This year’s Electric Forest carried a unique blend of special moments, highlights, and a bevy of problems. Despite some early inconveniences and mishaps, the Forest was her usual, charming self and made some altogether awful moments bearable.

This year, I’ve broken my review into pieces, thematically following the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of this is pretty personal and I pray not an overall reflection of the festival itself. But if I just wrote about all the happy go lucky bits, that wouldn’t really be writing about the festival. That would be some heavy-handed editing of my experience. Festivals are an experience, especially so in the case of Electric Forest, and I want my representation to be a whole piece.

However, if you’re good with that edited version, you can go ahead and just read The Good and be done with it. I’ve added the other sections after it for just that reason.

One last thing before I launch into my review: mental health is crucial. Please do what you can to take care yourself and ensure your weekend away from reality. Also, do that in regular life. Keep an eye around you, on your crew and on your Forest Fam for people who look like they’re struggling. Even if it’s just to look them in the eyes and say hi. Thank you.

The Good

Electric Forest 2019

Honeycomb (The Stage)

What a rad concept (and execution, for that matter). Rather than have a plain (or beautifully arranged, colored wood pieces) stage pointed out for attendees to gather round, they put their thing down, flipped, and reversed it.

The stage now points away from the rest of the festival, and seating added in modular pieces. The centerpiece of the seating was a three-tier seating/standing structure built around a central living room. A bar operated out of a converted storage trailer behind the stage, so a person could spend a long time lounging in a very homey feeling environment, all painted a friendly shade of yellow.

Electric Forest - Honeycomb x Lightship Beatbox

Honeycomb (The Man)

This guy’s been on a JOURNEY for the past few years. Every time I see Honeycomb, I see (hear) the progress he’s made and I think to myself, “He’s finally figured it out. He’s got his thing down pat and he’s mastered something new in the beatboxing world.” Then the next year comes and he’s got a whole new bag of tricks, his beatboxing skills improved exponentially, and he blows everybody’s minds all over again.

I was sure that last year’s set at Grand Artique had to be his peak. In a constant stream of new collaborators, he built up a sound that borrowed elements of R&B, blues, hip-hop, trap, house, and other bits and pieces. Somehow he wound up waist-deep in jazz, jamming with a guy hammering samples on a Novation pad while Honeycomb layered over top of it and riffed off the samples with his goddamn mouth.

This time around, his collab with Lightship Beatbox and Entellekt was the stuff of legends. Four people stood around a table of gear, each with a mic in their hand and they moved like predators in unison. They’d lurch counter-clockwise for a few heavy steps, then about face and march back the other way, then again, then again. It was like watching the gears on a clock. From the speakers came a full band’s worth of instruments, each sounding like the real thing, all uttered from one of the fourth mouths. In a word, it was insane.

If anybody has a lead on a recording from that set, I’d love to get a link.

Electric Forest 2019 - Honey Larochelle

Honey Larochelle (The Queen)

This lady fit the Forest like a glove. Or maybe it was the other way around. It was probably both.

As a member of the Fungineers, Honey Larochelle is no stranger to the kind of open concept performance, live collaborations, or freestyling that the Honeycomb stage seemed to encourage.

She’s also an outright professional. When some rando with an inflatable crayon and bore a striking resemblance to Kygo hopped on stage with Honey and her band, she gave him some space and kept doing her thing. When Faux Kygo crowded her, she playfully danced with him a bit. When he kept at it, she chased him back with a “nuh-uh” finger before somebody behind the stage reminded him that his set wasn’t for a few hours, so maybe get the hell off the stage.

The next player to take the stage was none other than Honeycomb himself, forming a Voltron-like Honey cubed performance. Honeycomb beatboxed, Honey free-styled a few Electric Forest verses, and the band did their best to keep up. It was super sweet and a little bit salty.

