Electric Forest Music Festival 2011: Day One & Day Two
Double J Ranch- Rothbury, Michigan
June 30th - July 3rd, 2011
Words By Greg Molitor (Remind Photography)
Photos By Joe Le (Joe Le Photo) & Greg Molitor
I find it funny that we Americans attempt to jam the idea of independence neatly into a single, 24-hour holiday. Don’t get me wrong… I’m way down for the cause of getting’ down for the cause, but the truth is that our society is constantly breaking free and absorbing new ideas, planting our feet in the mud while tearing down what’s previously been set before us. Independence is progress. This year’s inaugural Electric Forest signaled another turn towards such forward movement. Featuring a unique blend of roots and electronica acts whose coexistence many questioned, could the hippies and the ravers live together in harmonious rage at this fantastic new destination? Live together they did, and so much more…
Day One (Thursday):
After an afternoon of preparation and shopping for Electric Forest, I arrived at the Double J Ranch as the sun was setting in the distant horizon. Anticipation for the weekend’s festivities had reached a boiling point and I couldn’t have been happier to finally join the line of vehicles that were entering the camping grounds. After a brief car search and subsequent wait in the rain at Will Call, I drove through the grounds, eventually finding what would be my home over the next four days.
The storms continued to roll through as I quickly set up camp. A soaked tent is nobody’s friend, and fortunately I moved briskly enough this time to avoid the dreaded predicament. With my gear in hand and feet ready for action, I walked towards the venue entrance to notice a line of cars stuck in the mud where my car had traversed minutes prior. Timing isn’t a strong suit of mine, but all things considered, I couldn’t help but think that I had played this one pretty damn well at this point.
After a 10-minute walk to the concert grounds, I decided it was best to avoid the rain altogether and head straight into Sherwood Forest. There I stayed for a large portion of the evening, and why not? I was fortunate enough to attend the first two Rothbury festivals, so I came with a solid idea of what the woods would offer. Even with this prior knowledge, the first couple steps into Sherwood Forest dazzled me to breathtaking effect. Once inside, these eyes took their first glimpse at the most psychedelically intense collection of art installations and light arrangements they’ve ever seen.
It’s impossible, unless you were there, to truly understand how dreamlike and otherworldly the Forest was. Every turn of the head offered another picture perfect moment to capture as lights and lasers met trees, installations, and paintings throughout my initial walk. I must have left my jaw on the forest floor multiple times because my face began to hurt from the constant smiling. After chatting with others along the path, I discovered that everyone else held the same sentiments as me. Word on the street is that ten out of ten hippies approved of Sherwood Forest, but even your sober average Joe would’ve found it difficult to ignore the majesty behind this spiritual haven.
A few hours and hundreds of photos later, I exited the Forest towards the main stage, the Ranch Arena. It had finally stopped raining, and as I drew closer to the stage, there were some serious crunk tones blasting in the distance. I arrived to the stage to discover a DJ named Excision laying down soulless, mechanical dubstep for a huge crowd. My only prior experience with Excision was through word of mouth from my friends who have often clowned on his music. I’m certainly going to catch some heat for this one, but some sick and twisted part of me actually enjoyed his set.
The music held absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever and little was done onstage by Excision to make me believe that he was contributing any level of musicianship to the sounds coming out of the speakers. But damn, the music was out-of-control dirty. Perhaps it was my appreciation for industrial bands like NIN and Ministry coming through because I found myself brosteppin’ to Excision numerous times.
After Excision I took another exploratory trip through Sherwood Forest on my way to the second stage, Sherwood Court. The sounds of Lotus busting into “Flower Sermon” to kick off their set peaked my interest enough to make me leave the Forest and head toward the stage. A completely different vibe was found when I arrived to Sherwood Court which was thematic during the entire weekend. Offering an almost 50 / 50 mix of DJs and bands, Electric Forest was marketed to two different types of music fans. There was certainly a level of crossover appreciation found amongst attendees, no doubt, but much of the electronic music was so different than the improvised “jam” music that it felt at times like there were two separate festivals taking place on the same grounds. This isn’t a knock on Electric Forest but in fact a complement to the variety of music it offered and the amazing vibes that shined through the diversity of the audience.
