As I’m finally able to shake off the cobwebs and finish this review, the familiar feeling of nostalgia gets very comfortable all over my body. Another year of Electric Forest come and gone. For those who made the journey, you already realize you’ve left a large portion of your brains’ serotonin on a hammock in the forest, on the floor at Bassnectar, or on the wall of an immaculate handicapped porta potty somewhere deep in the camp grounds. You are also aware that it will not be returned to you until next year. This past weekend at JJ Ranch will go down as having been one of the most impressive and memorable weekends in festival history. Read on for why…..
The best way to encapsulate the idea behind Electric Forest is that it’s a pureaffirmation of human freedom, joy, and self-expression. The same might be said about a lot of music festivals, but to experience it in Rothbury Michigan is truly to experience it for the first time. Never before has a music festival been able to deliver such widespread and unadulterated appreciation and joy to so manydie-hard experiential music lovers. For those of you lucky enough to have been there before, you know exactly what to expect the second you pull through the gates welcoming you back to JJ Ranch. For those of you lucky enough to have graced the Ranch for the first time, I have no doubt you’ve each already bragged to 50 friends that it’s the closest you’ve been to heaven at a festival. In an endless sea of clever, well produced, and eclectic music festivals, the Electric Forest crew somehow manages to pack the most remarkably well-tailored experience enhancing aesthetics into one monster of a venue leaving every competitor in their dust. The level to which EFF raises the bar is so astonishingly high that attending other festivals in an attempt to get a glimpse of what’s possible here is a complete and utter waste of time.You’ve truly got to see it to believe it. The most comprehensive and eloquently written review could not do justice to the sheer magic this place holds. From the perspective of this Knight of Sherwood and the thousands like me, Electric Forest and the JJ Ranch are respectively the best festival and festival venue that the United States has to offer.
One of the major factors to Electric Forests’ greatness has been the diversity of its lineup. This year more than last, artists spanned dozens of genres giving festivalgoers an expansive catalogue of options throughout the day and night. Another thing that makes Electric Forest great is that the experience is equally about the music, the festival, and the community. You can enjoy the forest or any of the shows fromanywhere and still have the time of your life without feeling like you missed a show. Why not enjoy an entire set of music from a hammock in Sherwood Forest? I can think of worse places to be than swinging between two of the happiest looking trees on earth…and there are many to choose from…
The vast majority of my attention each year at EFF is paid to 2 things- the music of the String Cheese Incident, and the magic of the Sherwood Forest. If you’re looking for a play by play of the Steve Aoki set- grow up.
The only must see show that took place on Thursday was EoTo, which was top notch. It was a mysteriously down-tempo performance for Travis and Haan, but amazing nonetheless. I would also like to go on record saying that I think Conspirator is one of the most hateable bands in music. I wish festivals would stop booking them. They don’t deserve to play at Electric Forest, and I hope they don’t again.
