In Michigan, the first thing that catches your eye is the lush forests that blanket the land. Moving up north into the town of Rothbury, these forests were ever more noticeable. Tucked away in this small town, on Double JJ Ranch a different kind of forest would be lighting up the tree's, sky's and souls of all who came for 4th of July weekend. Illuminating lights, unique art installations, gong meditation circles were the draw to this forest by nighttime. By day it would be filled with thousands of hammocks in the tree's for those looking for a cool snooze out of the hot July sun and of course the amazing musical artists performing. Those artists included headlining appearances by String Cheese Incident, Tiesto, Pretty Lights, Bassnector, REO Speedwagon, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Stephen Marley, The New Deal, Lotus and much more. With five different stage setups there was a lot going on, some stages focused on early afternoon sets while others would rage till the break of the next day. Besides the music and the very electric Sherwood forest at the festival there were numerous other attractions that created a draw. Activities such as a life size Mousetrap performance, an opportunity to go to the Gold Rush water park, a championship golf course, swimming at Big Wildcat Lake, horseback riding and there was even a glow in the dark disc golfing course on site. The whole weekend was packed with things to do and music to see. This festival had a variety of attributes to make America's birthday a unforgettable celebration.
Thursday June 30th
On the first day of the festival, carloads filed in from all over, attendees from California to Canada to New York and everywhere in between. Waiting at the gates there was a welcoming ranch feel straight from the get go. The bright day led into a cloudy evening as the gates opened to the stages . The venue area opened around six in the evening. Lynx, the first musical act to hit the stage came out showing off her innovative skills a mix between trip-hop with linked live instrumental and vocals it was very fun to watch, departing from her set, the night was young and many more acts were about to hit the stage.
In the main stage Ranch Area, Emmitt-Nershi Band struck their string to step up the country feeling that was suiting for the ranch environment. With of a lot musical experience put together between those who stood on the stage, this band shows true talent in progressive string music. Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon and Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident, combine together with Johnny Grubb and Andy Thorn. Performing songs that including “New Country Blues,” off their new album as well as a String Cheese Incident cover of ,”Texas.” Later in the set, Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident accompanied the stage to add his unique and amazing percussion skills to the modern country mix. Projecting positive chords to a swaying audience this band created the perfect festival setting as dusk came upon Sherwood Forest. As the set dwindled down the energy was just turning up.
Anticipation was lifting as the SCI tease continued when Kyle Hollingsworth took stage to emphasize his skills on the keys. The talent that Hollingsworth has musically flows off his fingertips as they pass on the keys. The set spread across a spectrum of musical genres, keeping a positive beat to get the crowd hyped up. Keeping with a flow of appearances, Jason Hann stepped onto the stage to join in to the set. Hollingsworth is a genuine musician, energy rises whenever a rift is thrown out. The band covers a touch of several genres, jam, jazz, hip hop and rock were all present to grasp a variety of tastes. Coming to a close on stage the band sent the Electric Forest a wakeup call as the sun set and the lights were beginning to appear.
Walking through the Electric Forest there was a sensation that seemed to extend from the tree roots. With tapestries with multitudes of colors extending above between the trees. Shapes, different hues and hammocks were the view as you looked up threw the tree line. Varieties of canvas and paintings as well as natural artistic collages were collected as you drifted through the woods. Notably the “Reincarnation” art installation in the very center and heart of the Sherwood Forest, where re-used scrap metals amongst various other material created an amazing place to chill out from the busyness of the festival. Lights electrified the woods as they eliminated the whole area. The forest was a sensational attribute to this festival, definitely nothing else like it out there, it was a collection of passionate interests of the love for nature and music.
As Toubab Krewe was on stage in the heart of their set, the clouds that had been forming in the sky began to open up on the attendees, an intense thunderstorm sent a different electrifying feel as it shook the festival grounds. The storm simmered down into the evening as the first night of the festival continued with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and then an amazing set by Lotus.
