How "What The Festival" Became The Most Underrated US Festival

We spoke to the founders of What The Festival to learn how they finally gave Oregon a festival to be proud of
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Jordan Calvano
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We spoke to the founders of What The Festival to learn how they finally gave Oregon a festival to be proud of

Each successful festival has a unique vision. A unique niche that sets them apart from every other event. And while online marketing and advertising is crucial to growing any brand, it is word of mouth that truly builds a potent community amongst each thriving festival. 

For What The Festival, their distinctive niche that can be effortlessly passed from one person to the next sounds a little something like this: “It’s a festival in the woods of Oregon with incredible music, a splash pool in the middle of a field, and the silhouette of a snow-covered mountain in the background.”

It doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to or where you're from; that sentence will capture your attention. I can tell you that from personal experience because it’s a sentence I have said hundreds of times and have seen an equal number of faces light up.

Prepare for another incredible year of WTF splash pools

Prepare for another incredible year of WTF splash pools

Founded by Glen and Tiffany Boyd in 2012 after decades of running theme camps at Burning Man, the Portland residents began constructing a vision of the perfect festival. Glen had gone into early retirement in 2001 after selling a successful software company, and over the next ten years tried his hand at film, restaurant and club management, and winemaking.

With this eclectic influence under his belt that fused music, tech, and entertainment, it’s no surprise that building a boutique music festival was the next natural progression. With the help of general manager and producer Peter Clark, who continues to operate the successful production company Abstract Earth Project, and assistant general manager and co-producer Keely Montgomery, the team behind WTF was born.

What The Festival now looks to year five this June, taking place on the visceral grounds of Wolf Run Ranch about an hour and a half east of Portland with headliners like Claude VonStroke, Bonobo, Thievery Corporation, and Lettuce, along with a bevy of rising stars like Lido, Tourist, Mr. Carmack, FKJ, Louis The Child, Pomo, Kasbo, Jai Wolf and much more.

With WTF approaching in less than two months, we were able to speak with Glen, Tiffany, Peter, and Keely to touch on the roots of the festival, who they are most excited to see, and new additions you can expect this year. See you at the splash pool.

what the festival stage

What The Festival shines bright at night. 

What was the process like of building a dedicated audience so fast in a place not known as much for festivals?

There was a hunger here in Oregon for this exact thing, but nobody was doing it quite yet at the level that we were ready to implement. There were shows, but not the curation of the full experience, or the full experience and not the curation of shows...at least not with electronic music. We had a recipe and we activated it. But, it took time for the word to get out. And it took trust too. 

There is a certain level of participant trust that we don't ever take for granted. A community has been built around this festival and we are honored by that. It is part of what drives the founding members to continue on and put our blood, sweat and tears into it to make it a better experience (we hope) year after year.

What would you say is the biggest challenge the team faced while putting on the festival?

Festival production is tricky. As producers, we are constantly having to maintain the balance between becoming financially sustainable and not losing the heart and soul of the festival. The challenge is always present and we take it into account when planning for growth.

On the other hand, what would you say is the most rewarding or memorable experience you've had?

Hearing all of the experiences of the participants is probably the most rewarding part. We’ve had friends get engaged at What The Festival and there will be 3 weddings this year. To know that we are creating something that is touching people’s lives is such a rewarding experience.

Is there anything new to the WTF experience this year that you can speak on?

We are always adding and fine tuning. This year you will see a third pool, more camping, new art, themed bars, more food and craft vendors and a new stage. We are also adding what we are calling Easy Speak Talks. These are workshops during the day that cover educational topics such as permaculture, sustainability, consent, and manifesting your dreams, just to name a few.

Not to pick favorites, but what are the some of the artists you are personally most excited to see perform this year?

Oh that’s a tough one. We’re all excited for Claude VonStroke, Mr. Carmack, Hippie Sabotage, G Jones, Buku, and Chanti Darling.

With so many festivals in an oversaturated market, what have you done and are aiming to do that will set WTF apart and keep people interested?

That's a great question. This festival is 100% about the overall experience. We pay so much attention to having it be carefully curated and boutique in feel. We are careful with how we grow so we can maintain that vision.

View of Mt. Hood from above the splash pool. 

View of Mt. Hood from above the splash pool. 

In what way has the culture and spirit of the Pacific Northwest and specifically Oregon become an integral part of the WTF experience?

In our experience, a huge part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest is being active, camping and being outdoors. With What The Festival being a 3 day camping festival right outside Mt. Hood National Forest, you are fully a part of the tradition of the PNW.

How would you describe What The Festival to someone who has never been?

For this question, we decided to ask a few participants to share their thoughts.

Mykenzie Marsh: It’s a family, not just a festival. It’s a gathering of like minded people and the most incredible experience.

Jennifer Tenderella: It’s magical. A place you can be a kid again with no stress and no worries. Just unleashed happiness and fun!

Draven Chase Hazen Ballard: What The Festival?! was my first festival. My life began to say “WELCOME!” Welcome courage, welcome honest communication, welcome inner child, welcome humanity, welcome understanding, welcome light, welcome dark, welcome color, welcome possibility! Festivals are the welcoming of the un-welcomeable! Muahh “welcome LOVE!”

what the festival lineup

What The festival takes place from June 17-20 east of Portland. More info here. All photos by Daniel Zetterstrom