There is no place in the world like Electric Forest. This was the first year that Madison House held two weekends of the festival in a row, starting June 22 and ending July 2, at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, Michigan. Through all of the amazing sights, sounds, and feelings, we narrowed it down to 11 moments that stood out the most.
The String Cheese Incident
The hosts from Colorado certainly did not disappoint, playing eight sets combined over the two weekends. The first weekend featured plenty of crowd favorites, including an extended “Joyful Sound,” a “Colliding” sandwich with a cover of “Moves Like Jagger” in between, and a phenomenal “Bumpin’ Reel” featuring Michael Kang shredding on the fiddle. They ended the first night with an encore of “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” into a cover of “Sympathy for the Devil,” so needless to be said the crowd was very pleased. The second night was just heater after heater. The first set featured all originals, but the second set was truly special. In the spirit of the SCI Sound Lab, the guys featured a handful of guests, including Eric Krasno, Kamasi Washington & Robert “Sput” Searight, Matisyahu, Brazilian Girls, Matt Hill from The Floozies, Borahm Lee from Break Science, and even Liquid Stranger. They covered everything from the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” to “Zombie” by Fela Kuti.
The second weekend was just as wild as the first, including their coveted Saturday night “Shebang,” which was exactly that, featuring fireworks, hot air balloons, acrobatic dancers and even helicopters. The second set featured a dramatized political message with the segue of “Tinderbox > Dear Prudence > Shine.” They ended with “Texas” and then a huge storm rolled in just in time for the boys to finish with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” The Cheese sets by themselves made for two memorable weekends, and there was plenty more to experience in the Forest.
My Morning Jacket
These Louisville rockers are becoming one of the most complete and impressive touring bands out there. Frontman Jim James, croons the crowd with his spine-tingling vocals, and combined with the other four members, they can seriously tear the roof off of any venue. Coming off of headlining slots at Lockn’ and Hulaween in the last year, the bar was set pretty high for their set at Electric Forest. MMJ was given the slot on the mainstage right before Bassnectar’s show, giving many new fans a chance to experience their brand of true rock ‘n roll. A large portion of bassheads were sitting down at the beginning of MMJ’s set, but towards the end nearly everyone was on their feet, as Jim James and company truly moved the audience. Opening with a blistering “Victory Dance,” they kept the energy up for the entire set. They played both parts of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream,” a rockin’ “Off the Record,” and covered Bob Dylan and Prince. MMJ ended with the crowd favorite “One Big Holiday,” which sealed up a near perfect set.
It’s impossible to put Thievery into a single genre, or two or three genres for that matter, because this band can truly do it all. More than anything, they have a reggae feel, but they implement dub, jazz, classical, Middle Eastern, and hip-hop quite fluidly.The D.C.-based group played before Bassnectar as well (on Sunday of the second weekend), and they were absolutely on fire as Rob Garza and Eric Hilton anchored the group for a truly creative performance. Featuring many songs from their new album The Temple of I & I, but also throwing in classics such as “Culture of Fear,” “Sweet Tides,” and “Lebanese Blonde,” it was a set to remember.. I think the most impressive moment was when Rob Myers brought out the sitar and got to work.
The Bluegrass Generals
Not every day featured sets by SCI per say, but thankfully, there was a little bit of Cheese to be found spread through each day at Electric Forest. The Bluegrass Generals featured Michael Kang, Keith Moseley, and Bill Nershi from SCI, and it was curated by Chris Pandolfi and Andy Hall from the Infamous Stringdusters. It was in an intimate setting at The Observatory, which was located directly in Sherwood Forest. The ad-hoc group treated the crowd to some traditional bluegrass, New Grass, and of course snuck in a few Cheese tunes, so “everything in between” was more than covered. The band members were in tight communication with each other, making for high quality jams with everyone intently involved. Given the intimate setting, it gave the guys time to crack some jokes and talk a little more than usual, which was really cool to see as a diehard SCI fan. The camaraderie was overflowing as they even passed around a joint and a bottle of whiskey!
This four-piece band from Arizona may be the most buzzed about jam band in the scene right now, and after two fantastic sets each weekend at Forest, it’s safe to say that the buzz is warranted. At one moment they’re playing funk, the next they’ve got ripping guitar solos, and before you know it they shoot the crowd into outer space with incredible psychedelia. Joel Cummins from Umphrey’s McGee sat in on keys for a song during the first weekend, a pretty nice honor for a band that has only been around for a handful of years. They took their time developing grooves piece-by-piece and it really was a delight to witness. It’s easy to dance to, and it’s easy to head bang to. That’s just what you want in a jam band, versatility, and it will be really exciting to see what the future holds for this talented quartet.
Consider the Source
This band specializes in melting faces, there’s really no other way of putting it. The fact that three guys can cause all of that ruckus on stage is mind blowing. Implementing plenty of Middle Eastern vibes and almost Primus-like grooves, this New York trio is on top of their game. Gabriel Marin plays a double necked guitar with a midi controller and fretless neck, which is rarely seen, and John Ferrara can straight slap the heck out of his bass. It only took about five minutes into their set for them to get going full force, and if you weren’t a fan before, you certainly were once you left. They were absolutely locked in with one another, as you could tell that they have spent quite a bit of time polishing their sets for the Forest. Both of their sets were at The Observatory, so fans could get up close and personal to see these guys shred.
There are few funk bands that can throw down like Lettuce. A favorite at many festivals for a few years now, you know if there’s a late-night Lettuce set scheduled, it’s going to be a funky good time. Eric Krasno was in his old captain’s seat, as he founded the band, but has only played with them sporadically in recent years, as he has a hand in many other projects. Krasno held down the guitar in fine fashion, Jesus Coomes kept the groove with the bass, and Adam Deitch tore it up on the drums. Lettuce blew the roof off of the Jubilee tent on Friday of the first weekend and then moved out to Sherwood Court for the second weekend. The way those Boston guys played traditional funk, but then threw in all of these unexpected jam elements made them so much fun to see. Everyone was loving it, from start to finish. The late night slot was perfect for these guys, as their show had people funkin’ out all the way back to their tent. They played an extended “Do It Like You Do,” which is always a fun track, and then got super weird with “Phyllis” and “Trillogy.” The bass hit heavy and the horns came in smoothly, making for a polished end product.
This was one of the coolest and most impressive sets of the entire festival. Featuring a collaboration between Break Science and two members of The Disco Biscuits, it had elements of super weird bass-driven jams by Marc Brownstein of the Biscuits, and then elements of impressive electronic drops by Adam Deitch and Borahm Lee of Break Science. Electric Forest is special for a lot of reasons, but the opportunity that it brings for unique collaborations is among the top.
Every EOTO set is completely different, and that is because Jason Hann and Michael Travis are completely improvising and making things up as they go along. The two drummers for SCI are obviously very electronically savvy, as they threw down some of the nastiest drops of the entire two weekends. It was a spectacle to see, as Jason would be waiting for a cue from Travis on the pads, and then they would sync up into a beautiful and unique electronic sequence. It was such a good contrast to the many DJ’s at the Forest that relied more heavily on pre-recorded sets. With EOTO, there is nothing pre-recorded, it’s basically rock music, but they still wobble you to your core. As a festival favorite for many years, many of the people I spoke with after the set were convinced that their set on the first weekend was the most dialed in they had ever seen Travis and Hann. The crowd energy was at an all-time high, as it was clear that they were feeding off of them. EOTO is so weird and unique, and even if you aren’t into the music, you can at least tip your hat to them for making it up as they go along. It just emphasizes the unbelievable musical ability that the members of The String Cheese Incident have, and it’s wonderful because they not only respect electronic music, they create it themselves, expanding upon what electronic music can and should be.
Dixon’s Violin was a beautiful and magical surprise to each weekend in the Forest. He is an all-live, one man symphony, implementing loops and incredible improvisations, all with the violin. It was some of the most touching and emotionally moving music that I have ever seen. He is very clearly classically trained, and his energy was mesmerizing. Dixon had multiple sets each weekend at The Observatory, and it was such a beautiful change from all of the high-energy electronic and jam music that we had been slammed with all day.
With a lineup as diverse and stacked as Electric Forest, we are truly spoiled by amazing music for an entire weekend, or two for some. For fans of many genres of music, it’s something out of a dream. Some of the electronic acts were extremely impressive. Ott, the producer hailing from Great Britain, completely killed it, featuring a DJ set each weekend and a set with his live band The All-Seeing Eye. Kalya Scintilla & Eve Olution delivered a beautiful late night set in the Forest, and The Floozies brought electro-funk to a whole new level. The Infamous Stringdusters, were very impressive, as always, which is such a delight to see, as they showed many newcomers what progressive bluegrass is all about. The up-and-coming Maryland rockers Pigeons Playing Ping Pong threw down psychedelic jam-funk masterpieces each weekend, with the second coming on the Main Stage. Lotus delivered with creative covers and old-school instrumental jams for a late night set each weekend, and Minnesota and Yheti delivered on some very nice trap to keep the party going.
Electric Forest is an absolutely magical place, filled with beautiful people and some of the most diverse and amazing music you will ever find. One moment you can kick up dirt to some bluegrass, or get down to some funk and soul, and the next womp it out with the many DJs and producers. In 1955, Wally Wojack literally planted the trees in the Forest just to create a place for “kids to have fun, drink lots of beer, and dress funny.” Wally recently passed away at age 89, but his legacy lives on, and Electric Forest continues to honor his original idea.
Article by Tyler Hurd
Photographs by Olivia Wilkes
Electric Forest 2017 — Weekend One — Rothbury. MI
Electric Forest — Weekend Two — Rothbury, MI