After getting maybe 2 or three hours of sleep on Thursday at the most, I awoke Friday with a serious mental erection for the day ahead. For me, Friday wound up being the best day music wise. Our group mobilized pretty quickly, and headed for the forest by about 2:45. Considering the amount of drinking that went down between fleeing our tents from heat and leaving the campsite, I will say that 2:45 was an ambitious departure time. Our first stage destination was the Forest Stage for Kyle Hollingsworth’s Brewru Experience. Fans enjoyed free samples of two of Kyle’s on-site-brewed craft beers- both delicious. Since our entire group was already here, we decided to set up our hammocks and relax near the front of the stage for Wala- a purple haired one woman show and producer of some very interesting bass heavy middle eastern tribal beats. Several bags of wine later, we realized that one of our favorite acts of the weekend; The Infamous Stringdusters, would be playing on the Forest Stage shortly. Coincidentally, we already happened to be set up less than 10 feet from the stage with benches and a hammock. Perfect! Stringdusters kicked serious ass as usual. Highlight was their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone” towards the end of the show. The time was nay. String Cheese was set to take the stage, and the energy in the forest was, well….electric. Friday’s SCI show was the best set of music all weekend. First set highlights were “Smile”, “Close Your Eyes”, and the “Orange Blossom Special” with a sick “Caravan” sandwiched right in the middle of it. The end of the second set was one gigantic highlight reel. “Climb>Rhythm of the Road > Colliding > Doin’ My Time > Valley of the Jig > Way Back Home > Texas” didn’t even give you a second to breathe or relax. “Breathe and relax next week I thought to myself….time do dance.” JJ Ranch is Cheese’s house, and this epic second set definitely set a major precedent for the rest of the weekend. The “Desert Dawn” encore on its own signifies one of the main reasons people come to Electric Forest year after year. Enter a new concept – “Cheese-Step.” Cheese Step is categorized by a completely random and spontaneous explosion of freakishly bass heavy dubstep near the middle or end of an epic Cheese jam. In this case Desert Dawn got Cheese Stepped. Last year, it was Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” right before set break on Saturday night. Electric Forest is a music festival primarily focused on electronic music, but Cheese packs in over 12 hours of music into 3 days giving organic music lovers a serious belly full of what they crave before sending them off into the nighttime madness of Sherwood Forest. What better way to do it than to blast everyone in the face with over 3 minutes of unexpected bass madness?
Other highlights from Friday included a great set from STS9, Thievery Corporation, and Datsik with special guests. Not sure what Steve Aoki was doing there, but I heard Excision came out with him for a hot second too. Why the hell wasn’t he on the bill this year? Excision’s post rainstorm show last year was one of the best of the entire weekend. That dude definitely belongs at Electric Forest.
Saturday got off to a great start as well, albeit a later one due to an incredibly late night of raucous campground nonsense. The Stringdusters took the stage at 3:15, and we made it there for the second half. Bummer, but you’ve always got to factor collateral damage into your game plan at these hoe downs. The set was great as always, after which we found our way into the forest for some R and R. I also wanted to make mention of a band I first heard playing in the campgrounds at last years EFF- Dumptruck Butterlips. One of the more aesthetically pleasing and unusual sounding bands of the weekend, they are currently in the middle of their first major tour in promotion of their album “Sweet & Dirty. They would love to stay with you, smoke all your cigarettes, and eat all your food as they so charmingly proclaim in their song “Gypsy Hippies”. They have an awesome sound, a righteous message, and are definitely worth checking out. Not to mention, they’re sexy, and practically invented hooping. We stayed put in the forest for a while and waited for the Nadis Warriors to take the stage. I hadn’t seen them before, but I’ve been meaning to for a long time. They did not disappoint, and put on a very interesting and enjoyable set. I will definitely make a point of seeing them again whenever possible. Although Cheese’s Saturday set was amazing and housed the only staged firework show of the weekend, it just didn’t quite top Friday’s. Last year, each night’s shows got progressively better, but this year, Friday was the clear winner. By no means am I saying Cheese wasn’t the titts, but it truly is difficult for a band to play as awesome a show as they did on Friday. First set highlights were the jam-packed “Rosie” opener, and “Wake Up > Just One Story” to close the set. Second set highlights included “Rivertrance”, the annual “This Must Be The Place” by the Talking Heads (A song SCI has covered every time they’ve played at JJ Ranch), and “On The Road”. The “Ring of Fire > Johnny Cash” encore was definitely the musical precipice of the evening. Did Johnny Cash smoke hash??? Cheese doesn’t think so.
Highlights of nighttime music included another great performance by STS9. As I walked past the oddly placed and bar-mitzvah DJ-esque sounding Major Lazer set, I asked a close friend and fellow Knight of Sherwood “Why would our comrades at EFF would employ such nonsensical noise to play on a major stage?” His response was simply “To keep those morons out of our forest while we’re in it.” That made me feel much better, and then we took off for the campgrounds in search of a well equipped handicapped porta potty to houseour 12+ person jam session. Yeah, that actually happened. A few times. The acoustics were legendary. If you were lucky enough to catch any of that, I welcome any and all compliments on how fucking badass that was. If it scared you, you’re welcome. Shout out to the porta potty cleaning crew by the way- those things were pristine!!!