Lotus streamed out electrifying music. Two brother's Instrumental talents that populate this band amongst the talented drummer Mike Green and gifted guitarist Mike Rempel, composing masterpieces with a variety of different sounds and tempos playing a fantastic “Flower Sermon” with an amazing climax that brought the rain soaked attendees to the next level. Lotus did that and more flowing threw a funky, trancy version of “Jump Off,” a much loved song of the crowd as they cheered. The true showing of musicianship came out when the monitor's gave out due to electrical complications and the rain, but Lotus played on threw for ten minutes showing off their passion for making music, this is what bands should be all about. The music drifted into the early morning as the Electric Forest was bumping, a whole weekend still was in the making to look forward to.
Friday July 1st
Awaking on the first morning, there was something summer like missing. It was cold and wet a bit rainy but none the less the attendees were ready to rage the music. Early afternoon the likings
of Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band as well as JJ Grey and Mofro took to the venue area. Perfect for an early afternoon set was the location of the Forest Stage. Shade, art and music what more could be asked of a festival, especially by the afternoon since the sun ended up peeking out. Van Ghost from Chicago was the icing on the cake in the forest that afternoon. Soulful, moving instrumentals combined with passionate, soulful feminine vocals to flock in attendees of the fest, it was a captivating set, this band describes the variety of talents that can be acquired in music. The lead guitarist, Michael Harrison Berg expressed true gratitude through his vocals when combining with lead feminine vocalist, Jennifer Hartswick. This band had a lot to check out and just one more buildup as the day went by.
Through the forest and past more captivating art deco in the trees the Ranch arena was preparing for a reggae eruption. Stephan Marley threw down a jumping set, tight dreads falling as he hops around the stage singing known favorites of, none other than his father's music, Bob Marley. It was a positive vibration to hear, “Three Little Birds,” and “Punky Reggae Party.” The set included the cutest dancer on stage, a sweet little reggae rocker boy who was bursting with energy waving a Rastafarian flag, which actually, I found out to be his son. The set concluded but the power behind the music of the name Marley was carried with those walking away from the stage.
Switching up the beat walking to Sherwood Court stage, The New Deal burst out with up tempo, instrumental beats and shocking tones that made you move. The music was diverse electronica, with drum and bass beats that got the Electric forest to rattle. With the dashes of numerous musical genres spread at the forest it was the time of the night to combine cumulus genres in one bands set. It was sad to realize that this band was soon breaking up, it was a true treat and honor to witness this great band that had begun a new sensation of what they dubbed to be, “live progressive break beat house”, which in all was a wonderful creation that many bands today have been influenced by. We can only hope that Darren Shearer, Dan Kurtz and Jamie Shields soon come together again to make wonderful music as they always have.
With the hype of Independence Day celebration there was also the collection of Incidents over the weekend that brought in a crowd. String Cheese Incident performing was an amazing collection of energy that always tops off. That’s pretty hard to do since these guys seem to go bigger and bigger each passing performance. After some time on solo ventures that each member pursued, coming together pushed out a phenomenal energy each and every set over the weekend, the first night of course was an introduction to the weekend or as Michael Kang put it, “it’s only the beginning.” Opening with a literal title for the moment, “Best Feeling.” The first set sent out a message to get moving as it closed with, “On The Road.” with anticipation the band took a break but came back with a set that threw the weekend into a positive spiral. Songs played included,” Resume Man,” “San Jose,” Shantytown” and non-other than a rendition of “Tom Sawyer,” by Rush. Mixing in such diversity in their music, rock, jazz, blues, electronica, exotic; and the list could keep going. The night was passing as the Cheesiness came to a close for the evening, whether it was the dancing mushrooms joining them on stage or the steller set list they teased attendees with, SCI pumped things up for the first night and set everyone out into the forest dizziness with excitement and happiness.
