‘Nobody cares what you do here.’ That was the theme as Electric Forest returned to Rothbury with wildly garbed attendees and bass-heavy romps — our 20th most popular story of 2023. Recap, photos, video.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, Local Spins kicks off the Top 20 countdown of its most popular stories of the year, starting with opening-day coverage of Electric Forest in Rothbury. Scroll down for photo galleries and a video from that June 23 post. By the way, passes to Electric Forest 2024 — returning June 20-23 — went on sale Friday, and many ticket categories sold out quickly. More info here.
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Great fantasy writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien embraced magical forests such as Wood Between the Worlds and Fangorn Forest – enchanting gateways to mysterious, remarkable and immersive places.
For upwards of 50,000 festivalgoers, that same sort of extraordinary locale came to life in musically inebriating fashion at Electric Forest in Rothbury, an opening day and night at the internationally renowned celebration filled with thunderous music, nonpareiled art displays and a jubilant attitude.
And frankly, neither Tolkien nor Lewis could ever have imagined the wondrous, outlandish and other-worldly kingdom of wildly costumed inhabitants and fervent performers happily flaunting their freedom from normalcy amid sunshine and temperatures in the mid-80s.
“Nobody cares what you do here,” one festivalgoer aptly put it, surrounded by friends garbed in glitzy, rainbow-like attire.
Indeed, the 11th edition of West Michigan’s Electric Forest reinforced the communal, upbeat vibe of previous festivals, with attendees from across the globe embracing its singular spirit.
“I’m on a festival kick,” said Darin Darnell, 43, of Austin, Texas, who already has attended several festivals outside his home state in 2023 and ranks Electric Forest as the best after only one day.
“It’s No. 1 of all the events I’ve been to thus far. It’s the people. It’s such a good vibe. At other festivals, there’s this judging of what you wear and who you are. That doesn’t happen here.”
A group of University of Michigan alums hanging out in the ever-elaborate and artfully decorated Sherwood Forest called it a friendship-building community unlike any other. Said one: “You can’t put it into words what a special place it is.”
A first-timer from New York raved that it’s all about that atmosphere: “It’s sick.”
ODESZA, SOFI TUKKER & OTHER HIGHLIGHTS: ‘NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS’
While first-day, electronic music headliners Odesza, Jamie XX, Sofi Tukker and Gorgon City certainly revved up ebullient fans during their respective bass-heavy sets, much of Electric Forest’s true allure, as usual, rested amid the side stages and intoxicating nooks and crannies of Sherwood Forest on Double JJ Resort’s sprawling festival grounds.
There was the soulful R&B and pop set by New York’s Danielle Ponder on the Observatory Stage, drawing a jam-packed crowd dancing and twirling in the sunshine.
Or the unique jam-rock strains of Boston-based Neighbor, who entertained a laid-back bunch inside the Carousel Club in early evening, or the impressive British alt-rock/hip hop/pop outfit Sad Night Dynamite that closed out that stage with a high-energy set.
Or DJ Lis at the cozy, fun Grand Artique stage at the Trading Post smack dab in the middle of the woods, enhancing her set with furious drumming.
While enhanced security – including the presence of a K-9 unit and Michigan State Police personnel in flak jackets – was obvious to returning festivalgoers (along with exceptionally dusty conditions, thanks to Michigan’s intense drought), it didn’t hinder or affect the lively, affable milieu, even as crowds swelled when evening fell, cheering the likes of Sofi Tukker and Jamie XX.
But the festival left little doubt on opening night that one act had created the biggest buzz: the closing, jam-packed Ranch Arena spectacle of Odesza, with many fans sporting Odesza T-shirts or the band’s signature symbol.
Unleashing a new pyrotechnics-lasers-and-video stage show that debuted recently at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, the Washington-bred electronic music duo electrified an audience that was already amped up, creating a psychedelic sea of bobbing totems, waving arms and writhing bodies.
In the end, part of the Sofi Tukker crew may have said it best during a Ranch Arena romp: “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
PHOTO GALLERIES: Electric Forest in Rothbury (Day 1)
Photos by Eric Stoike