A 32 hour drive, a missed connecting flight, and an overnight from Seattle with a layover in Atlanta with a final destination of Grand Rapids. Our crew was split into three groups and each had to face some annoying obstacles to make it to Michigan in time for Electric Forest. Last minute flight cancellations resulting in a drive from San Diego for some, a necessary work arrangement for myself, and a premature departure in Denver for someone else. So far, this trip was anything but easy, but we each pushed forward and just held on to the weekend we were about to have and before long, we were all in Rothbury, Michigan, under an EZ up in the open campgrounds of E-Forest. Other than the sun beating down on us, swarms of mosquitoes and other insects treating us like an all you can eat buffet and some very strange teenage neighbors from Indiana, everything was great. We made it and we were ready to let loose.
Right off the bat there was a different vibe in the air than most festivals I’ve attended. I’m lucky enough to have never had an overly negative experience at any event and dealt with mostly friendly people, but here, it was a bit different. The forest seems to bring out a level of social confidence that I haven’t experienced before. Within a few minutes of arrival, I was greeted by festival goers who were simply happy to see me. Strangers I’d never met. I can’t imagine a better way to start the weekend.
As we settled in during the late afternoon, we made our way to vendor village to visit some friends working the booths. Vendor village served as a great spot to stock up on essentials before heading in for the day. It was also a nice spot to stop and relax in between trips to camp, with an Eno hammock dome and several places to sit and enjoy your meal. The day continued on and we made our walk back to camp before heading in. The night began with us wandering the forest. My first time there and I remembered what it was like to be a child visiting the redwoods in California, running through the woods with reckless abandon. It was a treat to be in such a different environment than the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. Our quest through the forest took us from the Silent Disco for some fun jams and stand up comedy, to the Grand Artique Trading post for some interesting bartering, and ended with us at Ranch Arena. The String Cheese Incident took the stage for their first four hour set of the weekend. I hadn’t had any experience with jam bands prior to E-Forest. Moving forward, I’ll definitely jump at any opportunity to see such gods of musical talent. We eventually ventured off into our own directions with some of us going back to camp, others going to different sets and a few of us just wandering through the festival to take it all in.
The night ended with amazing performances by The String Cheese Incident, Calyx and Teebee, Rufus Du Sol, Netsky, Cut Copy, and G Jones B2B Eprom. Venturing from stage to stage, Friday was a truly holistic experience of the forest.
The sun rise in Michigan is pretty early. The heat kicks in around 7 am and I hope you didn’t stay out too late the night before because I’ll tell you something, as soon as it’s light out, your chances of sleeping immediately drop to 0. A hard lesson learned as I felt like much of a zombie on Saturday. But that feeling wore off quickly as I remembered that I was that much closer to seeing Testpilot. We began the day earlier than Friday. With hammocks ready, we went to the forest stage as the Desert Hearts crew prepared to take over for the day. We set ourselves up and kicked back under the towering Michigan forestry. We took Saturday easy, With a visit to G Jones at Sherwood court, a brief glimpse of String Cheese and some favorites with Chris Lake, we made our way back to camp for a little break. Resting for a few hours was definitely the move. The Michigan summertime is no joke. As important as it is to stay hydrated at any festival, I’d say its doubly important at E-Forest. Down some pedialyte while you’re at it. Those 15 hours of sunlight are no joke.
Know what else isn’t a joke? Watching one of your all-time favorites and personal inspirations work his magic during a 2-hour techno set. We moved slowly from camp to vendor village, downing a few red bulls and some tasty, unhealthy nachos. We sat and talked for an hour, calling friends back home to tell them about the festival and how great it’ll be next year when we’re all there together…and then it was time. We made our way to the gates, politely staked out our space with a solid view of the stage and sat back as Joel did what he does best. My first time seeing Testpilot was nothing short of amazing. A consistent, jumpy vibe to some of the best techno I’ve ever heard, I marveled at his mastery. Producing tracks as universal as Strobe and then changing pace for a full two hours of pure techno, we definitely witnessed another glimpse of legendary that night. With some new techno loving friends and a set we’d never forget, we ventured through the renegades for a few hours before settling back at home for the night.
Sunday had a late start, as Sundays tend to do. With the heat beating down on us again, we made a trip to the local water park. A modest charge of $20 and we had a few hours of fun in the wave pool and water slides while we forgot about just how hot it was outside those walls. With a brief lunch and some time watching the world cup, we ventured back to the festival. The long weekend resulted in a lazy Sunday. We packed everything and moved our car as close as we could to the entrance before making our way in for SoDown. A live Saxophone mixed in with a heavy electronic set the mood for the night.
Overhead the clouds began to get a little dark, no matter, we moved forward into the night and set up our hammocks to take some downtime for ourselves. Unfortunately, not long after we were asked to leave the festival as the entire grounds were evacuated due to a lightning storm headed in our direction. As droves of festival goers made their way to the campgrounds, the wind picked up before hitting everyone with a heavy storm as we raced back to our cars. Two hours later, we were slowly able to begin returning to the festival. An unfortunate reality as a few sets were canceled as a result of the storm.
We made our way to vendor village for a late dinner. The line back into the festival was one of the worst we’d ever seen. We sat back and made sure to forgive ourselves for missing Zhu, sometimes it’s like that. The night ended with the visit to Tripolee, as the masked man took the stage and did what he does best, drop non stop house bangers that get even the most timid festival goers on their feet. Malaa sets are truly some of the most fun I’ve ever had. With heavy bass hits and inspiring samples, the masked DJ knows how to get a crowd moving and bumping anywhere in the world.
As everything came to a close, we said our farewells and made our way back for the long drive back to Chicago. There definitely is something magical about the forest. From meeting up with old friends and traveling thousands of miles despite the many setbacks we all faced, the weekend was one for the books and something we all agreed we continue doing for years to come.
Written by Asad Chishty & Fadi AbuZaineh