The night was stimulating, visually and of course musically. As Galactic came out on the Sherwood forest stage, a funky sensation was sensed as the band broke down the beats and hypes up the crowd. The forest was popping with the lights in the back of their performance. Brass instruments creating a bluesy feel while the vocals called out to the ,”night people.” This set was a thrill and walking into the Electric Forest from their set extended the funky smiles for many.
As the night turned into an early raging morning, bands kept bumping out the music to those who were moving. With the beats flying from the Tiesto stage it was hard to stay still. Vibrations were sent literally through the forest as the renowned DJ performed. Coming to the final sets of the second day, Break Science performed while Cirque De Womp's Ultraviolet Experience put on a memorable display in the forest. The night closed out at the Wagon Wheel area, which was more so a lake house with a raging summer party populating it, the day was quite a success, as the next day would have to top.
Saturday July 2nd
Waking up the way a summer festival should, with the sun blaring down and getting you out of the tent to dance to the beats about to unfold. The Saturday of Electric Forest was a highlight. Starting with a yoga session with the option of hoop workshops or some Boulder Beer with Kyle Hollingsworth. Keller Williams took to the stage in early afternoon, breaking out his guitar riffs and whistles mixed with loops. Always an upbeat and impressive performance and friends Michael Kang and Keith Mosley of The String Cheese Incident playing songs, “Chillan Like a Villan” with the Violin of Kang threw a very bluegrass version of this song and “Freaker by the Speaker”, a wonderful set to enjoy the sunshine.
There is some music that is without a doubt timeless. At Electric Forest there was REO Speedwagon to bring you to the heart of rock and roll from the 80's. It’s hard to conceive the thought of a band being together for over Forty-Five years and still rock out the music that made them who they were today. The set was outspoken on topical issues that face everyone today such as the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and connecting them to their times and Vietnam War, brought a communal setting showing that even though time separated most of us from the band we were still connected through issues of the day. Also speaking out about the fact that some of our parents were listening to them around the same age as we are now. Bringing out the old school rock this band performed, “Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore.”, screaming out to the crowd that most of us wouldn't have been created, if the band hadn't make the song for our parents to “get it on” to. This set was a genuine special Saturday afternoon feature, the rest of the day continued to rock on as well.
Day drifted into early evening as the Electric was about to be turned up. Lettuce came out to get the mild tempo groove to the music. This performance brought out wildly funky music from talented musicians before the Cheese came out.
A craving for a musical melting pot was anticipated to be cured as SCI prepared to step out for their second night. A perfected mixture of a vast array of genres calls out to a variety of fans of all ages. The mixture of bluegrass, jam, rock and incorporating a new spectrum for musical diversity. With all six members on the stage, each with such a different musical direction and skill capable of coming together to make magic with their music together. The set started with the sweet chords of, “Lester Poem.” Moving through the set there were pit stops at different music genres as the set included a more bluegrass string number by Bill Nershi, “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” Hopping from hit after hit, “Little Hands,” flowing into, “Dudley's Kitchen” and “Sometimes a River.” Performing several songs before the first set closed with, “Twenty-first Century Schizoid Man.” It was an awakening set as the music was thriving, there was still one more set after that rocked a Saturday stage as it always should.
With half of the show already in the past, it was just a build-up for the second round from String Cheese Incident. As glow sticks were cracked and LED hula hoops began to spin, the band stepped out to a roar of excitement. Taking a stance behind their instruments the bands energy was sent straight outward. The start of the second set was striking not only musically with an opening jam of, “Desert Dawn.” Elevated platforms in the crowd held artistically talented spinners and LED hoops that added to the theatrics. Going into a classic cover of Led Zeppelin’s, “Kashmir.” The personality of the band truly was emphasized during this set, for the cover was done with a dub- bass line. Out of the side stage there came out huge helium balloons similar to those at a Thanksgiving parade. One was of a huge shark and one of a race car driver, you couldn't help but smile even wider when this insanity was busted out. Once again add to the amazing production a SCI show it. The set flowed including songs such as, “Piece of Mind,” “Rosie,” “Born on the Wrong Planet,” and closing the set with, “Restless Wind.” The encore of this show was the topping as they came out with, “Tore up Over You,” and going back into, ”Desert Dawn.”. The String Cheese Incident without a doubt knows how to create a party amongst the beautifully diverse musicianship of the all the band members, they definitely gave the Saturday night the justice it deserved. With the audiences Cheese craving fulfilled for the time being, there was still more music to be danced to.