Sunday is always the hardest day because you can’t shake the fact that you’re leaving in the morning. As we awoke from barely any sleep, we began to take inventory of our leftover resources. “Everything must go” seemed to be the name of the game since we had all flown, and had to use or lose the remainder of our supplies. As I fried up the last package of 24 cheese dogs and jettisoned them at friends and strangers, we all knew it was game time. Since this is the closest we were going to get to the 4th of July, it was also (in true American fashion) shotgun time. In under 2 hours, the remainder of our American flag adorned Budweiser’s and food were annihilated by a pack of hungry and thirsty Forest Fiends (my friends). We headed into the forest for the last time at around 4 PM giving us plenty of time to pack and prepareour rental cars for the journey home. There was certainly no reason to waste any of the nighttime packing to leave. Sherwood Forest at night is probably the most loony surreal place I know about, and anyone who spends their precious festival time elsewhere, BY LAW- must flat out suck.
The Travelin’ Mccoury’s & Keller Williams put on a great day time set at the Ranch Stage followed by a spectacular as always set from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk- one of the best high energy funk bands in music today. By the time String Cheese took the stage, I was already starting to miss Electric Forest, and look forward to next year. It’s safe to say I look forward to the next year’s festival the second I step foot on the premises. Ladies and gentlemen, this place is THAT DAMN SWEET. Sunday’s Cheese show was jam packed with feel good tunes that kept everyone smiling and giving thanks for the weekened we’d all just had. The setlist perfectly matched the weather and the vibe, and Cheese delivered another spectacular performance. First set highlights included “Barstool > Porta Potty”, “Best Feeling”, “Let’s Go Outside > Colorado Bluebird Sky”. As second set began, the end of the festival was really beginning to draw near. The “Jellyfish” opener was much anticipated, and the set kept getting better and better. Other highlights included “Bumpin Reel”, “Joyful Sound”, “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”, and “Howard”. The “Could You Be Loved” encore (Bob Marley) was one of my favorite moments of the weekend. String Cheese is the perfect band to play a song like this because they add so much depth to it, and really make it their own. One of my favorite moments of the weekend, but truly bittersweet. After Cheese left the stage there were hugs, cries, smiles, and other gestures acknowledging the awesomeness of the weekend traded amongst the crowd. Little did everyone know, Bassnectar was soon to take the stage and basically rip everyone’s heads off with a chain saw. For those of you who’ve never seen him, he is one of the most energetic performers in music today. The Electric Forest group particularly loves him, and it’s no wonder why. From afar, his performance looks like it’s in its natural element there. In the middle of an EFF Bassnectar show, it’s as close to recreating the moment the universe was created as human beings can depict through light, noise, dance, and general weirdness. I have no doubt he’ll be there every year- shaking hands and kissing babies….then chewing them up and spitting them out through his speakers. BBBBVVVWomp. It really is too bad that MiMosa was scheduled to play during String Cheese, and I have no question that his crowd must have suffered immensely. This was the only real bone I had to pick as far as scheduling went this year, so worse things have happened. Big Gigantic’s epic closeout performance could be heard throughout the entire festival, and everyone in attendance left very satisfied. This was a huge spot for them to fill and the general consensus was that they slayed it. Congratulations to Big Gigantic.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my review of Electric Forest 2012. If you went and are reading this for the purposes of chasing the dragon- I’ll see you in a year. If you didn’t make it, and are thinking about going next year, stop thinking. Buy your tickets the day they go on sale. Sell your call, get a job, sell your parents….no excuses. If I was tasked with teaching an alien life form how humans have fun, this is exactly where I would bring them. I think about Electric Forest every single day of the year, and once you see it, you will too.