Music Festivals

The Best (and Worst) of Electric Forest 2015

According to organizers, some 45,000 people converged in Michigan this past weekend for the jam-bands-meets-ravers annual festival known as Electric Forest. The weather was perfect and the denizens were impossibly friendly. But the logistics and other quirks sometimes wrecked the vibe.

The Worst

Getting in

Big festivals are often a logistical clusterfuck, but making one’s way into Electric Forest this year involved more hurdles than usual. First of all, local cops and state troopers were profiling seemingly anyone headed in. One once attendees arrived, the camping situation was a nightmare. Folks like myself who arrived at the south entrance on Thursday afternoon were told it was closed, and that they should get back on the freeway and go to the North entrance. There, we waited in line for three hours, only to be directed back to the g-d south entrance. Finally, we were dumped into “overflow” camping, where the promised access to water never materialized.

Drug testing
Everyone knows that kids take lots of drugs at these festivals, and usually don’t know what they’re taking. The organization known as DanceSafe does their best to help kids test their drugs. Unfortunately, as we wrote over the weekend, Electric Forest basically neutered them.

Drug dealers
Fortunately, we had our own drug testing kit. When a dodgy looking dude came through our campground offering quarters of shrooms for $60, we asked if we could test it. He muttered something about feeling “spooked” and got the heck out of there.

Who’s playing?
We know that Pasquale Rotella of rave conglomerate Insomniac (which co-produces the festival) wants attendees to discover new music at his events, not just to go see acts they already know. And we get that. But still, it’s nice to know the name of the DJs or bands you stumble onto. At Electric Forest there were almost no schedules to be had – very few booklets, and very few set times posted. Sure, the schedule was available online, but unless you’d downloaded the app beforehand, the service was spotty and you were probably out of luck.

LSD Bandit?
One attendee tried to bring in a spray bottle filled with water, but the security guard said he couldn’t, because a different security guard had just been sprayed in the face with liquid LSD. If it sounds like an urban legend, it surely is. “This is not true,” festival publicist Carrie Lombardi says over email. “It probably happened at a Dead show in the '60s. These days this myth goes around at every festival.” Ha!
Native American headdresses
People are still wearing these.

The Best
Security always gets flack from festivalgoers, because everyone wants to go where they want to go, right now! But the Electric Forest venue staff, Michigan state police and horse-bound cops did a bang-up job. Controlling crowds, especially when many of them are stumbling, is no joke, but they made it look easy.

The String Cheese Incident
On Saturday night we saw festival spirit animal String Cheese Incident for the first time, and it was epic. Not long after intermission a hot air balloon was launched over the crowd, carrying an acrobat who performed some Cirque du Soleil-style mid-air maneuverings. Then a bunch of giant translucent balls were released into the crowd – like beach balls, but much bigger – followed by confetti everywhere, and some massive flying drones in the shape of blimps. (One crashed onto us, but no one was hurt, and a crew member quickly got it out of there.) To top it all off: Fireworks. It was the most charming of spectacles, inspiring childhood wonder with its Wonka-like whimsy. String Cheese’s three-and-a-half-hour set wasn’t bad, either.
JPod the Beat Chef
We were a bit skeptical when we saw this British Columbia, Canada DJ was shirtless and decked out in a cape during his Friday performance at The Hangar. But he totally brought it, with his dancehall jams, Al Green remixes, and other high energy tracks. Super powers? He just may have them.

A Michigan company called Hydrodye does a unique style of body painting, and everyone seemed to be getting “sleeves” from them this year. It’s festive, it’s psychedelic, it’s pretty cheap, and though it resembles a tattoo, it’s non-permanent. Sure beats a stick-on!
The Australian superstar DJ Flume kicked the festival into gear on Thursday night. In his pretty accent, he told us all what great people we were, and then blew our gourds with up-tempo bangers, hip-hop, and popular cuts like his remix of Disclosure's "You & Me." His set walked a perfect line between accessible and experimental.

Drug names
We've heard of candy flipping, but while we were in line one night we heard a pair of grizzled dudes arguing about what constituted "Jedi flipping." Molly and mushrooms, suggested one. Molly and LSD, suggested the other. Turns out they were both kind of right, according to this reddit poster, who insists it's MDMA + Mushrooms + LSD. Um, that sounds like a little much, and we don’t think we’re ready for “hippy-flipping” either.

The Jerk Church Tabernacle Choir
This San Francisco-based collective do old-timey Americana, along with the occasional Flogging Molly cover. They’re still waiting for their big break, but perform, um, religiously, every Sunday, usually at Bay-Area venues. At Electric Forest, they even had a guy sitting on stage who held up their song lyrics, Bob Dylan “Subterranean Homesick Blues” style.

Electric Forest by day
Yes, the Sherwood Forest lit up at night by psychedelic colors gets all the press, but the venue is a joy to behold during daylight hours. Whether you’re laying in a hammock enjoying a breeze or peeping the art installations, it’s relaxing but never boring. Throw in the fact that the festival is held during some of the longest days of the year – the sun doesn’t set until well past 9 p.m. – and you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine. 
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Ben Westhoff
Contact: Ben Westhoff