Beyond Rothbury: At Electric Forest Fest, 'more is more'


Leagues of the weird returned to Rothbury this past weekend for the Electric Forest Festival. Known simply as Rothbury in 2008 and 2009, Madison House brought the fest back after a hiatus in 2010. This year, like the name would suggest, was electronic music heavy, a change from previous years.

From Thursday to Sunday, thousands of all types gathered at the Double JJ Ranch about an hour northwest of Grand Rapids. The camping area was absolutely massive, tents stretching on in endless rows like a refugee village. Homemade banners swayed above the sea of tarp and twine with names like "Camp Carl" and "Team Crawfish."

Acid peddlers, fire twirlers and cannabis connoisseurs strolled lazily through the campgrounds between acts while others simply drank beer on couches in the backs of trucks -- everything an event like this should be. Old-school ravers, muddy-footed hippies, sexy go-goers and freaky exhibitionists all made a strong showing. The number of glow-painted girls hula-hooping was unrivaled.

The venue was also impressive and delightfully strange. Illuminescent globes floated high above the ground; strips of color-changing LED's lined the forest floor. A network of passages twisted through the forest, leading to five stages and fields of vendors. To set it all off, there was a life-size version of the board game Mouse Trap -- over 6,000 square-feet of it.

Despite not having some of the bigger names like Bob Dylan, Nas and Dave Matthews this year, Rothbury's new take had a solid start. The music caught the vibe of the festival-goers, rowdy and debaucherous, with sets going past 3 in the morning. Everyone seemed to remain safe, bad-trippers to a minimum.

Among the headliners were Tiesto, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and dubstep favorite Skrillex. All had intense performances (especially Bassnectar), glow sticks flying into the air by the hundreds on heavy drops in the beat. Newcomers like Zedd and Porter Robinson played their brand of dirty electro, raunchy and loud into the night while audience calves burned from jumping.

More organically, Stephen Marley performed energetically Friday afternoon, REO Speedwagon playing the same slot the next day. Colorado-based String Cheese Incident played for three hours on three separate days.

Electric Forest was ultimately a place to forget real life for a few days, to indulge, to try new things. Sleep was for the weak, and only at times when fellow campers weren't blasting car speakers in earshot. The freedom of four days in the woods among thousands of other people pushed the limits with people doing things they normally wouldn't, perhaps shouldn't, and in quantities only acceptable for a weekend like that.

On the walk from campground to the venue entrance, a huge-pupiled guy with a lime green construction cone on his head put it best: "Our parents' told us less is more, well, we know more is more! More is more! More is more!"

And the chant, as others joined in, continued for quite some time.

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