Local Spins writer Ryan Boldrey made the most of his first Electric Forest experience and came up with his Top 10 impressions from a wondrous weekend in the woods of Rothbury, plus photos.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Veteran Local Spins writer Ryan Boldrey attended the Rothbury festival a decade ago, and finally ventured back to the Michigan woods for his first Electric Forest experience last weekend. Local Spins asked him to reflect on the things that impressed him the most about #EF2019, something he described as “A Walk Back Down Electric Avenue: Top Ten Impressions from the weekend.” As he put it, “it wasn’t even the least bit challenging to come up with a Top 10 list” (in no particular order) for a festival that drew more than 45,000 for hundreds of sets on stages scattered across the sprawling Double JJ Resort. Check out his picks and ogle the images by Local Spins photographer Anna Sink.
ELECTRIC FOREST 2019: THE LOCAL SPINS TOP 10
SHERWOOD FOREST: For a first-timer, this was something. I remember seeing some evolution beginning to take shape between Years One and Two of Rothbury (2008 and 2009) and had seen videos and photos over the years after Electric Forest had begun, but actually experiencing Sherwood in all of its glory was something special, and truly one of the main things that sets this festival apart from others around the country. From the serene setting of the luminarium to The Trading Post in the midst of it all, the hammocks, silent disco, and countless other hands-on experiences scattered through the lit-up wooded setting that’s dotted with costumed characters interacting with attendees, just mentioning these things does not even do the experience justice. In addition, the three venues in the midst of the Forest — The Honeycomb, The Observatory and The Grand Artique — are unlike anything you’ll find anywhere.
THE CHEESY GOODNESS: The host band threw a curve ball at fans after years of Friday-Sunday main stage performances, and took things inside the Jubilee tent for a Thursday set, where they treated early arrivers to an absolutely memorable night that, while intertwining teases of other jams throughout of the set, consisted of just one long “Rosie” jam. Showing off the electronic side of some of the band’s music, The String Cheese Incident set the stage for drummers Michael Travis and Jason Hann’s EOTO set later that night on the Sherwood Court stage as well as the plethora of EDM beats that would overtake the Forest throughout the weekend. After a Friday headlining set at The Ranch bowl that was highlighted by cuts such as “Outside and Inside,” “Texas” and a set-opening “Vertigo,” the latter of which was one of the songs they had toyed with night one, the Colorado-based sextet put on an absolute spectacle Saturday night. The band’s curtain call has become one not to miss over the years and the bowl at The Ranch was packed as lights, lasers, video and fireworks overtook the airspace. Acrobats, a giant caterpillar and huge clear diamond-shaped inflatables weaved their way through the countless totems spread through the audience and the diamonds were lit for an amazing take on Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” The first stanza of Saturday also featured a free-flowing sit-in from hip hop performer Lynx during the set-closing “Let’s Go Outside.”
ANOTHER SATURDAY SPECTACLE: I admittedly had never seen Bassnectar before. And while I was a little disappointed to realize that yes, many of their fans do still spend the Cheese set that leads up to their favorite act’s performance sitting on the ground near the rail with their backs to the stage (and even overheard a few comments that Bassnectar deserved the fireworks not the band that built the festival), I discovered absolutely zero bad vibes once the deafening beats were under way. The laser light show that took place over my head, too, was one of the absolute finest I have ever witnessed, and had I been on anything to enhance that light show and the pulsing music that drove it, I might have discovered a whole new type of nirvana.
FIRST TIME THRILLS: There were a few other acts on my list to see that I had never caught, and 16-year-old Brandon “Taz” Niederauer was near the top. The guitar whiz reminds me of an electrified, jam rock version of a young Billy Strings and dropped more than a few jaws with his Friday afternoon set at The Observatory. Other artists I caught for the first time that I had been anticipating were folk singer John Craige and blues rockers Southern Avenue, both performing memorable sets in the Forest on Saturday, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, which jammed out the Carousel Club late night Saturday. My big surprise of the weekend was the soulful sounds of Lee Fields & The Expressions at the Carousel Club on Thursday night.
