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Electric Forest: Our Third Year In Review

Electric Forest is a very special place to us. Two years ago, we worked our first Forest, and I watched the String Cheese Incident three nights in a row from the side of the stage, forever changing what I think about music, particularly the live performance of music.

The past couple years have brought along some incredible other acts as well…The double-dose of STS9 in 2012 was jaw-dropping. Thievery Corporation was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve watched The Polish Ambassador play an awe-inspiring sunset set. I’ve snuck a slap-bag of wine in for Empire of the Sun’s late night extravaganza and later passed out in a hammock in the middle of the Nth Power’s late-night show. I’ve interviewed Beats Antique, Gramatik, Break Science, Lotus and The String Cheese Incident themselves.

So did 2014 live up to the past two years?

You bet your sweet ass it did.

The weekend got started like any other festival weekend; a pretty grueling drive, credential acquisition and ASAP heavy drinking. Then we got going to the Tripolee stage for a who’s who of deep-house courtesy of the Dirtybird label.

J. Phlip had an early crowd jamming to her broken-beat / deep-house stylee before letting way to Catz & Dogz urgent, bass-driven house. Justin Martin took the decks after that, but I didn’t stay long because progressive-metal-jam titans Umphrey’s McGee were about to kick off one of two epic nights on the Sherwood Forest stage.

Ryan Stasik giving Brendan Bayliss the funky stank-face

UM played to a tiny crowd, much to my amazement. The Sherwood Forest stage was half-full as they started what would end up being an intimate set, which is pretty crazy considering the festival size. The first set was solid, highlighted by an epic “Slacker > Dear Lord > Slacker” preceding “Jajunk” to end the first set.

During set break, we ran over to Zeds Dead to see if some of the 30,000-or-so people who comprised the sold out Electric Forest were there. They most definitely were. Zeds Dead had possibly the largest crowd of the festival as they broke through tempos, experimenting with bass music of all styles. We didn’t stay for too long, because Umph was getting ready to rock a second set. \mm/

Second set was solid, just as the first, with highlights stemming from “Puppet String” before ending with “The Triple Wide > Hajimemashite > 1348.” The six-piece encored with “Pay The Snucka,” and I was dozing off in a hammock while it happened. (Not for lack of epicness, your boy was just mad tired)

Friday morning, 9am, sun blazing as I creep out of my tent like a newborn baby. It was a damn hot one, but that hasn’t stopped us before. I had my doctor / photographer Maxx Mcinerney subscribe me a spliff and a cold one to take the hangover away and we were back in action, baby.

Kyle Hollingsworth’s Brewru Experience provided some insight as to how Bells Brewery makes their beer and the relationship between brewers and bands. We also got to taste some impeccable Bells home-brew and chat with some cool peeps.

Anders Osborne kicked off the main stage with a fat set full of southern blues-jam awesomeness. With an empty field ahead of him, we threw the frisbee around before indulging in brisket sandwhiches from the BBQ vender. It was the most American I felt all weekend and it was heavenly.

We hit up a little bit of Chrome Sparks, who were playing some delightful, experimental, electronica beats in the middle of the forest. Unfortunately, we thought Lauryn Hill would actually start on time and so our fun at Chrome Sparks was short-lived as we rushed over to wait for Luaryn Hill for, not lying, 50 minutes to start.

That’s right folks. I suppose the fact that Lauryn Hill is related to hip-hop culture must allow her to adhere to the stereotype that rappers are always late…as fuck.

Once she did arrive, she was polarizing. She had an incredible voice and was absolutely captivating. However, her and her band were a little too much in to the idea of reinventing her songs. So we heard “Everything is Everything” and “Killing Me Softly” played in this sort of weird, sped-up fashion. Not the best look.

Then it was turn-up-time. Turn-up-time is the special time in the festival where you go back to your campsite and turn the fuck up. This required missing Papadosio, but with the AURA sets I’ve seen those dudes play, I’m sure whatever they were doing couldn’t live up to the “Night Colors” they communicated with the aliens with a couple years ago.

Barefoot Billy was flying high as the rest of us

String Cheese was great night one. I had the pleasure of witnessing a couple friends’ first cheese show and that was fantastic to see. First set was solid, starting with a 24-minute jam of “Colliding > Search > So Far From Home” before finally breaking. The group took it down a notch to perform the caribean-flavored “MLT” with some nice, early guitar action from Billy Nershi before breaking in to a trance jam fronted by Kyle Hollingsworth.

“One Step Closer” segued in to “It Is What It Is” followed, displaying Michael Kang’s guitar-shredding capabilites. Then the group jammed in to “BollyMunster” and all hell broke loose. End first set.

Second set started the way many do, with “Rosie.” However, this 13-minute “Rosie” was special, with a jam I’ve never heard and a cover of Chromeo’s “Bonafied Lovin” sandwiched in between. Later in the set we got a “Joyful Sound” that featured a really awesome, tasteful EOTO jam. The band broke in to it organically and, with Kang dancing like mad on the side of the stage, Jason Hahn and Michael Travis showed exactly why they are amongst the most exciting acts to see in the electronica world.

A 15-minute “Restless Wind” flowed in to a 15-minute “Desert Dawn” which was amongst the greatest half hours of my life, and certainly the weekend. The latter of the two had some of the best Cheese shred I’ve ever heard in my entire life. “Rivertrance” encore ended the strongest Cheese show of the weekend.

Over to STS9 who was finishing up, what I learned, a highly impressive set. I’d have to agree based on the few songs we heard. We walked up on “Moonsocket” sounding fresh, but the new tune “New Dawn, New Day” really had me smitten. The liquid drum & bass style along with a familiar sample was perfectly executed. The newly rejuvinated group ended with “EB” and, without saying a word on the microphone, thanked the crowd for their incredible support.

Kevin and Dantiez Saunderson taking turns on the decks

After Tribe, we walked over to Kevin Saunderson and his son Dantiez, who was primarily taking over the decks. It was a treat to see two generations of house music aficionados, especially when Kevin dropped his sons new track during the b2b session.

Umphrey’s ended our night with an especially heavy set, including “The Floor,” “Wizard Burial Ground,” and a “Bridgeless > Time (Pink Floyd Cover) > Bridgeless” encore. The set eclipsed the previous night’s, in my opinion, but I was so tired on that Thursday night from the travel that I fear UM could have been playing with their toes and teeth and I would still have nodded off.

Excision was playing some pretty god-awful music to a crowd 10x bigger than Umphrey’s as we witnessed on the walk back to camp. It was clearer than ever that the majority of Forest’s patrons did not share our music taste. The fact that Excision is synonymous with dubstep and our website is often mistaken for a dubstep website. Rest assured folks: we think that shit is whack.

Saturday…I woke up and had my doctor prescribe me a spliff and a margarita, following some hammock loungin’. Xavier Rudd kicked off the main stage with his feel-good roots-rock. His mix of reggae and dance beats had a small crowd going absolutely bonkers for a while there.

Bob Moses crushed an early slot on the Tripolee stage, bringing their live, deep house alive in the blistering heat. Although the music didn’t completely match the ambience, I think everyone who was there left a fan of Bob Moses.

The String Cheese Incident took the stage for the second night and had a solid first set. The new Michael Kang tune, “Beautiful” kicked things off on a high note. “Looking Glass” and “Birdland > Flying North Jam > Birdland” were definitely highlights before ending the set with “Just One Story.”

The gang went on set break with the Lauryn Hill Incident to follow. When they came back out, it was still just the six of them and they played “Outside and Inside” before busting in to a massive “Valley of the Jig,” complete with full theatrics.

Lasers, mario-themed inflatables and fireworks during SCI’s big banger

SCI loves their theatrics. I’ve seen them spray fireworks indoors during their New Years Eve throw-down. I’ve seen them get really in to some Halloween costumes at Hulaween. And I’ve seen a couple parades in Electric Forest the past couple years. However, this year was extra special. The Nintendo-themed theatrics included LED visuals, massive Mario question marks, a UFO, fireworks and what felt like a bagillion confetti butterflies to top it all off. It was absolutely over-the-top and extravagant; everybody loved it.

With the fireworks outlasting the music, everyone sat a minute to reflect, though we wouldn’t have too long before Lauryn Hill and her band joined Cheese on stage.

Although they covered Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Bob Marly (four times…) and a few Fugees joints, I just wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the Lauryn Hill Incident. Her entire band joined, often times replacing members of SCI and they played a lot of the same tunes as Lauryn Hill did, in the same exact style. The covers were nice, but ending with “Could You Be Loved” wasn’t exactly a stretch of imagination. Nevertheless, I’m still stoked that my favorite band takes risks like this on a stage as big as Electric Forest’s.

After catching a little bit of Booka Shade and Lee Burridge, it was time to get tribal with STS9. The gang was on point again, performing the best STS9 show I’ve seen to date. They were improvising smoothly and seemed like a cohesive bunch, much more so than any time I’d seen them previously.

Alana Rocklin was completely rockin’ the bass, droppin’ bombs on “Scheme Reprise” and “World Go Round” the final six songs of their set were all played homogeneously, melting in to each other like the crowd was melting before them.

STS9’s guitarist Hunter Brown melting my face

Tribe began to pull some other-wordly tricks when the rain drizzle picked up each time a song would pick up. It was absolute ecstasy for anyone there. Tribe would literally build up a song, jam on it and the rain would pick up simultaneously. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Tribe doing something like this either.

The final day of Forest was a slow one. The fatigue and partying finally caught up to all of us as we pushed through one last time in the name of Cheese. The group delivered a fantastic first set, along with a solid second set. The double encore included a “Rollover” sandwich and “Good Times Around the Bend,” acoustically, to really end things off on a nice note.

Electric Forest is one of the great festivals in the country. Whether you will find yourself at Ultra or Lockn’ this year, EF has something to offer. I’m proud to have been to the last three events and can’t wait for next year!

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