Electric Forest Festival Wrap-Up E-mail
by John Sinkevics

ROTHBURY -- As the budding step-child of the Rothbury music festival of a few years back, Electric Forest may have come into its own last weekend as one of West Michigan’s premier summertime destinations.

With more than 20,000 jam-band and electronic music fans, hippies, people-watchers, volunteers and national media types descending on the sprawling fields and woods of Double JJ Resort in the tiny hamlet of Rothbury north of Muskegon, the four-day festival proved its mettle by drawing bigger crowds and sustaining the feel-good vibe of the original groovy and artistic Rothbury event.

cranewives1 So did Grand Rapids folk-rock phenoms The Crane Wives, who earned their wings on Sunday.

Playing for the first time at a national music festival like Electric Forest, and as the only West Michigan act on the four-day festival bill, the five-piece band – guitarist-singers Emilee Petersmark and Kate Pillsbury, banjo player Tom Gunnels, drummer Dan Rickabus and bassist Ben Zito – captivated a small-but-fervent crowd in the simmering sunshine with a 50-minute set as the first act performing on the Tripolee Stage on Sunday afternoon.

Pumping up a few hundred electronic dance music-leaning festival-goers who already had partied and boogied for three straight days was no small task, but with high-energy, high-hopping performances of songs from their “Safe Ship, Harbored” debut and new material from an upcoming studio album, The Crane Wives built momentum, revving up longtime fans and even those unfamiliar with their music.

“It was definitely one of the more fun shows we’ve ever done,” a sweaty Gunnels gushed after the set. “It was awesome. The crowd felt large even if it wasn’t. The energy was amazing.”

Added Rickabus, who knocked over his cymbals and other gear in a rousing “Safe Ship” finish to the perfectly mixed set: “It’s such a welcoming atmosphere here and the crowd was so strong with our people. Our favorite things are these 40-minute sets because can we can jump and yell and not worry about getting more energy for a longer set.”

That’s especially true when the sun’s beating down and the temperature is in the upper 80s.

IMG_0848 While there are the usual festival hassles, Electric Forest is nothing if not welcoming, at least in terms of the devoted folks flooding the campground, stage areas and that wild, mystical and art-driven Sherwood Forest – an unparalleled enclave of snoozing hammock addicts by day and a laser-and-psychedelia-driven entertainment hot spot by night.

(View some photos below, with videos and more about Electric Forest at the Spins on Music website at localspins.com.)

Attracted by higher-profile acts such as The String Cheese Incident (a progressive jam band with a diehard following that essentially hosts the festival, playing three straight nights), Thievery Corporation, STS9 and DJ stars such as Steve Aoki and Girl Talk, Electric Forest-ites “are a different breed of partyers,” as Rickabus joked from the stage. “You guys are wild animals.”

Well, many of them certainly dress like animals, specifically, wolves, birds, frogs, centipedes, alligators and more, with fur, feathers, Native American headdresses, flowers and LED lights topping things off. They carry signs, critters, maps, flowers, banners, umbrellas, fish, pinwheels and flags at the end of long poles, which seem to dance and bob to the music. They come from as far away as Maine and California.

Thousands are hula-hoops fiends, swirling, twirling and hooping morning, noon and night (LED-lighted hoops are all the rage), with some even doing so atop stilts that turn them into 12-foot giants amid the gyrating throngs packed in front of Electric Forest’s three main stages (with two smaller venues also hosting entertainment).

The crazier and more individual the garb, the better.

Brooke Decou, 20, of Grand Haven, reveled in Electric Forest with four friends, who were decked out in outrageous hats, resplendent body paint, feathered masks, long striped socks and goofy glasses.

IMG_0854 “Where else would you be able to dress like this?” she crowed. “It makes it a so much more fun atmosphere. It’s the best festival. It’s perfect weather and it’s got Sherwood Forest.” Admittedly, it also has its share of lost souls who imbibe too much of too many different intoxicants while trying to do too much in the midst of a heat wave.

Having attended all of the Rothbury and Electric Forest events at Double JJ Resort, I’m alternately enamored of the freeing, peaceful, be-yourself-and-anything-goes demeanor of the colorful festival-goers and pondering whether this is really the ultimate in self-absorbed, all-for-fun consumerism, a sort of to-heck-with-the-real-world-out-there attitude.

Because sadly, these sorts of festivals sometimes produce casualties: A 37-year-old Connecticut man was found dead at his Electric Forest campsite on Friday, and drug arrests are not uncommon, though the Michigan State Police didn’t have an update on those numbers as of Sunday evening.

Still, “all else has been smooth sailing,” according to spokeswoman Carrie Lombardi, of Colorado’s Madison House Presents, which is staging the festival in Michigan.

And for those playing it smart and pacing themselves, Electric Forest can be a wondrous opportunity to absorb invigorating music like that of Washington D.C.’s Thievery Corporation -- which stole the show Friday night with its rotating ensemble of singers in an energetic, fast-shifting mix of reggae, hip-hop, world music and dance-pop – or the instrumental wizardry of ebullient, jam-band faves String Cheese, or experience the ever-changing milieu of Sherwood Forest.

Take it from ultra-enthused 23-year-old hula-hooper Florence Cooley, who traveled all the way from Maine for the second year in a row to attend Electric Forest.

“I love it. It’s mostly the (Sherwood) Forest. I’m a lighting designer and artist so it combines the two things I’m passionate about. And the people here are just amazing.”

Veteran music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics maintains his own Spins on Music website at www.localspins.com, covering and commenting on West Michigan’s music scene – a site where you can also read more about EFF. Photos also by John Sinkevics.

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Published: July 2, 2012

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