THE HANGAR AND CAROUSEL CLUB: Speaking of the Carousel Club, this indoor tented club was unlike any other venue at the Forest (although that can be said for a few of the others too). Walking into it, one passes through a strip of 1950s-esque shops where people can get tattoos, a haircut, braids, see a matchmaker, go play cards, mini-golf or shoot pool, or begin an adventure quest. Once entering the venue, you feel like you could easily be in Miami in the 1980s with giant palms and soul music. In addition to catching Fields’ set at the club on opening night, I also was fortunate to see The Nth Power present an Earth, Wind and Fire set late night Friday.
THE FOREST IS HUGE, BUT REALLY NOT THAT HUGE: Upon arrival, I was clearly overwhelmed by the mammoth size of it all. I was put in GA camping in the farthest reaches possible in Camp Blueberry and took a shuttle to the grounds as opposed to making the trek on foot as I wanted desperately to make it in time to see Cheese’s opening night set. Once I got inside though, I realized the distance between the eight stages wasn’t that bad. I was greeted by the EDM stage, Tripolee, where Texas-bred Riot Ten was leading the crowd in what appeared to be a full-on tribal experience. I danced my way through the crowd and past the gigantic bowl of The Ranch stage and then entered the woods. Upon later checking out the grounds, the three stages in the Forest are all near enough to one another that you can hop between them in a matter of mere minutes, and on the other side of the Forest, the trio of venues to the north of the grounds are also in close proximity. Only once all weekend, during Craige’s set, did I hear over-bleed from another set that overpowered what I was trying to watch. The uniqueness of all the stages is truly something to behold.
THE FESTIVAL IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT, MUSICALLY SPEAKING: I’ve heard from many who have never been that, “It’s too much electronic music” for them. But if you look at my aforementioned acts — and I still hadn’t mentioned Desmond Jones, The Grateful Shred or Lettuce, which were other highlights — you’ll notice I didn’t mention much on the EDM side. That said, its presence is beyond great. The ability to catch all sorts of music and check out different genres is truly awesome. That goes for EDM fans checking out jam bands as well. I caught some of Polish Ambassador, EOTO, STS9, Gramatik, Quin XCII and a touch of Gorgon City, at least three of those I wouldn’t have walked across the street to see before this festival.
THE FOREST FAMILY: I talked about this in my column that Local Spins ran on Sunday, but this was one of the highlights for me. Musically speaking, I exist mostly in the jamgrass world, where music family is truly family, and those were the friends I spent a lot of my festival hanging out with when I wasn’t wandering the grounds by myself. However, for a festival of this size to see absolute strangers taking care of each other the way they did was really cool. I saw no occurrences of sexual harassment and only heard of one instance of it taking place all weekend and security reportedly intervened before anything escalated. The support for those struggling with depression (check out the “To Write Love on Her Arms” nonprofit) and those battling addiction (thank you Jellyfish and Hummingbirds for your presence) was awesome. The way people interact with one another and the magical connections that I witnessed between individuals who were complete strangers upon arrival is something I won’t soon forget, and will work to carry with me out into the world.
PEOPLE WATCHING: The photo galleries say it all. There just is no other place quite like this in terms of people watching. From the characters in the forest to the festival-goers themselves, outfits at EF2019 were on point.
THE FOREST STAFF: I spent a bit of time hanging out with some of those working the festival. A few never left their posts to see any music, and a few others who after putting in 12-hour shifts (36 hours in three days with one day off), caught as much as they could. These people are the people that make this thing go, and without them, the festival could and would never happen. A tip of the hat to all of them for their good energy and vibes, as well as their extreme patience.
Check out more Local Spins coverage, photos and video highlights from Electric Forest 2019:
PHOTO GALLERY: Electric Forest 2019
Photos by Anna Sink