It’s never easy to give a picture of Electric Forest to someone who hasn’t attended before. It doesn’t matter how many festivals a person has attended. While someone may have an idea of what it’s like to bounce between stages for four days, breathing in dust and dancing with no inhibitions, that only scratches the Electric Forest surface. The mix of music at Electric Forest is unique and special, absolutely, but the venue, the people, the performance artists, and all of the activities of the Forest make it an event that is simply beyond the standard music festival. After the two-year pandemic hiatus it was great to return to the Double JJ Ranch & Resort in Rothbury for another Forest in the great history of Electric Forest.
Musically, this Forest ended up exceeding expectations on all levels. The bands that I was already bought into took things to some excellent levels. For me, the music of Electric Forest mostly begins and ends with The String Cheese Incident. This is the band I’m most there to see and the one band I will always choose over any conflict. If SCI is on point then everything else is simply icing on the cake. The good news is that they are almost ALWAYS up for Electric Forest, and 2022 was no exception. The band performed three shows over the course of the weekend: a single-set Thursday evening show and a pair of headlining two-set incidents on Friday and Saturday. The Thursday set gave the band the opportunity be creative and they took that to the extreme with a 75-minute “Rivertrance.” “Rivertrance” is a Cheese staple and a great opportunity for the band to take some chances. The variety of jams and genres that the band wove into this set showed that they are as tight as ever, and every member had an opportunity to step out into the spotlight for this one. Pieces of prog, funk, reggae, and womp all found their way into the massive jam, with Kang’s spectacular fiddle work bookending the whole thing. I don’t know that I want the band to keep doing the single-song set for these Thursday sets (they did “Rosie” in 2019), and I don’t like them being predictable, but this was an awesome opportunity to do something interesting and they ran with it.
Cheese’s Friday set is one that can often be overlooked but also one that can produce some magical moments. As far as I’m concerned this set will go down as one of the absolute best shows I’ve seen from the band over the years. They had amazing energy and chemistry, and they were able to weave together one high moment after another. The first set did a great job at setting the table. The band put out solid versions of “Outside and Inside,” “Can’t Stop Now,” included a pair of tunes with Cory Wong guesting, threw down some excellent jams, and brought the crowd to their feet with a set closing “Let’s Go Outside.” The second set ended up on another level. They put together extended psychedelic jams, threw in an unexpected cover, and threw so much at the crowd that it was hard to tell which way was up at times. After a pretty standard “All We Got” they launched into “Restless Wind.” Once the jam for that song kicked in you could tell the band was putting something special together. Kyle created a musical swimming pool that the whole band was able to play around in. They seamlessly transitioned into “Way Back Home” and continued layering various pieces and moving the jam to peak after peak. They finally broke through as they transitioned into a cover of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” The love and energy coming from the stage was palatable, and the whole crowd was entranced by what was going on on stage. By the time they wrapped up “Tiny Dancer” they had been jamming for well over a half hour, but they didn’t give any room to breathe, moving into a beat-heavy trippy “Bhangra Saanj.” When they moved into “Joyful Sound” I finally felt for a minute like I could catch my breath, but that didn’t last as the jam again got everyone moving. The band truly could have taken a bow at any point, but instead put out a super heavy “Rumble” followed by a “Rollover” that lasted over 20 minutes (and still ended up incomplete) before finally closing the night with “Colliding.” I can’t imagine anyone walking away from that set with anything other than a giant smile on their face. This was a special, special night in the Forest for the band.
While Friday night was absolutely spectacular, I don’t want to do anything to take away from what they did on Saturday. While I think Friday was the better musical journey, Saturday was pretty amazing in its own right. Like Friday, the first set did a great job of setting the table for the evening. Solid but without trying to do too much, they hit some great moments on “One Step Closer, put out a great “Illegal,” and really closed strong with “BollyMunster” and “Beautiful.” The second set included the “shebang” that the band is known for at Electric Forest. After an opening “Sirens” the band got on with the big event, bringing up guest vocalists for a run of “Get Back,”->”We Are Family”->”With A Little Help From My Friends” complete with fireworks, confetti, and the largest disco ball I’ve ever seen hanging directly over the crowd. The band set out to throw a party on Saturday and absolutely succeeded. With the “shebang” wrapped up, the band continued rolling and put together an overall long and impressive remainder of the set. Highlights included Kang with his heartfelt rendition of “Wake Me Up,” the band jammed out “Bumpin’ Reel,” and a show-closing “Rosie”->”Whole Lotta Love.” This weekend was SCI using Electric Forest to be creative and try new things, and they fired on all cylinders.