Electric Forest - Manatee Commune

Manatee Commune

If you’re thinking, “Who is that?” or, “What the hell is a Manatee Commune?” don’t feel bad, I was in the same boat when my friend suggested we go. My schedule was already shot to hell for the day, so I didn’t even bother looking at what else was going on at the time. I just ambled after her, content to be in the company of friends.

I’m incredibly happy that I followed my heart, because it led to an incredible set. Incredible!

Manatee Commune (MC) is Grant Eadie, a twenty-something producer out of Bellingham, WA. I’m not really sure where to put his music in terms of genre, which is a good start. I’d say he’s somewhere near the intersection of Odesza and Slow Magic, though that doesn’t describe him fully or fairly enough.

He hit some technical issues in his set, one at a very inopportune time, he kept at it as soon as the sound system came back to life. The crowd fully supported him throughout as well, cheering the loudest on one of the final drop outs when he was visibly frustrated.

Amtrac at Electric Forest 2019

Amtrac

Caleb Cornett, better known in the music world as Amtrac, has a dark gray version of house that is somehow downtempo and uplifting, sad but optimistic, and deep, yet easy to get into. In other words, he belongs at Electric Forest. I was happy to see his name on the lineup this year and ecstatic when I saw he’d be playing Carousel Club, even if it meant missing the end of Odesza.

Everybody else, it seems, did not agree with that last bit. When I first arrived at the show, the floor of Carousel Club was fairly sparse. Not Lee Fields sparse, but definitely lower attendance than I’d expected. Not that it’s a bad thing; it’s nice to have room to move around without bumping into people.

In scanning the crowd for members of my crew, I found a familiar face, though it was none of the ones I was on the lookout for. It was, of all people, Little Simz who clearly had her priorities in order, sticking around after her afternoon set to catch Amtrac.

After a time, well essentially after a half hour plus walking through the Forest time, people started to file in. It’d be funny to see the numbers on the amount of people who started at Odesza with the intention of hitting up Amtrac’s set at Carousel Club, then see how many of those got side-tracked in the Forest and then those who wound up stuck somewhere in the Hanger.

Still, enough made it to pack a thick crowd all the way to the back, everybody moving and getting down. It’s too bad that he was limited to an hour and fifteen minutes. Music like that should be presented in elongated sets. There’s another item for the EF suggestion bucket.

With this name checked off my EF lineup bucket list, it’s time for me to start working on another one. Can I get a raise of hands for Bicep at Electric Forest 2020? Puh-leeze?

Electric Forest 2019 - Lee Fields

Lee Fields & the Expressions

If you missed either of Lee Fields’ sets, which by the looks of the attendance at either that you likely did, you should know that you missed out. Typically I preach the gospel of JOMO > FOMO, but his performances made a solid argument for the latter.

The 67 year-old took the stage in a mirror ball sport coat on both nights, but it served as the cherry on the sundae that was Carousel Club. It may have been difficult to see into the crowd from the bright stage, but after 50 years on stage, there’s no way he didn’t notice the low attendance. Did that stop him, or even slow him down? Hell no, Lee Fields is a professional. He sang his ass off, and later in the show(s) solicited feedback from ladies in the front row. It may be a bit dated and not on-message with the mission of the Forest to move beyond a gender binary, but damn if it didn’t come off sweet.

He’d ask a lady her name and how she was doing, or where her man was, or in one case, suggesting a gentleman come and dance with a woman who was, in fact, already dancing with her partner. “OH, I’M SORRY, I DIDN’T SEE YOU! HA HA HA HAAA!” He erupted to the delight of the crowd.

His first set at Carousel Club was a little all over the place, where his Jubilee set there seemed to be more of a narrative behind the setlist. He also sported a pink mirror ball jacket for his second set, which the lighting production staff coordinated the lighting perfectly.

