite, respectful, and friendly. Hugs were administered frequently. I only saw a handful of folks being brought to the medical tent, and security was pleasant and unobtrusive.

As I lay there pondering, a girl with a crown of flowers in her hair strolled by with a sign:

“Everybody loves you here.” And in that moment, I was inclined to agree.

Next on my list was the band that made my inner 14-year-old squeal as soon as I saw them on the lineup: New England’s own Dispatch. While I’d been a little underwhelmed by their 2012 album Circles Around the Sun (their first after a decade-long hiatus), I’d been told that after watching the songs played live, it would all make much more sense.

I walked up while the group was jamming out to "Railway" from their Bang Bang album, followed by "Passerby" from Who Are We Living For? Relief washed over me. I’d heard mixed reviews of Dispatch’s performances, but now it was obvious that the only thing better than Dispatch over my headphones was Dispatch live and in person. As "Out Loud" transformed into a cover of "Mrs. Robinson," followed by "Two Coins," I couldn’t stop smiling. The band I’d waited a decade to see were just as amazing as I’d hoped - I could now die a happy woman.

As they drew out the end of "Lightning" into an unforgettable jam sesh, I went to grab more food. While standing in line, they finally played "Flying Horses," and I belted out the words along with the taco guy, who was grinning ear-to-ear. Taco guy: you rock.

Before I knew it, it was time to head to the Grizmatik set. We sprinted back into Sherwood Forest as Gramatik, Griz, and Big Gigantic took take the stage. "Get ‘em High" and "Smash the Funk" exploded over the speakers, and the entire crowd roared their approval. Interestingly enough, the visuals onstage seemed to be a tribute to the 4chan’s Anonymous, along with a few subliminal flashes that may or may not have included the word ‘bukake’. As expected, the sax-loving trio did not disappoint.

“What are you writing?” a dark-haired girl next to me asked as I scribbled in my notepad. I explained I was writing an article about the festival, and she burst into a wide smile.

“Write about love! All the love that is here!” she exclaimed, and went on to say in broken English that when we write about love & harmony, people listen. I assured her I would.

After Grizmatik, Brooklyn’s Holy Ghost took over. Once again, as I bobbed to their impossibly catchy synth-pop beats, I wondered where the crowd was. Then I headed over to Kill the Noise... and discovered most of the festival had already gravitated towards Jake Stanczak’s soul-shaking dubstep. After enjoying a few minutes in the wild audience, I danced over to the smaller Deep in the Forest stage for the disco funk tuneage of Luke the Knife - also known as Luke Miller from Lotus.

After Luke’s set, I expected to see Cyril Hahn - arguably the most blogged-about performer in music right now - rock it out. However, due to circumstances beyond his control (according to his Twitter), he never made it. Instead, yet another pair from Brooklyn, no regular play, worked the decks. They live-mixed gorgeous vocals and notes from a silver trumpet.

(It’s worth mentioning that at this set, a man dressed as Gandalf walked up behind me and proceeded to “bless” me by throwing glitter confetti over me while I spun around in circles. That’s just the Forest for ya.)

We closed out the night with a DJ set from Passion Pit in the Silent Disco, who fittingly wrapped with exactly half of Bon Jovi’s "Livin’ on a Prayer" while the exhausted crowd sang along.

Day Three (Saturday)

Groggy from two days of dancing our collective hineys off, the camp crew and I wandered into the Forest on sunny Saturday afternoon for a much-adored Electric Forest activity: relaxing in hammocks.

To say there are “many” hammocks at EF is a grand understatement. Almost every pair of trees had at least one hammock hanging between them - sometimes even three or four - and they spanned like gigantic, colorful spiderwebs as far as the eye could see. Alongside the sculptures, art, gardens, lights, lasers, and interactive sets peppered among the cedars, it was a sight like no other.

While my friends set up their hammocks near the Observatory where the fabulously cartoony hip hop/electro group The Fungineers were freestyling, I noticed a couple of things:

1. There were beautifully costumed performers running through the forest. Rosy-cheeked elves peeked at us from behind tree trunks, lollipop-toting ladies in candy-colored dresses strolled around arm-in-arm chatting with people, and mysterious figures in sweeping black cloaks hurried down paths in complete silence. Everything was designed to create an atmosphere of enchantment.