Lotus’s set at Electric Forest forced a few loud ovations from the audience but did little to move me like previous performances had. The band has lost a step since the departure of drummer Steve Clemens in 2009 which is disappointing considering how incredible they were when he rocked the skins. During their set I waited for that moment where the stars would align and the band would lift off towards jam heaven. Instead I was left hoping for something that just wasn’t coming together. The guys in Lotus are tremendous musicians but all they could produce was a consistent noodle-fest that went nowhere fast. A band that was once on the cutting edge of the jam band scene is no longer the fresh, exciting act they used to be. Every band has its prime, I suppose, and Lotus’s best years have passed.
The Lotus set stopped abruptly due to a malfunction with the speakers, leaving the band to finish half of their last song through only the monitors onstage. Yikes. It was an embarrassing situation that no band should have to endure. They said their goodbyes to the crowd and I turned and walked back into the Forest shaking my head at what had just transpired. Sherwood Forest’s atmosphere was pure insanity with the majority of the festival attendees coming together to enjoy the woods one last time before daylight would come. I finally ran into some hometown friends at this point and we shared in some nonsense before I made the trek back to the campsite for some shuteye. Festivals are a marathon, not a sprint, and I knew that I needed to rest up for what was to be a phenomenal four-day experience.
Day Two (Friday):
I awoke Friday morning to a light drizzle against my tent. Go time. After a stroll to the general store to find no remaining ponchos being sold, I enjoyed a walk along the paths of cars, taking in the morning sights and sounds of the camping grounds. During my travels, I was met with many smiles and positive attitudes from the various individuals who took the time to stop and chat for a few. Previously I’d heard that festivals held by The String Cheese Incident brought out the best in people, and as the weekend progressed, more and more did I become a believer in that notion. From previous experiences, there’s often a dark, sketchy vibe that goes hand in hand with the electronic music that’s associated with the jam scene. With that said, I’d never had more hope for continuing synthesis of jam and electro than what I felt after Electric Forest. If this vibe is what I can expect from the addition of electronic music to jam festival bills, I’m all for it.
Entering the concert grounds around noon, I stopped by the third stage, Tripolee Stage, to check out industrious campers doing Yoga. I then made my way to the media tent for introductions as well as to catch up on some work. I found many familiar faces there plus a few new ones to greet and meet. As I opened and began to do work on my Mac that stopped working the next day (another story entirely), I heard the sweet sounds of Steez emanating from the Tripolee Stage. For an early afternoon set, this band was spittin’ hot fire with its silky smooth saxophone lines and funky disco rhythms.
After a few hours in the media tent, I returned to the campsite to recharge and also to drop some gear off at the car. By this point the rain had cleared, blue skies had returned, and an absolutely gorgeous day had unveiled itself… such a perfect backdrop to check out the only reggae I’d see all weekend. Walking towards to the Ranch Arena, I could hear Stephen Marley and the welcoming tones of his band. Marley played a mix of his father’s tunes and a few originals, and as he broke into “Three Little Birds”, I felt a huge smile creep upon my face. There’s something about singing the lyric ‘Every little thing is gonna be alright’ that gets me every time no matter what mood I’m in.
Midway through Stephen Marley’s set, I decided it was time to check out the Forest in the daylight. Sherwood had a decidedly different aura while the sun was shining as people lied in hammocks and lounged on blankets. There was a relaxed feel to the woods during the day and music could be heard from anywhere in the Forest, making the spot more than chill enough to just kick it with friends for extended periods of time.
The best experience I had inside the Forest all weekend was the vibrational sound massage I received from the folks at Gong the Planet! A circular arrangement of different sized gongs were aligned the inside of a geometric dome that participants entered to receive their massage. Once inside, the participants sat Indian-style and closed their eyes while the individuals working the gongs lightly touched them in a series of patterns that sent meditative vibrations to the massage recipients. These gongs strikes didn’t seem like much to me as a preliminary onlooker, but once inside, the voyage I took while being sonically massaged was deeply moving and brought upon a trancelike state that was soothing to the core. Expect to see Gong the Planet! at many festivals throughout the remaining portion of the summer, and I highly recommend getting a vibrational sound massage if the opportunity presents itself.
