Electric Forest 2012 began with a heat wave like no Michigan festival has ever seen before. Record high temperatures kept festival goers hiding in any form of cool climate they could find. Famous for its layout, Electric Forest remains one of the most well run and well designed festivals I’ve ever been too. With 5 full sized stages, an on ground water park, and a 4 star hotel and golf course, this venue allows users to experience all the fun filled times a summer festival should. Most highly anticipated on the festival grounds is, of course, the Sherwood Forest. A stretch of well maintained tree’s, well groomed paths and various art and light show installations that turn this area into everything the altered mind of a festival attendee could want. Within the trees this year were circus performers on stilts, a temple of music, mimes, a bar, and of course, hundreds and hundreds of hammocks. A haven form the heat, the shade from the trees made the forest a vastly popular destination for people at all times of the day.
Thursday opened with a bang as the Tripolee stage was lit up by the beats of Congo Sanchez. Shortly there after Reggie Watts and Detroit’s own Dixons Violin took the stage to bring the full festival to a start. Dixon’s unique use of the violin, partnered with classical training and a strong understanding of musical theory creates an entertaining and awe inspiring environment creating the full scale classical performance based on the sounds of one man and one violin. After Dixon left the stage I made my way to Sherwood Court and set up camp for the evening. Playing the stage that night was a powerhouse line up, starting with Conspirator, followed by Eoto, all wrapped up by a particularly amazing show from Beats Antique.
Friday I was awoken earlier than expected. The heat wave had people up and out of their sauna like tents and moving into their air conditioned cars. I, however, made my way to the public pool for a quick dip. Upon cooling off, I headed to the Ranch Stage to check out the sounds of Gary Clark, Jr., an Austin,Texas based musician who came across my radar earlier this year. His blues style guitar skills were a relaxing start to the hot day and just what I needed to get ready for a full evening of beats. After he had finished I made my way to the Tripolee stage to hear the sounds of Brother’s Past. Based in Philadelphia, this band has made appearances at many of the festivals I’ve previously been too and their electro-Indi based sounds are most certainly enjoyable. This daytime set was an equally nice change of pace for me, having only seen them in collaboration with their exquisite lights show, I enjoyed being able to focus on the seeing the artists and their connection with the music they were making. From Tripolee I made my way back to the Sherwood Court for an afternoon of Break Science, with a guest appearance from Dom of Big Gigantic. The collaboration of Dom’s saxophone skills and the beats of Break Science brought crowds out and really had people getting down.
Later in the evening, I headed over for the first of three nights of The String Cheese Incident. As per usual, theycame out with a bang. Stage antics and light show aside, the music was phenomenal, making this one of the best Cheese shows I’ve seen to date. They played a number of their classics as well as collaborating with the boys from Thievery Corporation for “Valley of the Jig,” and allowing time for a particularly dirty dubstep breakout. This was definitely a show that’s going to be at the top of my favorites list for some time. The evening was followed up by a killer STS9 performance at the Sherwood Court, and simultaneously a big show from Thievery Corporation on the main stage. As people traveled back and forth from stage to stage trying to catch a bit of both shows, the forest may have seen the most traffic it had all weekend in this second night.
The Infamous Stringdusters and guests were a surprising open to Saturday afternoon. Because of their reputation in the lot I made it a point to break away from my shade covered hammock and stop by for some good beats. After a nice early dance session I headed off to catch West-Michigan’s own Zoogma, and Chicago based The Coop. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a number of shows from both of these talented mid-west based bands and was excited to see them making a big splash in this festival, both drawing good sized crowds on the big stage. Cheese was no disappointment on this second night either. What I would call a more traditional blue-grass influenced performance; I once again got everything I expected to hear with a couple good surprises as well. After Cheese, I moved over to STS9, which was a very different showing from the first evening, much more heavily influenced by hip-hop; these boys certainly closed the festival down well. Girl Talk also managed to pack his stage with the high energy, high volume dance party that he is known for creating.
Sunday brought a good closing day to the festival. The coolest of all four days, I started my day off with a new band to me, Michigan based Crane Wives. These young bluegrass players have been popping up and festivals around the Midwest, but this was the first time I’ve been able to see them. I was impressed, the bases and banjo players both show a lot of talent and they are accompanied by the talented voices of two female singers. Following them I headed over for a funky start in front of some Karl Denson. Next I headed over to see Papadosio out of Ohio. This band has been in the forefront of the electronic scene for a few years now and as I’ve been watching them grow. They only continue to get better and better. Keller Williams made his appearance in association with The Travelling McCourys, in a performance debuting most of their new album, “Pick.” Personally, I’m a big fan of Keller’s style. His quiet, yet upbeat improve style of music not only makes me dance, but his quirky sense of humor makes me smile too. After arriving home from the festival, “Pick,” was the first album I jumped online to find. Cheese ended their three night string with yet another strong show. First set included the likes of Keller and a few other members of the Travelling McCourys, as well as yet another appearance by Dom of Big G. During the Cheese show the Tripolee stage had its fair share of attention as well, with a heavily loaded electronic lineup that included the slow beats and dubby style of Gramatik (one of my fav’s) as well as a house performance by the legendary Richie Hawtin. The long awaited arrival of the bass king himself came at 11pm on closing night, and he was worth it. Lorin Ashton, a.k.a. Bassnectar took the opportunity to use new styles and some new beats while still maintaining his ear bleeding, face melting bass drops. I had the opportunity to see him both at Electric Forest and previously this year at Snowball Music Festival in Avon,Colorado. I have to say he brought his A-game here to Michigan. Big Gigantic then took over and closed the festival out with a powerful performance at the Sherwood Court stage. His performance allowed people to get the last bit of dancing out of their systems before taking one last walk through the famous Sherwood Forest.
All in all Electric Forest was a blast this year and has left me extremely excited to see what they have to offer next year. As far as festivals go, this one remains at the top of my list for not only its well designed line ups, but its well designed layouts as well. Accommodating tens of thousands of people there was no shortage of good food, clean bathrooms, water, ice and showering possibilities. While these don’t affect the enjoyment of music they are all qualities that can make or break a festival experience. After two full years of success, I tip my hat to not only the musicians, but the operational staff that make Electric Forest possible every year.
***Article and Photos by Ian P.