After the amazement of the headline performance, a walk through Sherwood's electric filled forest was a necessity. It was a definite perk that walking through the forest lead you to the hypnotic duo that is Big Gigantic. These two incredible talents of Dominic Lalli on saxophone and production along with Jeremy Salken on drums. Creating a mix of electronic and hip- hop this Colorado band knows how to get a crowd moving and shaking. The music is dramatic with gripping beats and shocking elements that keeps you hooked. With a stage set- up that is hypnotizing consisting of multi- colored changing cubes that seemed to flow with every beat dropped in “Limelight” and “Lucid Dreams”, sent you into a spiral of musical space and time, the band even dropped a new song called, “Eyes Closed”. Remixes of songs made famous by hip-hop and R&B musicians were fun and catching with the bands own style. The remix of the song, ”Black and Yellow,” by rapper Wiz Khalifa was a without a doubt a crowd pleaser. The band was a terrific start to the late night rage that would be brought out.
The late night music continued on with several music thrills still to come. When Bassnectar took to the stage, the bass of his name truly was emphasized. Lights flashed to the dropping beats as Lorin Ashton threw his hands up and whips his hair around. The visual display and gratitude projected by this musician is captivating. Energy was hitting high points as the audience hit insanity. This show was one not to miss as the night continued to flow together.
As Shpongletron put on his exotic, hypnotizing set the audience was deep into trance from all the electricity from the lights and sounds at this festival. This man knows how to mix up some catching rhythms to get a crowd moving. The theatrics of Zebbler Encanti Experience using his video producing and projection skill on a 3 level, 3 Dimensional platform of light and lasers, where one could just stare at for hours with the wonderful addition of the talented hula hoopers Karma Starseed and Lady Stardust Hooping on both sides of the stage . He played favorites such as, “DMT”, a song about the Spirit Molecule into the Latin influenced, “Dorset Perception” sent everyone and everything into a dancing trance. The night was winding down but the energy was far from down as the Saturday evening was trickling into the last day of the festival.
Sunday July 3rd
On the last day of music at the festival, moods were heightened with the notion that America's birthday was the following day. The red, white and blue were dangling from several campsites and in a way this festival was an example of how so many people can come together for a common purpose and unite. The moral at this festival was such a positive feeling with the mixture of music, nature and good people to guide us through and meet along the way of the weekend. The music the last day was nothing short from any other day as Euforquestra took to the tripoli stage. A jammy, rock vibe dispersed to the attendees that took shade under the mesmerizing tapestries of the art deco team Funktion Forms, that overhung at this stage center. This band knows how to get a crowd moving and then bring it back down to mellow a crowd out with a solid afternoon set. That is one attribute of a band that is very positive, the capability to add a variety of different songs to heighten the mood whether it be in the afternoon sun or the late night rage. The next band on the agenda has a similar way of catching people's ears as well.
Railroad Earth is one of those bands that's music goes straight into your soul. There is something about the way these men stroke their strings that puts a spell onto you and you can never turn back. The energy and tranquility that erupted from stage as they took to it was so positive. The set included striking bluegrass numbers with jam renditions and excerpts. Including tracks from the variety of albums they have developed kept the crowd swaying with the trees. Songs performed were, “Saddle of the sun,” “Mighty River,” Mourning Flies,” “Hard Livin,'” and an encore of “Ragtime Annie Lee.” It was a delightful way to spend the afternoon to get prepared for the last evening in the forest.
Drifting from the stages in the festival, you can catch a variety of different music types and artistic creations along the way. That 1 Guy on the Forest stage got the attendees and the trees shaking a bit as he performed using his magical music stick. Continuing through the forest you came to Sherwood Court where the Infamous String dusters were building dust with the rapid and impressive string progression. Then as you walked back through the forest and into the ranch area, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros took to the stage to cure the more indie folk vibe to the music. All the beautiful music that was created over the weekend was coming to the last night to rage the forest.
After a solid dose of String Cheese Incident over the weekend, they had to top it off with a bang on the final performance of the festival. Opening their first set on stage with “Chili Dawg.” The band showed gratitude in their presence for having such dedicated fans there dancing to their tunes after so many years. Their set was a flowing masterpiece of songs. The first set included songs such as, “Old Train,” “Sitting on Top of the World,” “Way Back Home,” concluding with “Looking Glass,” into an Allman Brother's Band Cover of,”Jessica.” The third and concluding night of String Cheese Incident was fulfilling for the last night as they took to set break, another final set was awaited by the attendees of Electric Forest Festival.
Clinching to the stage, the crowd was elevated as the band came back out for their closing performance. They opened up with a “Rhythm of the Road,” energy was pulsating as the celebration for America's birthday was at its peak. After the first song the set progressed with spectacular surprises. The first was a collaboration between The String Cheese Incident, The Infamous String Dusters, Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth came together to create a enthusiastically performance of the cover, “Wild Horses”, by The Rolling Stones. Another cover was created this time by only the members of SCI, “This Must be the Place(Naive Melody)” began as the audience swayed into movement with positive energy beaming from the band that was obviously feeding off the crowd, I believe the crowd was the one who inspired this song, as there was a sign in the crowd that read the request. With their version of this song, there is just something dreamlike about the tones that are put together. Moving into a “Heads up Jam,” continuing with “Valley of the Jig.” The set highlighted the amazing draw that fans have to their music. “Cottonmouth,” into “Howard,” next swelled into an amazing conclusion to the weekend. As the last set of the String Cheese roll went from, ”Howard,” into a clinching version of “Jellyfish.” Coming to a dreaded close to the set, a jam lead into a slamming ,”Dirk.” A screeching applause was in the air as the band was called back to the stage for their final time at this year’s Electric Forest. With hints of another appearance from the Incident brought up the encore blew the weekend up into fireworks with “Shakin' the Tree.” With the close of the music coming on quick, the Electric view of the forest was next on the agenda.
Late night sensation, Pretty Lights has been wowing audiences and bumped out beats on tours all over. Hopping from city to city spreading his diverse style of samples all together. The night and the festival slipped away after this set as one of the most highly awaited late night performances closed out the festival.
An impromptu phenomenon came to rage the night away and close out with real electrifying music. Created by the mindful music makers of Michael Travis and Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident. A continuous display of movement and progression. The flashes of Hann on percussions mixed with Travis wrapping everything together created a gripping conclusion to the festival. The spirit of Electric Forest Festival was captured in this set especially when a remix of Eddy Grant's “Electric Avenue.” Walking out of the venue once the set came to a kaleidoscopic close the population of the festival stayed up to celebrate Independence Day as well as the amazing collection of music that was gathered in Rothbury, Michigan.
Success for the weekend was glowing, not threw the lights of Sherwood Forest, but through the crowd as the dust trail from all the cars left on July 4th. Attendees were left with a positive feeling and excitement for a return next year to the amazement that was the whole weekend. With the music spread on a variety of stage locations with gripping and memorable music moments cemented into hearts and souls of those who came. There wasn't just the music, it was the forest, the lights, the action, the friendships; old and new, the magic was flowing through the electrical wires and through the connections of people, people that you might not even know of, share the same connection upon attending an amazing festival like this. Electric Forest Festival was something even too beautiful to be created in one dream, it was the dream of many people who came together for a weekend of music, nature, awareness, fun and an amazing experience that only the attendees of this festival could have felt.