Electric Forest Music Festival 2011: Day Three & Day Four
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
Day Three (Saturday):
I rolled out of bed Saturday with a bit of brain fog left over from the previous day. My dehydrated body hinted at the party that was Friday at Electric Forest. I must’ve invited myself. After an apple and orange power-up followed by a much needed water-chugging session, I relaxed for a few in my camping chair. My neighbors from Big Rapids crept out of their tent moments later and joined me in sitting as we chatted about the previous day’s happenings. I learned Thursday that Electric Forest was one neighbor camper’s first festival. Seeing the amazement and wonder in his eyes sent me back in time to the years when I was discovering live music and the power of its community. This sort of nostalgic feeling is what fuels me to push on. Everything does come full circle, and when that circle is completed before your eyes, life has a bit more meaning upon that moment. And yes, it’s good.
Feeling rejuvenated and mentally prepared for another marathon day of events, I headed into the concert grounds, eventually making my way to the media tent. It was at this time that my MacBook decided to be not-so-Pro. Frustrating? Yes. All things considered? Oh well. Joining forces with fellow MusicMarauder Joe Le, we journeyed into the Forest for some early afternoon drinks at Kyle Hollingsworth’s Brewru Experience. When he’s not playing music, Hollingsworth (The String Cheese Incident, Kyle Hollingsworth Band) extends his passion towards homebrewing.
His latest endeavor, a partnership with Boulder Beer Company, is taking him across the country to promote his newest craft, Hoopla Pale Ale. Electric Forest played host to one of these Brewru Experiences as the brewru himself (Hollingsworth) ran through a brief beer history lesson, sampled ingredients and short pours of beer, and engaged in a Q & A with the audience. The Experience offered a unique opportunity for fans to meet Hollingsworth and take a glimpse into his world outside of music. Oh, and for the record, Hoopla Pale Ale is delicious!
After Hollingsworth finished his presentation, Joe and I walked to the Ranch Arena for a few minutes of Keller Williams. I’ve never been able to get into Keller’s groove, but the mass of people gathered for his Saturday afternoon set spoke volumes for his appeal. He began his set with “Vacate” which had the crowd singing along start to finish, but as he slipped into “Freeker by the Speaker”, I became disinterested and headed towards the back of the audience. Keller emits joyous, positive vibes every time I see him, yet there’s something about his music that rubs me the wrong way. I stuck around long enough to catch an admirable attempt at “Eyes of the World” that featured guest appearances by Keith Moseley (bass) and Michael Kang (violin) of The String Cheese Incident. “Eyes of the World” is such a gorgeous tune that it’s hard to complain no matter who’s playing it.
From Keller I headed through the Forest to watch Brooklyn-based Rubblebucket. I’ve recently been turned on to Rubblebucket and really dig what they have to offer. Relying less on improvisation and more on song structures and layered sonic textures, the afrobeat and funk-inspired group isn’t your typical festival band. Their set at Electric Forest proved, however, that they do belong at these type of gatherings. The band put on quite a show with dancing and stage antics while delivering a highly developed sound that still hits home as distinctly human in nature. At the forefront was singer / saxophonist Kalmia Traver whose voice rang spiritual yet haunting, uplifting yet poignant. Rubblebucket is certainly an acquired taste and isn’t for everyone, but one thing is for sure: the band does not fake anything or go through any motions.
I left Rubblebucket near the end of their set and caught up with some Ann Arbor family I’d been waiting to see all weekend. It’s bittersweet to be constantly moving at festivals because although I dearly love capturing the essence of the entire production, I often don’t get the chance to do it with the ones who I care about the most. It is what it is, and in the long run, the squeeze of being on-the-go reminds me to cherish every second of the day and give as much of myself possible to my friends regardless of the time’s length that I get to spend with them… life loves to teach me a lesson or two when I’m not looking. Maybe I should pay less attention?
My good friend Antoine and I had to break away from the Ann Arborites so we could catch Lettuce at Sherwood Court. This was my first opportunity to see the ubertalented funk supergroup and also the set that I had anticipated the most coming into Electric Forest. Lettuce, a collection of top-notch musician friends who formed at College of Berklee in 1992, delivered the goods like I knew they would with a crispy, polished style that had me doing my best (or worst, depends who you ask) James Brown impression throughout their set.