After a walk through the forest, I ventured towards Sherwood Court to catch the majority of Canada’s jamtronica pioneers, The New Deal. Keyboardist Jamie Shields and drummer Darren Shearer, joined by Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio who impressively filled in for the absent Dan Kurtz, led the crowd through many energetic trance tunes that had the crowd moving the entire set. What the band lacked in mindblowing instrumentation was overshadowed by their ability to move as one cohesive unit. The band continually stopped and started on a dime with what seemed like an extra-sensory ability to know exactly what direction each member was heading. At the same time, there was a sense that the trio wasn’t afraid to take chances and risk failure in order to reach heights that lesser daring bands could never ascend to. 2011 is The New Deal’s final year of performing together which is a shame because these guys make incredible music.
As The New Deal finished, I turned and quickly headed back towards The Ranch Arena for two sets from The String Cheese Incident. SCI headlined Electric Forest Festival Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, and as I gathered myself in the crowd before their first set Friday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The band was met with a huge ovation from the crowd when they hit the stage, and the rest, as they say, is history. Seriously… wow. I’m a casual SCI fan, one who has always got down to their tunes but never reached out to explore their entire catalog or uncover every nuance from their performances. After their Friday show, however, I’m a believer in all things String Cheese Incident.
Both sets were played masterfully with intense jamming and precise instrumentation. Not only was the music played well, the sets were crafted in such a way so that the emotions of the crowd rode up and down like a rollercoaster as the band changed dynamics. From soft to loud, slow to fast, heartfelt to rowdy / party time / who-called-the-boogie-police-I’m-here-for-a-hoedown, the band nailed every moment. There were too many highlights to name them all, but the jam that perfectly hit the spot for me was “Can’t Stop Now”. I jumped for joy as the band rode the tune higher and higher, and when I took the time to settle myself and take it all in, one look around was all I needed to confirm the shared exuberance of happiness radiating from everyone else in the audience.
SCI had set the standard for what it takes to put on a show at Electric Forest with their Friday night performance. Luckily for the fans, other bands would step up their game. After the band finished, I walked through the woods towards Sherwood Court to catch Galactic’s late night set. Galactic shows have been snoozers as of late, but they let it all hang out at Electric Forest.
With a fiery passion I haven’t witnessed in quite some time, the band crushed a dynamite set of funk aided by special guest frontman Corey Glover who commanded the crowd with an old school swagger that clearly inspired the band to bring it full-force. Much like SCI, fantastic dynamic changes were again evident during Galactic’s performance. As the band repeatedly brought their volume down to almost inaudible level, the players would then explode together through their respective instruments led by their show stopping guest vocalist. Nasty business.
The show ended with a righteous drum jam featuring each member playing a different piece of drummer Stanton Moore’s kit. Why Galactic doesn’t throw down like that every time is beyond me, but the band proved on this occasion that they certainly have the tools and the talent to blow the roof off the joint when inspired.
I stuck around for Break Science, the electronic duo of drummer Adam Deitch and producer Borahm Lee who followed Galactic at Sherwood Court. Their music consisted of well-produced dubstep movements but also introduced introspectively beautiful jazz and soul interludes that captured a duality that isn’t typically combined with the former. Most of the tunes focused on slowly building roots-based melodies that casted a melancholy feeling among the crowd. After the audience was set up for the knock down, the duo would instantaneously rip away the somberness with fierce, attacking hip-hop and dubstep licks driven by the world-class drumming of Deitch.
Although formulaic, their strategy was successful in creating huge moments of tension and release that the majority of their contemporary drummer / producer duos can’t achieve. The set ended around 3:00 AM and left me physically and emotionally exhausted. With no time for late night tomfoolery this evening, I found my way back to the campsite for a few hours of much needed rest.
Joe Le’s Photo Gallery
Greg Molitor’s Photo Gallery
Electric Forest Day Three & Four Coverage