Good Vibes in Sherwood Forest: An Electric Forest Review

By Chaz Parks

After attending Rothbury Music Festival in the summer of 2009, I was more then ecstatic to see another gathering of music at the lovely Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, MI, where the The Electric Forest Music Festival took place. The festival was put on by The String Cheese Incident and company, so I could only imagine what the magical weekend had in store for me. This magical event took place from June 30th to July 3rd 2011. The lineup this year was a little heavy on the electronic side, a switch up from both Rothbury Music festivals that included bands such as The Dead, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and Wide Spread Panic. However, this was a new beginning.

It was a challenge getting into the festival grounds, due to the fact that we had to wait in line until about five in the morning. Once camp was set up, there was energy in the air telling me that this was going to be a festival for the ages. I attained my media pass for the weekend and then walked around the festival grounds before it became ransacked by thousands of music-hungry kids.

This summer’s Sherwood Forest had huge, purple silk cloths that looked like pirate masts wrapped around trees to make a cone-shaped hideaway in the woods. Even during the day, the forest was magnificent. Eno Hammocks hung from trees, and there was a stage set back off into the distance.

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Thursday there was a crazy storm that rolled through during Toubab Krewe, the West African infused band from Asheville, North Carolina, was like nothing I have ever witnessed before in my life. It started to drizzle in the middle of their set, which was kind of refreshing due to the heat, but towards the end it turned into a sideways downpour. We fled back to our campsite. As we sat in the car, we watched an insane electric storm light up the night sky. Mother Nature wanted in on the action.

When night arrived, it was like jumping in the rabbit hole and falling into Wonderland. Colored lights illuminated black-light art as it hung in the woods and fog rolled in and created a spectacular laser show. As we walked to go see Lotus, we stopped for a second to check out Excision. There was so much bass going on I thought I was in a Honda Civic with terrible sounds system. So we womp-walked our way to Sherwood Court for Lotus, who put on a fantastic set, but it was interrupted when the soundboard shorted out for their last song.

Friday brought us sunshine and String Cheese. I decided to do some people watching so I walked around the camp grounds for a while. It’s interesting, the people you see when you’re at a music festival. Everyone is either the nicest person you have ever met and they would give you the shirt off their back, or they just wanted you to buy one of cornucopia of drugs they had in their knapsack.

The Hood Internet was playing at the Tripolee stage when I walked in, so I got down on some fun mash-up songs for a bit. The New Deal was up next, right before String Cheese went on. I had never heard of these guys before, but I was told they were breaking up after the summer. They put on a tremendous performance and I am very disappointed I won’t be able to see them in the future. The first night of The String Cheese Incident, they played two solid sets and ended the second one with a funky cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

After Cheese we decided to skip out on Tiesto for some New Orleans funk from Galactic. They put on one of the most energetic shows I had seen all weekend, and ended their set with the whole band forming a drum circle in the middle of the stage.

Saturday offered everyone a little bit of Michigan love by providing two wonderful acts from Ann Arbor; The Macpodz and The Ragbirds. I have seen both these bands countless times at the Upfront and Company in Marquette, so I was thrilled to finally get to see them on a larger scale. The Macpodz played first at Sherwood Court, and their disco bebop kept everyone grooving the entire show. Bass player Brennan Andes was wearing an NMU High Adventure Club tank top to show his love and support for Northern Michigan. The Ragbirds also put on a tremendous performance and the gorgeous Erin Zindle showed that she can play a mean violin.

I then moved on to a second night of String Cheese, which was another crazy show. They had these huge parade floats being walked through the crowd and covered Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which made the crowd go bananas. I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of dub step, but I decided to stick around and watch Bassnectar to see what all of the hype was about. It was interesting watching this new wave of fans hit the festival circuit and I actually really enjoyed the show, he must twist his knobs a little better then the rest. My only complaint was the two kids in front of me with pacifiers in their mouths, tackling people for a glow stick. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good glow stick now and then, but it’s not worth breaking my hand. I ended the night with the DJ set of Shpongletron, who had the coolest stage set up I’d ever seen. It was this huge tower with a DJ set on top with an eye on top of it shooting out lasers.

Sunday ended the festival with a bang. Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros is a band I’ve been dying to see since I first heard “Home” about a year ago. It was a very interesting show to say the least. The band has seven plus members in it and the lead singer, Alex Ebert, seems to be from a distant planet.

The last night of String Cheese included a cover of one my favorite Rolling Stones songs, “Wild Horses.” They ended their last show with Bill Nershi, thanking everyone for coming out for the weekend and hoping to see everyone again next year. The last shows of the weekend were Pretty Lights and EOTO. Pretty Lights had a wild stage set up and did a remix of Pink Floyds’ “Time” that got everyone bobbing. As EOTO winded down, everyone fled to the forest for one last glance at its magnificence before being forced out by State Troopers.

Overall, Madison House and Insomniac did a superb on Sherwood Forest this year making it an experience that I and the thousands of fans, who made it out for the Fourth of July, something that we will not forget. With critics having small expectations due to the limitations of genres prior to the festival, the folks at Madison House have ensured us for a very exciting future at the double JJ ranch for festival goers.