2. Everyone kept yelling “Where’s Carl?!”. While there are several legends behind this long-running Rothbury joke, the most plausible one goes like this: at Rothbury Music Festival in 2008, a girl spent the entire night calling for her lost companion... Carl. While no one’s sure what became of the real Carl, any time you shout “CARRRRL?!” in a crowd, you’re guaranteed to get at least 10 echoed responses. It’s god damn hilarious.

After an afternoon of snoozing and exploring all the treasures the Forest had to offer, it was time to head back to camp, put on a little el-wire, and gear up for the night’s incredible lineup.

Costume changes can take a while - and as a result, we only caught the last 30 seconds of acid-funk group Lettuce before they left the stage to make way for The String Cheese Incident. After about half an hour of square dancing and messing around with a friend’s hoop, we made our way to Boombox.

Russ Randolph and Zion Rock Godchaux came ready to bring the heat, delighting the audience with their unique blend of vintage blues and rock, flawlessly woven with psychedelic and house sounds. Towards the end of their set, they dropped a dub track so heavy my knees started to wobble. The crowd let out a huge “Ohhhhh!” and got as low as the bass.

3LAU was up next, and Justin proceeded to rock the ever-loving ish out of Sherwood Forest. His appreciation of beautiful music, combined with eardrum shattering bass created an absolutely unforgettable experience as he mixed Eurythmic’s "Sweet Dreams" into Nicky Romero’s "Haters" and Ivan Gough & Feenixpawl’s ballad "In My Mind," followed by, of all things, Kylie Minogue’s "Can’t Get You Out Of My Head." I was convinced I’d just seen my favorite set of Forest... that is, until Above and Beyond took the stage.

The British trio and unquestionable godfathers of the Trance Family always put on an incredible performance, but after seeing them at Ultra a few years in a row, I assumed I’d seen it all. I was wrong. Trance’s ability to take audiences on an inspiring emotional journey despite themselves sets it apart, and Above & Beyond knows that full well. While they wrapped their stunning set with "Sun & Moon," a hush fell over the audience. I watched a man drop to his knees and propose to his girlfriend, and pretended the tears prickling the corners of my eyes were due to someone slicing onions elsewhere in the crowd.

Then, it was off to Empire of the Sun. The Sydney natives, known for their stunning showmanship, in-your-face performances, and signature cranial accessories, did not disappoint. They were joined by lithe dancers onstage in a range of outrageous outfits and styles, and when they dropped their latest banger "Alive," it was impossible not to get lost in the moment.

Knife Party was our second-to-last set of the day, and after leaving Empire’s theatrics behind me, I was ready to get filthy. Gareth McGrillen and Rob Swire put on a face-melting performance for their rabid fans, including a sing-a-long to their terrifying smash hit "Internet Friends," as well as dropping two of my all-time favorites, "Sleaze" and "Centipede." It was one of those sets where the lights go out and the crowd breathes a collective “Aw, man!”. Heading to the Nigel Hall Band set afterwards was like stepping from insane rapids into a calm creek.

Once again, we closed out the night at the Silent Disco where Shreddie Mercury - also known as 23-year-old Jonathan Kane, a fresh face on the electronic scene - lived up to his name and then some. It was a much-needed pick-me-up after the exhausting Knife Party set and slightly-too-slow Nigel Hall performance. We raged until the last possible second, and headed back to camp to collapse onto our air mattresses.

Day Four (Sunday)

Waking up on the last day, the haze of exhaustion and melancholy hovering over the festival was palpable. As I headed to The Velvet Cup for yet another iced coffee, I found myself stunned by how quickly time flies when you’re raging face. If I hadn’t sweated all the fluid out of my body the night before, I would have shed a single tear onto my Vegasm sandwich.

Despite the slight bummer of Sunday’s arrival, it was a s-t-a-c-k-e-d lineup. The crew got dressed, packed up the hammocks and Franzia once more, and headed into the forest for the first set of the day: Dopapod. On our way in, a friend and I were diverted towards the Tripolee stage by the sounds of The Discovery Project winners, ForeverKID. While there were only a handful of people, the self-proclaimed “genreless” performers were producing a heavy-house sound so electric, everyone in front of the stage was dancing. I’ll definitely be going back for more.

