Three days at the wondrous festival in Rothbury can feel like a year anywhere else. Local Spins writer Ryan Boldrey immersed himself in Electric Forest and found some surprises. Column, photo gallery.
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Prior to this weekend it had been 10 years since I set foot in Sherwood Forest.
To say a lot has changed would be a complete understatement. Rothbury ’09 this is not.
Having seen countless photos, watched video recaps annually and talked to a number of friends who had gone more than once since Rothbury transitioned into Electric Forest, I had an idea what to expect, however.
Yes, it truly is a place like no other.
Life-changing for some, a weekend escape from reality for others, a time to come together as a music-loving community for all.
And Sherwood Forest: a spectacle in and of itself that has had people coming back year after year as it continuously evolves.
“Both years of Rothbury, I feel like people were coming here for the music. And the forest, Sherwood Forest, was like the added bonus to coming and seeing all these acts that you would travel super far for,” commented Bear Yovino, one of the production managers who’s been on staff since the first Rothbury Music Festival in 2008.
“Now I feel like with the evolution of Electric Forest, that people are traveling and making that super-long haul, even from out of the country, to come for Sherwood Forest and then the music ends up being that extra bonus. The forest today is not what the forest was during the days of Rothbury. It was so early then that I don’t think anyone even had the vision that the forest would grow to the extent that it has now with all of the lasers, the lights, artwork and installations. It just gets bigger every year.”
The spaces around Sherwood’s own stages — The Observatory, Honeycomb and Grand Artique — continue to evolve and take on a life of their own filled with interactive offerings such as a luminarium to honor those who have passed on, a tea house, hammocks, sensory-touch activities and Trading Post where festival-goers leave something behind and walk away with something new to them.
THE FOREST FAMILY: POSITIVE, UPBEAT VIBES
But it’s the community, the Forest Family, that is at the pulse of it all.
“I’ve been to so many other festivals and I’ve never felt an energy like I do here,” said 24-year old Heather Kopacko, of Denver, Colo., attributing the “people and vibes” to the reason she has traveled three consecutive years to experience Forest.
“Everybody is just so positive and upbeat and so loving. … I love how diverse all the music is as well, it has something for everybody no matter what time of day it is, and I really appreciate that, they kind of play to every flavor.”
There aren’t many places, after all, where you can catch sets from The String Cheese Incident, Lynx, Bassnectar, John Craigie, Quinn XCII and Lee Fields & The Expressions over the course of a weekend and get to experience them at venues unlike any you’ll find anywhere else.
And with seven stages spread throughout the Forest grounds, people are destined to discover new music when they come. While that holds true with most festivals, Forest practically guarantees it given the proximity of its stages to one another.
But what is most amazing about Forest, is the freedom and the openness that people seem to share. Good vibes are everywhere you turn, and respect for others, regardless of sexuality, and the extreme comfort and openness of it, is not something that is easy to pull off with 45,000 people. But the Forest does it, and its community gets it.
‘ABSOLUTE EXPRESSION OF CREATIVITY’
“I’ve been to Bonnaroo, was at the first two Rothburys, been to a bunch of Dead shows, Lollapalooza and others, and none of it touches this in terms of absolute expression of creativity and the absolute openness about sexuality,” said Holland resident Greg Lam, attending his first Forest.
“Watching people be completely vulnerable in front of everybody and expressing every little quirk they have, and nobody seems to judge anybody. All the social constructs are gone. And while everyone is taking in all the eye candy everywhere, everybody is OK with it. You don’t see people being out of hand about it and it purely doesn’t matter if you are tall, large or small. Everyone fits in.”
There are places for those battling depression to come together, places for women to empower one another and there was even an opportunity for redheads to come together in a “Gingers Exclusive Party” that was dubbed “a toast to the real 2 percent.”
AMID A PSYCHEDELIC SPECTACLE, SOME DRUG-FREE SUPPORT
And in a place where drugs and alcohol are so prevalent, as is the case at most festivals and concerts, there’s also the Jellyfish amd the Hummingbirds. The support groups for String Cheese fans and Bassnectar fans allow those battling addiction to lean on one another to enjoy what brought them to the festival in the first place without needing to fall back on an old crutch or stimulant to enhance the experience.
Norm Kittleson, who also initiated Greensky Bluegrass’s clean and sober group (Camp Cleansky), used drugs for the last time 11 years ago at the original Rothbury, after years of experimentation and addiction.
When asked what it’s like to experience a “psychedelic playground” like Electric Forest that in so many ways appeals to individuals under the influence of psychedelics and other drugs, the longtime Jellyfish member from Whitehall insisted he’s had “some of (his) most peak experiences at Electric Forest” while completely sober.
“I’ve had experiences that are just absolutely intense, totally sensory-expanding experiences that usually happen during a music set or in a part of the forest where there is some really interesting visual phenomenon occurring,” he said, adding that the festival does a great job at making that fantasy a reality.
“They create this completely immersive experience and try to provide you with a stimulation for all of your senses and they, even though it is a bit commercial, I think they really make an effort to create an atmosphere for people to go there and to come out recharged and wanting to take that energy out into the world and make the world a better place as a result.
“Some are obviously there just to party, but I go there to be with my tribe. I’ve been there every year. These are people that I only see at Forest and I care about them and I love them.”
It’s that love that keeps people coming back. And of course, that Forest.
Oh, and String Cheese isn’t such a bad house band either, and yes, they sure know how to throw a party.
More Local Spins coverage, video of Electric Forest: Electric Forest 2019 opens with teeming throngs, sun, heavy beats, funk and fun
PHOTO GALLERY: Electric Forest: The People
Photos by Anna Sink, John Sinkevics, Ryan Boldrey, Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC