Electric Forest Music Festival 6.29.12

Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)

Day 2: Friday

Duwe, Anthony, and my decision to camp in near the tree line proved to be the best we made all weekend. Waking up to the temperature quickly approaching 90° F, I had little motivation to do anything other than relax in the shade for a few hours. During that time, stories of travels and the previous night’s experiences were shared among neighbors. It’s always interesting to hear of concerts and festivals your new friends have attended. Instant connections are made, and many times, lifelong relationships are built from these conversations.

As the day crept into the afternoon, I braved the heat and wandered into the concert grounds. Much hyped guitarist Gary Clark Jr. was the first show on Friday’s agenda. Playing a mix of slow blues and straight rock tunes, the set underwhelmed me. Clark Jr. certainly carries the skills of a fine musician, but his guitar sounded too low in the mix. Considering I’d heard rave reviews from numerous sources prior to the show, I arrived expecting a guitarist who’d be performing as loud as possible. Instead, the music came across as an attempt at radio friendliness. During the last tune, an intense jam broke loose as Clark Jr. finally started shredding his axe like expected. The finale was worth sticking around to watch the set’s conclusion, but where had this been during the rest of the performance?

Walking from the The Ranch Arena where Clark Jr. had finished, I arrived to the Tripolee Dome to hear the jamtronica sounds of Brothers Past. I only caught the last half of the set but what I heard made me wish I’d witnessed its entirety. They were in the midst of a jazzy, electronic freak out jam as I approached the stage, sounding more interesting than anything I’d seen at Gary Clark Jr. The rest of the performance moved back and forth from dance grooves to rock jams and back again. Tom Hamilton, Brother’s Past’s guitarist and band leader, openly showed his enjoyment of the group’s output as he directed them through song segments. Although the crowd was sparse, they loved what Brother’s Past was throwing down.

From Brother’s Past, I made my way towards the Forest, first stopping at the Ranch Arena to catch a few songs from Midnite. Not expecting any throughout the weekend, I was thrilled at the opportunity to hear some authentic roots reggae at Electric Forest. Vocalist Vaughn Benjamin captivated immediately. His chilling voice evoked an incredible amount of sadness, and although it difficult to decipher the lyrics, you couldn’t help but feel every emotion he was transmitting from microphone to audience. Music is indeed a language unto itself.

I would’ve loved to watch all of Midnite, but my most anticipated set of the weekend was fast approaching - Nashville’s The Infamous Stringdusters. Their first of two sets at Electric Forest could be seen on the Forest Stage, a small raised platform near the edge of Sherwood Forest, and wow, The Stringdusters are something else. They’re scary good. Perfectly good. Holy shit good. Their cohesiveness while jamming bluegrass seems telepathic, so skillful that you stand in disbelief on how they’re pulling off what they’re performing. Only slowing down momentarily to play a few heartfelt tunes such as “High on a Mountaintop” and The Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone,” the rest of their two hour set drove home the goods at an insane tempo, barely giving the crowd a chance to catch their breath jam after jam. It’s tough to make comparisons from show to show, but this one ranks as some of the best music I’ve seen live. Go see this band!!!

Near the end of the Stringdusters’ set, I headed towards Break Science featuring Chali 2na at Sherwood Court. Although I’m not particularly keen on dubstep, Break Science delivered more soul to the genre than most. Infusing R & B, blues, and funk samples to the mix, the drummer / producer duo took their time, developing rich melodic ideas before dropping into the stereotypical midrange womp people love these days. Jurassic Five’s Chali 2na joined Break Science for their final tune. 2na, rhyming over the break beats of beast drummer Adam Deitch, took control from the moment he stepped onstage. It takes a certain type of hip hop to take me to a higher place, and this was it. Like a ball of lyrically savvy energy, 2na’s brief time onstage spun the crowd into hysteria - to watch the crowd go absolutely bananas for that brief moment was in itself worth the trip to Sherwood Court.

After Break Science, folks congregated at The Ranch Arena from every direction, joining together in anticipation of the first of three performances by The String Cheese Incident. They hit the stage to a huge ovation from the audience and wasted little time getting to business, opening with a ten-minute version of “Smile,” happily making me do exactly that. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying String Cheese as masters of their craft. The band’s ability to write a powerful set list is their greatest asset - taking the crowd on a journey by varying tempo and dynamic, dull moments were few and far between during this performance.

I’ve seen tighter Cheese shows but there were many moments of sheer improvisational brilliance throughout. “Close Your Eyes > Orange Blossom Special” marked the highlight of the first set, while the second set’s gems of “Rhythm of the Road,” “Colliding,” and “Texas” were filled with inspired, purposeful jamming. After the “Texas” set close, my buddy Adam leaned towards me and said, “Great show, let’s hope they don’t screw it up.” Well, maybe he shouldn’t have set that, because the encore ruined the show for some folks. What started as a typical “Desert Dawn” drifted into an electronic jam, and by Jason Hann and Michael Travis’s leading drum parts, you could feel it coming. And bam, there it was. Desert dubstep. Approximately a third of the crowd went ape shit when they dropped the womp, with the other two-thirds looking around wondering what the hell Cheese was doing. Musically, I found the segment to be intriguing. Cheese executed it perfectly, thought I’d be pleased if they’d shelve the impromptu EOTO sets altogether.

Set One: Smile, Close Your Eyes > Orange Blossom Special, Look At Where We Are, Pack It Up, Give Me The Love, Can’t Wait

Set Two: Climb, Jam > Rhythm Of The Road~, Colliding, Doin’ My Time, VOTJ, Way Back Home, Texas

Encore: Desert Dawn

With Cheese finished, nighttime had fallen as Atlanta’s Sound Tribe Sector 9 began the first of two Electric Forest performances at Sherwood Court. I didn’t last long at this one, catching the first four tunes consisting of “March > Scheme > 20-12 > Hidden Hand Hidden Fist.” The stunning light show, impressive as it was, would only hold my attention for so long due to the band’s lackluster performance. The sound was quiet and the new tunes simply don’t move you like the older material does. Dance music should make you want to dance, yet after the dull beginning of the show, I headed towards Thievery Corporation at The Ranch Arena. Hopefully STS9 would bring the heat the following day.

Thievery Corporation was unfamiliar territory before this performance. I’d heard great things about them, and they did not disappoint. Their vast sonic range included reggae, hip hop, and world-influenced themes, displaying a deep ability to take the audience though unique journeys during each offering. As much as I would’ve liked to stay for the entire show, I grew too tired to fully appreciate. With eyes barely open and sore muscles that needed a good night’s sleep, I made the trip back to the campsite for some much needed shuteye. The festival was half over, I had already received my money’s worth after two days of entertainment. What a day…

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