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Electric Forest Pre-coverage: Sherwood Forest’s Lighting Guru Andrew Carroll (Interview)

There is perhaps no other festival quite as aesthetically pleasing as Electric Forest. Held in Rothbury, Michigan and boasting a beach, magical forest, and unmatched line up, Forest is definitely a must-attend this year. String Cheese is playing three sets, STS9 is doing 2 and additionally you get sets by our favorites such as 12th Planet, Bassnectar, Break Science, Zoogma, Papadosio, Thievery Corporation, Borgore and many more.

We recently had the honor to catch up with Andrew Carroll, Electric Forests lighting director. This is the man most responsible for bringing the Sherwood Forest to life. Where most festivals strive for a gorgeous landscape, Forest takes it up a step further and decorates the hell out of theirs. Carroll is also in charge of the String Cheese Incidents’ light and visual show. He will be debuting a brand new visual show at Electric Forest.

DubEra: First off introduce yourself to our readers. Explain who you are, how you fell in to lighting production, how long you’ve been doing it for, etc.

Andrew: My name is Andrew Carroll, and I am a lighting designer and production manager in the concert and entertainment industry. I got my start doing lighting and production in 1998, with the String Cheese Incident. I fell in love with their music the second I first heard it and I took off in my van to see a bunch of shows. The shows were pretty small and intimate back then, and the band started seeing me around more and more. I ran into Michael Travis on the street in front of the venue, and I mentioned that I was going to see a bunch of the fall tour shows and if there was any way he could put me on the guest list, to save me a few bucks. He asked if I wanted to do the whole tour and be on the ‘crew'(this was the first tour with ‘crew’). I saw it as an epic opportunity, said yes, and volunteered my VW Van as the crew van. We had my van, a Penske box truck for gear, and the band in “Bussy” (a old converted ski bus). At first i was setting up Trav’s drums, or hanging the batiks, loading the box truck, or basically whatever needed to be done. A few weeks into the tour the person they had running lights had to leave the tour suddenly/permanently and we all looked at each other like “Who’s going to run the lights then?” For some reason i said “I’ll do it”, and i’ve been running lighting for SCI ever since. That was 14 years ago.

D: Electric Forest is probably the most notable Festival as far as atmosphere and non-musical attractions are concerned. Explain how that next-level lighting and visual production evolved and how it grows every year. What is it about the forest that makes it a one-of-a-kind venue for this type of event?

A: The forest in the center of the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, MI is a very unique space. It was planted 55 years ago as a pine forest with the intention of clearcutting it (how ever often Pine forests are clearcut?), but then they never did, so it’s an approx 600’x600′ forest full of 50foot pine trees in a grid, with a few rows taken out for walkways. There is something magical about the ‘order’ of having all these trees in a grid. The Forest is at the center of the Ranch grounds, and you have to walk through it to get to the different areas/stages of the festival. It’s truly a magical space to hang out in when it’s only the trees, but then when we come in with tons of lighting, art and special environment features, it just takes it over the top. As we get to know the space better each year (this is our fourth year) and how people best interact and hangout in the space, we get a better sense for how to continue to dial in the lighting and art flow better each year.

D: Concertgoers are always showing the “walk through sherwood forest” and other youtube videos to entice their friends to make the trip to Rothbury. How do you think the production level of the forest helps to bring new fans in and keep the old ones coming back?

A: There is no doubt that the top notch production level we bring to the forest brings new fans and brings old ones back! We’re continuing to push the envelope in terms of next level lighting and art. People seem to love the space so much that they go home and tell there friends “You HAVE to go next year!” and then people see videos and photos and one realizes what a unique atmosphere it truly is.

D: Do you ever relive the forest via youtube videos or have you had enough of lights by the time the festival is over?

A: I’ll check out Youtube videos etc for the first week or so after the festival, to see if there are any good videos out there, and to file away for future reference. I love seeing that people loved the Forest as much as they did, and it totally gives validation to the fact that we put SO much time, energy, money and love into making it amazing for months and months leading up to the event. I’ve been working somewhat steadily on EFF2012 since November 2011.

D: What is Insomniac’s involvement with Electric Forest and how does it help Forest deviate from most other music festivals.

A: Insomniac (along with Madison House Presents) is one of the producers of Electric Forest Festival. They have a pretty heavy background in electronic music, and this festival definitely has an electronic music edge to it. Electronic and dance music seems as though its really started to explode in the USA in the last number of years and these guys are and have been on the forefront of it all. It’s a pleasure to work with and for them.

D: Who designs the actual sculptures and exhibits within the Forest?

A: Me and my team, in conjunction with different artists we bring, design the sculptures for the Forest. It’s an amazing cohesive team effort to bring it all to life.

D: Describe the process that goes in to decorating. How does it start and where does it end?

A: The planning process for the following year begins with what we are learning during the current festival of that year. And then we really start to get heavy into planning and reaching out to artists in the fall. The Sherwood Forest team arrives on-site about one week before the start of the festival. It begins with some of the basics: fencing, the lighting that is geared more towards safety lighting, setting up our production office, etc. I tag alot of trees/areas that will make it easier for when the lighting companies and artists show up so they know exactly where to start setting up. Like I said, it’s a great group effort and we have an awesome team. The actual decorating starts the Sunday/Monday prior to the festival, and it pretty much doesn’t end until it’s time to tear down and everyone goes home. Throughout the festival different artistic installations will continue to emerge, from inspired folks who weren’t hired by us per se, but who feel the creative bug and just decide to start making art. It’s a beautiful thing to witness!

D: Describe your involvement in the String Cheese Incidents light show.

A: I am the lighting+video designer for SCI. I design all visual aspects of our show. I also program and operate the live light show as well. The band has pretty much left me all this time to my own creative devices. At times this is challenging, but for the most part I’ve appreciated it and it’s allowed me to grow and learn on my own as a lighting designer. Since i’ve been lighting these guys for so long i feel like an extension of their instruments and can anticipate where they are going to go.. at times before some of them do! Mostly i just try to listen, and accentuate their sounds. They are all such phenomenal musicians, and a joy to work with. Every night we play, we collectively (band, lighting, sound, audience) achieve a certain level of magic that is completely indescribable. That “X” factor where everything lines up just perfectly. It’s an amazing experience and i’m very proud to be a part of it all!

D: Describe your involvement in other Electric Forest artists light shows.

A: I create the lighting design for the mainstage, and i work with the various acts that play to integrate the ‘house’ lighting+video designs with whatever they might be bringing in to supplement the house rig. I do not operate their shows, but work with the LDs to help them out with whatever they might need to make their show as great as possible.

D: Have you ever thought about bringing your talents to other music festivals and bands?

A: I do indeed work with a number of other festivals and bands throughout the year. Aside from SCI and Electric Forest, I am also Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Production Manager, which has kept me busy for the past few years.

D: What artists are you most excited to see at Electric Forest this year?

A: I’m most excited for SCI, as i have a new lighting+video design, and Electric Forest are the first shows of our tour. Other than that I always enjoy Bassnectar and his visual epicness designed+operated by my friend Michael Smalley. I also look forward to seeing Santigold, Ghostland Observatory, EOTO, Midnite, Big Gigantic, Beats Antique, and Keller Williams with The Travelin McCourys. Honestly for a festival like this i just try to stay loose and flow with it, and not have too many expectations on who i will or will not get to see, as invariably whenever i get too excited to see an act, they end up playing the same time slot as another act i am working or something, ya know?

There are many others that i know nothing about, but i’m sure will blow my mind. It’s a great lineup…

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