Photos

If you’d rather stop where you’re at and look at pretty pictures instead, I GOT YOU, FAM. Just click below:

Electric Forest 2019

The Bad

The Wristband Conundrum

This year, HQ made a key change to their wristbands. Instead of attaching a floating plastic card embedded with an RFID chip, they had the card shrunk and sewn into the wristband. While this eliminated that annoying thing where the card got stuck between your wrist and forearm and dug into your skin, it also introduced a couple of new issues.

When they used the external chip card, the wristband’s ID number got printed on the back of the card. Since it was applied to plastic, they could use a resilient ink that resisted the normal wear and tear of a festival goer. But with an enclosed chip, it meant they had to stamp the number into the fabric on the backside of the sewn in chip. What was worse, the back side was white and when they stamped the number, they did not use any ink, so reading the digits was a task, to put it lightly. It was also a task we’d need to repeat several times along with a trio of on-site ticketing reps.

We wound up with extra wristbands when some of our crew dipped out, so we sold them off to those in need. One pair didn’t arrive in time, so I contacted the ticketing group and they deactivated the bands and made two new bands available at will call. Easy peasy, right?

Except for that part on Friday when they clipped somebody else’s wristband because it showed up as stolen in their system. I told the ticketing rep that the wristbands were lost, but they marked them as stolen.

We met the girl with the clipped band at the ticketing support booth by the main entrance and got everything sorted, or so we thought. We really could have used a whiteboard. A really big one.

It turned out they originally deactivated one of my wristbands that I sold and one that my girlfriend sold. Then when they tried to fix it, they deactivated my girlfriend’s sister’s wristband.

All in all, I think we clocked six hours working on this issue with three trips to the ticketing booth, subjecting our ears to whatever fresh hell emanated from Tripolee, waiting in the heat for the dial-up level internet that the reps were stuck with.

Electric Forest 2019

My Attitude

I drove an RV for the first time. I drove from Minnesota, clocking in about 12 hours to get to Rothbury. I neglected to eat, likely on account of the half gallon of Cherry Coke Zero I drank en route. I was a hot, salty, stressed-out mess on arrival and Thursday’s midday heat did me no favors.

I wound up in a downward spiral of alternately yelling then apologizing at and to the people around me, until I was put in timeout in the room at the back of the RV. They locked me in with a sandwich. I argued at first, then I took a bite, then another until I got halfway through the sandwich. Then I passed out with the thing on my chest, waking up an hour or so later to finish it off. I felt human again. I also felt shame about how I behaved, stupid about how poorly I prepared, dumb for feeling like I haven’t learned anything in my 9 trips to EF.

At the end of my exhaustion and anxiety spiral was depression, a long, deep pit that I would not fully emerge from for another two weeks. It seemed no matter what I did, whether it was positive like meditation and sleep or not so positive, like drowning my sorrows in alcohol or attempting the “fake it til you make it” method.

Imagine the classic cartoon of a single storm cloud following a person around, mucking up their plans and generally making life miserable, but just for them. Now imagine that storm cloud is actually covering their head instead of over it, and as a result, everything around them dulls a bit, words are harder to make out, and every action becomes a little more difficult.

Nobody else can see the cloud, only that the affected person seems a little off. Maybe standoffish, even, or aloof. The shrouded person tries to fake it til they make it, but that doesn’t work. Then they try burying their woes in alcohol or drugs, that only seems to darken the cloud and deepen the need to get out from behind it.

“What the shit?” He thinks to himself. “This is Electric Forest. This is my happy place. What’s so wrong with me that I can’t enjoy myself here?” He gets angry and pushes his people away. It’s for their own good, they don’t want to be around me anyway.

As you can guess, that unfortunate cartoon character was me. A wave of depression hit me on arrival and I never really recovered while I was on site.

As much as my friends tried, as much as I tried, nothing seemed to work. There was no magic combination. What was worse was the more I tried, the worse I felt, or more accurately, the less I felt. Sadness and anger can be extremely difficult to deal with, but numbness? Feeling nothing, everything in your chest a void, that’s worse.