We set up our hammocks in front of Dopapod at the Forest Stage, where the quartet’s intricate electric/funk/metal/soul style created the perfect atmosphere for an afternoon in the shade. After a while, I strolled away from my companions in search of a little Reptar. The delightful Georgian dance-pop quartet was having an insane amount of fun onstage, with the brass section pulling off big-band-era two-steps as they punched out "Houseboat Babies" and "Rainbounce." I also couldn’t help admiring how Graham Ulicny’s unusual vocals translated perfectly into live performance.

I wandered back to the Forest Stage for the lovely electric/beatbox/vocals of Lynx. I took in her fantastic cover of "No Diggity" as I swung in a hammock wondering why real life couldn’t be like this all the time. As she wrapped her silky smooth track "Young Blood," we started the journey back to camp to prepare for one last epic night.

We reached the forest again just in time for the end of Emancipator’s dreamy set. As my fellow campers readied their hammocks in the woods to take in the Yeasayer set in total comfort, I sprinted across the festival to see the hard partying Australian dynamo Tommy Trash tear it up. While fireworks exploded overhead, Tommy took the crowd on an adventure of epic proportions, with the entire audience jumping like crazy the moment Cascade slammed through the sound system. It was all I could do to tear myself away and make it back in time for Yeasayer.

While I’d heard good things about the genre-twisting Brooklynites’ live performances, they exceeded my expectations. I joined the bouncing crowd singing along to "Longevity," my favorite track from Fragrant World, and grooving to the insane jam session that followed "O.N.E."

Next up was Pretty Lights, who I hadn’t seen since 2010. A few grumbling former fans told me the quality of Derek’s live shows had declined over the years as the effects of hard partying set in, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, despite a few awkward pauses between tracks (this differed greatly from the seamless mixing I’d remembered from three years ago), it was an insanely fun set. It seemed the entire Forest had come out to rock, and as he took it back with classics like "Finally Moving," I was glad I hadn’t missed it. Then, finally, I skipped back up through the woods to catch the crown jewel of the entire weekend: Beats Antique.

The trio’s signature combination of world music, performance, eclectic electric stylings and live instrumentation was an unforgettable closing to an unforgettable weekend. While the crowd danced wildly to the sensory eastern rhythms, the Mayhem Marching Band contest winners joined them onstage for a rousing cover of "Get Lucky" - strangely, the first Daft Punk remix I’d heard yet.

After the final note died away, the glittering, glowing festivalgoers stood staring at the stage for longer than they should have. Would there be an encore? A surprise performance? Another round? Please, just give us more! But alas, it was not to be. And so, the people of the Forest trudged through the woods and back to their campsites for the final time.

As we made our last exit through the gates, a good-natured police officer yelled out into the crowd “HAS ANYONE SEEN CARL? CALL THE TIPLINE!”

The retreating festivalgoers burst into laughter, forgetting for a moment that the incredible four days were at an end. As I snuggled into my pink sleeping bag, sleep claimed me faster than I thought possible. I blinked, and it was morning. Time to load up the car and head back home.

Wrap Up

Electric Forest Festival was, without a doubt, the best festival I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. Not just because of the unparalleled lineup, fabulous location, incredible sets, and weather, but because of the people who attend. 30,000 good-natured folk who love swinging in hammocks and dancing gather in this place once a year to partake in the magic and wonder only a festival like this can inspire. It’s a kind of contagious goodness that fills you up while leaving you hungry for more.

As we packed up our tents and gear and headed back to the world of hot showers and real mattresses, we each left a small piece of our hearts behind among the branches and sweet smell of cedar. I’ll no doubt be returning to this place for another year of adventure and music - because I’m absolutely certain there’s nowhere else quite like it.

To Insomniac Events and Madison House - thank you, thank you, thank you.

As for you - I’ll see you in the Forest in 2014.

For more photos of Electric Forest 2013, head to Cal Millner's EF Flickr Stream.

Follow @HCWeiss on Twitter

See Also:

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