Last summer Jess and I went to What the Festival (WTF) in Dufur Valley, Oregon and had such an amazing time! WTF inspired us to seek out another festival this summer, and we chose Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan. Our decision was mainly based on the promo videos we watched, like this one. Both of these festivals were ones that were completely new to us – we didn’t know any friends who had attended them before and hadn’t been ourselves. When we did some research, these festivals resonated with us, so we bought tickets.
What the Fest was a very unique and surreal experience for both of us. I had only been to one other major music festival prior, being Sasquatch Festival in George, Washington. Sasquatch was a big mix of musical genres between rock, rap, folk, Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and whatever other in-between genres you can think of. Jess had only ever been to 1-day festivals in New Zealand, which can’t really compare. What the Fest introduced us to the wonder and amazement that EDM festivals put forward.
How I view them now, is that they are temporary societies for anyone and everyone – you could be a misfit or outcast in daily life (or just feel like you are), but here you can be anyone you want to be without the fear of judgement – you are a part of something. Everyone is welcomed and celebrated in these temporary societies. You can be a 50-year old metal head and people would still welcome you in; it’s not just for youngsters or EDM fans. You meet people from all walks of life, and the diversity is really what makes it so special.
A main difference between a rock festival and an EDM festival, is the art. EDM festivals often portray themselves as “music and arts” festivals because of the vibrant displays and interactive creations brought in by artists from all backgrounds. Festival goers embrace this, and bring art of their own in the form of costumes and fashion. There’s always an emphasis on environmentalism, feminism, equality, gratitude, and togetherness.
One of the most memorable spectacles was the Luminaria Submissions. It was a space where people could write letters to people who could not be with them at the festival, which were put on display glowing by candle light. You knew how important it was for people who have endured loss, just by walking past the display.
At the front of the main entrance as you move between the camping area and the entrance to the festival grounds, there was a tiled wall. It is part of the Breaking Barriers project you can learn more about here. The festival creators put up a tiled wall for people to write their fears, obstacles, or other intangibles holding them back from living their lives freely.
The idea was to leave your demons behind while you go and enjoy the festival, and at the end they would break down this wall and give you a piece of the tile for significance. Jess and I didn’t contribute to the effort, I think part of me wanted to leave space for someone else who needed it more.
These unique pieces of art always symbolize something, whether you catch the meaning or not, they can be whatever you need them to be – a form of solidarity, a moment of nostalgia, or a simple object for a cute photo, as seen above and below.
Of course, the entrances and stages were always epic…
Oh, and don’t forget the lights.
On the last day we were walking back to our campsite to have some dinner before the main performances of the evening. We walked through a grassy area by one of the main stages in between the food trucks. I saw a fellow by himself with a fishing rod, dressed in his own unique costume, with the biggest smile on his face. He cast his fishing line near a group of people and waited for someone to pick up the bait. No one took the bait. He reeled it back in, and cast his line once again. It landed by a group of people and they all looked at it, then looked at him. He nodded his head with his big grin, hinting that they should indeed take the bait. They ignored the silent request. Another person noticed and looked at the bait, at him, he nodded patiently waiting, and they too ignored him. I jumped at the bypassed opportunity – I knew it was my turn. He looked like a whimsical, kind-hearted fellow, and I trusted him, so I went for the bait. As I ran up to get the bait, he nodded and convinced me to take it, without his words. I then realized that the bait was a lighter.
I reached down and grabbed the lighter, partly thinking it would shock me or something of the like. I picked it up, he nodded with an even bigger smile, and began reeling. I became a stubborn fish! I pulled as he pulled, I fought back as he reeled harder. Passerby’s watched as a stranger reeled me in like a freshwater Colinfish, fighting to get away (but in all actuality, I wanted to be reeled in). He pulled me in all the way, and as we got together we smiled and embraced each other like we were the best of friends; it was a hug I will never forget. He wished me “happy forest”, told me to unhook the bait and take it, and then he was gone. It’s the best lighter I have and I’m going to keep it even when it no longer has a function, because it will still have the same meaning. These are the kinds of people you meet in the forest.
By the end of the five days, the heat was unbearable, and my towel became my clothing – it allowed for the most breathing room.
We also took lots of naps…
Our experience at Electric Forest was very memorable. It was eventful, epic, interesting, shocking, challenging, insightful, profound, and illuminating.
At one point we were advised to seek shelter due to a thunderstorm and the acts were postponed. Because of the amount of drugs being bought, sold, and used at festivals, there were 10+ incidences where we witnessed people overdosing and medics were tending to them. We also heard about people taking a drug called PCP who would end up trying to bite and attack medics. As I am writing this, I even discovered that one of the festival goers passed away after the event. Festivals are no different from everyday life, in that you need to be responsible for your own well-being, all the while having a blast.
The only bad thing that happened to me was my first panic attack and slight fainting, which may have been (self)induced from a lack of sleep, malnourishment, dehydration, a major hangover, and being stuck in a massive crowd with little oxygen. Suddenly, I started to see static and went blind; this is when Jess realized I was about to faint. She got me out of the crowd, and once the attack had settled down a wave of emotion came over me; I was both sad and scared that I had almost died. You hear about the fentanyl crisis around the world, and that alone made me think I might have been drugged and that something much, much worse was happening.
After that short but swift occurrence, everything got better, the DJ called Marshmellow came on stage. I was elated with joy watching him perform, and also because of the hilarious images and videos the screen displayed alongside him. Jess was confused how I could go from super sad and scared to genuinely happy within a few minutes. Anything can happen in the Forest.
One of the nights even featured a vibrant thunderstorm, which we were able to capture photos of below:
The laser beams and the lightning show made for one spectacular sighting. It was like the festival gods were being summoned from above.
The festival was super organized, and there was even an offline app you could download to view and help you get around, you could plan out a schedule for each day, and you could learn about the musicians and art displays.
Lastly but most importantly, the best part of Electric Forest was hands-down, the people. We made friends each day, from our neighbours at our campsite to some random, kind
strangers souls inside the grounds. You just never know who you are going to meet.
Even being in the long lines was entertaining! There was always something new to see – a costume, a performance, a display, or even a ride – yes, they even had rides.
Electric Forest 2018 was unforgettable. Festivals can impact your life and leave you with new perspectives and changed views. No doubt you will meet someone, try something, or witness a sight that you will never forget. I highly recommend you attend at least one music festival in your life. It’s like a house party, just a little bit bigger.
Colin & Jess, out! ❤