But I got through it. In retrospect, I can see all kinds of points where the decisions I made likely made my situation worse, but on a positive note, I now have a fully fleshed out contingency plan for next time. That’s something, right?

Electric Forest 2019

Honey Dijon cancelled

On Saturday at about 7:30 PM, this awful notification popped up from the EF app on my phone:

“Honey Dijon is unable to perform tonight due to a flight cancellation.”

Honey Dijon: My absolute number one must see, would have fought food poisoning or a dragon to get to that set. No amount of apathy or exhaustion could have stopped me. Foiled by a company that probably still runs much of their software on DOS. Whatever, I’m not bitter.

To whatever gods I need to pray/sacrifice to, please see to it that Honey gets a makeup date. I think she’d really dig playing in the Carousel Club and that the attendees deserve to see the magic she whips up on a couple of decks. Black Girl Magic, the best kind.

Electric Forest 2019 - Silent Disco

Hippie Sabotage

I was not at this show, rather I walked through the rear of Ranch Arena while they were on stage. I’d say it was while they were playing, but they were just yelling into a microphone constantly, at the top of their lungs into a mic that was as loud as it could possibly go. The way they swear reminds me of when a 14 year old is trying on swearing for the first time and goes a little overboard.

“HANDS UP, MOTHERFUCKERS! LET ME SEE SOME FUCKING HANDS! HANDS UP HANDS UP HANDS UP!”

Why they were ever booked is a mystery to me. They’re about as anti-Forest as you can get without wielding racism or a gun. They encourage violence, they are unapologetically violent themselves, they have no respect for the gear they are playing on, and they stole the music that helped make them famous.

Suggestion Box: Never book Hippie Sabotage again. Do not book people who are perpetually violent, who encourage violence, and seem to go against every one of Electric Forest’s missions.

The Ugly

Bubble Gutter at Electric Forest 2019

Eight Hours to Get Out of Camp

I am at camp, sitting in our rented RV witnessing the fourth or fifth outfit change. We are being held hostage by a poorly executed ticketing scheme (See The Bad: The Wristband Conundrum). We don’t know it yet, but it isn’t my fault. But for the time being, the group consensus is that Ben messed up. I can’t prove otherwise, so I’m just kind of stuck in the doghouse, watching my crew attempt to set a new record for clothes worn in five hours.

I’d go into the festival, but they’d probably kill me. Even if I did, I’d probably be pulled back out to the ticketing support tent to show my ID and repeat the story to yet another person. So here I am on a weird sitcom about an indecisive wardrobe and makeup department.

It should be said, though, that Ernie from Elevate Ticketing is a Saint, full stop. He helped us get things sorted, helped us read the ridiculous letters and numbers, sorting out B’s from 8’s, 0’s from O’s, and echoing our sentiments about the new wristbands. He ultimately got us fixed up and prevented the need to return to the booth again.

Electric Forest 2019

The Return of THE LINE

For those of you who attended Electric Forest 2015, you’ll no doubt remember THE LINE to get into the festival on Thursday that stretched back through Main Street and took up to 4 hours of waiting just to get into the festival.

The next year, HQ introduced Four in the Forest, a longtime loyalty program and along with it, a priority entrance that bypassed the rest of that noise. It was a nice option for those of us who’d kept coming back year after year.

This year, while enduring our own kind of wait sorting out our wristband debacle, we witnessed staff in the 4ITF/6ITF line siphoning off from the main line when it got too backed up. They’d invite everybody to come to the loyalty line, opening it up to one an all. As a result, the wait to get in either line was essentially the same and the loyalty benefit eliminated.  

Because I don’t appreciate complaining for the sake of complaining, here’s an idea for the ol EF Suggestion Box: Make the loyalty entrance available from the main entrance, at the front of the line. When there is somebody in the loyalty line, they take priority, but when nobody is coming through the loyalty line, regular GA people can feed into the loyalty security folks. Just like TSA Pre-Check at the airport.

Electric Forest 2019