The band is arguably the most important straight-ahead funk band of our generation, but not to sell the band short, they have much more than funk in their arsenal. Lettuce even hit some spacious trance grooves that caught me off guard in the most awesome of ways. Everything this band threw out worked with extreme success as the engaged crowd voiced their cheerful approval after each successive peak. If this band ever decided to tour, I might have to quit my day job and hit the road.
The end of Lettuce’s set could only mean one thing… Cheese at the Ranch Arena, round two. If SCI’s Friday show highlighted their music, Saturday’s performance highlighted their stage show. The band again played magnificently the second time around, but the spectacle of the SCI’s entire production became the star of the evening visually stunning as extras continued to pop into the mix.
First, it was the hula dancers on platforms, next the two giant inflatables that paraded through the audience during the second set. With hoopers, inflatables, lasers, and lights all coming together to combine with a crowd already sporting various glow objects, mini-inflatibles, and giant light-up signs, I questioned my existence on more than one occasion. Everything about the show was so over-the-top that it had to be some kind of dream I was experiencing. Only The String Cheese Incident could pull off such an event, and there wasn’t any place I’d rather be than at Electric Forest during this exact cross-section of time-space.
Cheese set the bar ridiculously high… again, and after their performance I had to sit down and contemplate a few heavy things. While sitting, I figured out the meaning of life about a million times over, plus or minus a few. Who’s counting anyway? I then gathered my wits followed by my feet and headed through the Forest towards Big Gigantic set at Sherwood Court.
After a few minutes in the field, I realized that Big G was playing an almost identical set to the one I had heard at Summer Camp just a few months prior. I raved night and day about that set, but this time around the music didn’t carry nearly as much weight. I did, however, love their remix of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar”. The tune is so strong on its own that I found it impossible to not shake it a little and get my fancy on. On the contrary, they need to quit it with the Wiz Khalifa. “Black & Yellow” is nauseating and need not exist in anyone’s realm from this point forward.
As soon as Big Gigantic finished, I could hear the thunderous low-end of Bassnectar carrying through the forest. I contemplated whether or not I should head that direction to check out what I’m sure was a wild scene at the Ranch Arena, but eventually I thought better of it, found a comfortable spot to sit near the edge of the Forest, and waited for The Shpongletron Experience to commence. After a few minutes the Shpongletron, DJ Simon Posford’s new beast of a visual display, was unveiled from behind the curtains.
I love Shpongle music. It’s some of my favorite material in the electronica scene, and even though Posford didn’t do much besides play his tracks and segue briefly in between them, his songs are simply classics that contain brilliantly produced, organic-sounding samples. The Shpongletron was certainly an added bonus with lasers, LEDs and psychedelic video screens to keep the crowd wholly entertained. About halfway through his set, I hit the wall of exhaustion and began the stroll towards home. Three days down, one to go… on my trip back to the campsite, I came to the conclusion that the weekend was a success no matter what happened the next day. Electric Forest had done me right.
Day Four (Sunday):
Day four festival fatigue. It’s inevitable if you’re doing it the right way. I was definitely feelin’ days one through three on Sunday, but at the same time I knew that 15,000 others were in the same boat I was. As I prepared my gear for the final day, I wondered how many total miles I’d eventually walk that weekend. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, and besides, my chubby ass probably needed the exercise.
Moving at a more casual pace than the rest of the weekend, the first show I checked out was Railroad Earth at the Ranch Arena. Railroad Earth is a perfect band for a daytime set, especially on a day such as this. Their performance at Electric Forest drifted along like a canoe on a peaceful river with violinist Tim Carbone leading the way, his smooth, delicate lines slowly building onto the groove in a tasteful manner, never so strong as to blow you out of the water but with enough passion and drive to keep the music floating forward into new territory.