As good as SCI was, they were hardly the only musical highlight at Electric Forest. Lettuce absolutely nailed their late-night Saturday set with 90 minutes of dirty funk. The band knows how to flex their muscles on stage, and they were powerful with this show. The bass was thumping, the horns were funky, and drummer Adam Deitch had no problem showing why he’s considered one of the best in the world. Rising indie band Rainbow Kitten Surprise showed that they absolutely deserved the late-night Friday set, putting together an energetic and engaging show that was hard to describe. This is a band I absolutely recommend catching live if you can. They can play, they have solid songs, and they absolutely feel like they’re right there with the crowd the entire time. Dixon’s Violin was a great way to both open and close the weekend for me with his Thursday afternoon and one of his late-night Sunday sets (he performed 7 or 8 times throughout the weekend). Joel Cummins from Umphrey’s McGee put on a very cool solo set at the Honeycomb, moving between progressive instrumentals to Bach to an Umphrey’s McGee cover. Fantastic Negrito had a whole theme and story to his set. He was another guy with some great energy and crowd engagement, and I would recommend his music along with his short file “White Jesus, Black Problems.” There were a pair of fun sets from the Everyone Orchestra, and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer once again showed why he’s considered one of the best guitarists around today. Electric Forest often gets labeled as an EDM festival, and it certainly is that, but the lineup and performances from this year just show how much more there is to the event.
Of course the joy of Electric Forest extends far beyond the music. The simple joy of exploring Sherwood Forest for the weekend is worth the price of admission. They continued to grow and change the Forest, with new buildings, a variety of stages, and secrets hidden throughout. I got to enjoy the “Compliment Bar,” where a team of folks would converse and compliment whomever wandered by. There were at least 5 stages in the forest with a variety of music, and catching great music at the Observatory or Honeycomb was always a treat. The Chapel had some of the weirdest and most fun parties I’ve seen during the late nights. Even if you were just wandering through the forest it was easy to get drawn to one of the stages just to see what was going on. The Art Bar gave out free crafts and gave folks the opportunity to sit down and get artistic for a while. There were carnival games, massive art installations, and a collection of forest people from giant insects to fairies to dancers and jugglers just wandering around entertaining the crowd.
The Forest isn’t even the only awesome and unique environment at Electric Forest. The Hangar and Carousel Club continue to be areas to get lost in. There was a bowling alley, oversized skee-ball, mini golf, fooseball, billiards, and other games in the game room. There were multiple scavenger hunts with various reward levels. The hidden Captain’s Club speakeasy and the Poetry Brothel made a return. You could get a haircut, temporary tattoo, a massage, and I’m not even sure what else in the Hangar. Between the Hangar and Sherwood Forest it was easy to spend multiple days tracking down clues, searching for secrets, and peaking into various nooks and crannies to find out what was behind that door or around that corner. Going into Electric Forest knowing that you’re not going to see everything is the only way to avoid fear of missing out. You’re going to miss some things, but that just means that there’s more than enough going on to keep you entertained the entire weekend no matter what path you choose to follow.
One other highlight I think is important to point out was the overall vibe of the weekend. Over the years there have been great moments of unity between the divergent crowds at Electric Forest and there have been points of tension. 2022 was one of the most unified Electric Forest events I’ve ever seen. People mingled at sets and in the forest. EDM fans hung out and danced at Cheese sets and got into the music rather than waiting impatiently for the next band. Both on and off stage people were coming together in new and unique ways. Electric Forest is a beautiful melting pot of people, art, and music, and the way things came together this year was something special.
For me, Electric Forest was an absolute 10/10 event. They hit on every cylinder, things ran exceptionally well, and everything was set up to give the crowd an amazing weekend. Each year I go in expecting to have the best weekend of the year and more often than not Electric Forest hits that standard. Two years off helped remind me of why this event is so special, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.
A special THANK YOU to Norm Kittleson at www.luckydogphotography.com for his photos, friendship, and hospitality and to the entire Electric Forest crew and media team for continuing to make this event so special.