I would’ve stuck around for all of Railroad Earth’s set but I wanted to catch some of Zach Deputy at Sherwood Court. Deputy is another performer that fit wonderfully in the Sunday line up. His positive energy is contagious and although I tend to prefer bands over solo acoustic acts, his soul carries so much good spirit that it’s impossible to say one bad thing about anything he does onstage. Out of all the artists who I caught at Electric Forest, I left thinking he’s the one that I wish I had the opportunity to see more often.
After yet another walk through the Forest, I found myself back at Sherwood Court to watch the Infamous Stringdusters. Whoa... these dudes could flat out play their instruments like they should be played. I wasn’t at all familiar with their tunes but was instantly hooked by the musicality the group shared. The Stringdusters were tremendous players at their respective crafts, but what struck me the most during their set was how much fun they were having while playing. Some bands say they’re honored to be playing for you, yada, yada, yada. When the Stringdusters gave that sentiment between their songs, I could tell they actually meant it.
I popped over to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Ranch Arena for a very brief moment, and from what I heard I really enjoyed. I didn’t stay long, however, as I soon found myself heading back towards Sherwood Court to watch Beats Antique’s performance. This was another band who I’d never seen perform live. The biggest surprise walking up to the stage was how much bass their music pumped out. It caught me off guard considering I’d been seeing only roots music up to this point on Sunday. Featuring live drums, electronic samples, and an array of stringed instruments, their sound spanned multiple genres with a focus on Eastern melodies and downtempo rhythms. Including this set that led into String Cheese’s final performance, Sunday was easily the most enjoyable day of the four with regards to daytime music I’d seen.
The String Cheeses Incident’s final performance was more carefree than the other two. The band wasn’t sloppy by any means, but there seemed to be a sense of freedom within their playing that created a looser vibe than the previous two nights. The first set was bluegrass heavy and featured members of Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass on a variety of different tunes. One of the best moments of the weekend was being able to sit back and listen to them cover “Wild Horses”, a tune which I dearly love that made me reflect on the entirety of the Electric Forest experience.
The second set crushed as well with an insane jam during “Jellyfish”, an always welcomed “This Must Be The Place”, and of course, the all-too-appropriate encore of “Shakin’ The Tree”. Again, I’m just a casual String Cheese fan, but proved to me throughout the weekend that they’re worthy of legendary status. There’s no way that the many blissful folks wearing so many smiles could be wrong. The proof is in the numbers... The String Cheese Incident has achieved greatness in the jam scene.
After Cheese, I realized that a tee shirt and shorts wouldn’t cut it for the first chilly evening of the festival. I made up my mind to call it a night but had to make a few stops along the way. On my way out of the concert grounds I slowed my roll to catch some Conspirator. The jam trance quartet consisted of keyboardist Aaron Magner (The Disco Biscuits), bassist Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits), guitarist Chris Michetti (RAQ), and Mike Greenfield (Lotus). Their output was decently entertaining but the band’s sound made me wish I was watching The Disco Biscuits instead. I stuck around for 15 minutes or so and became disinterested. As soon as I walked away, of course, I could hear the band in the distance picking up the pace and taking their music to that next level I had hoped to hear while at the stage. Go figure.
Before heading back to camp, my final stop was to the Solar Glow Disk Experience, a disk golf course containing environmentally conscious, solar-powered LED lights. Although my friends don’t believe me, I’ve never actually been disc golfing. Why stop at the disk golf course then, you may ask. Well, first off, the idea of a solar disk golf course is badass. It’s the type of progressive thinking that is necessary if we want change in our world that is sustainable and meaningful. Second, the whole idea behind a glowing disc golf course actually originated in Michigan via Stephanai Myers, the author of Disc Golf Michigan. I love my home state. Michigan has so much amazingness to offer, and it’s every Michigander’s duty to support and spread what we grow here within the Great Lakes. And that starts with me.
I’m so thankful for Insominiac, Madison House, the artists, volunteers, and everyone else who made the weekend what is was. Michigan needs a festival like Electric Forest, so spread the word. We need to do this every year. Much love!
Joe Le’s Photo Gallery
Greg Molitor’s Photo Gallery
Electric Forest Day One & Two Coverage