The summer moves at a breakneck speed for those who go to festivals. There are a couple every weekend across North America (more if you count the globe), but there are always a few that stick with attendees all summer. One of those is Electric Forest and we have the photos to prove it.
We were able to capture the magic of those people who attended the festival with some pictures and words to go along with it. View the gallery above and read along for some more context.
You could say I was having a hard time. It had been two years since I last entered the Forest. Two years of hospital visits, legal fees, let downs, and political heartbreak. Not to mention, I was about to turn 26, subsequently losing my healthcare, and from henceforth, scientifically speaking, my brain was no longer obligated to develop. Wonderful. Yet, this is not a sad story by any means. You see, once you come to the forest, you become part of the family. And this family takes care of you.
My girlfriend and I boarded a shuttle in NYC headed straight to the forest. 15 hours. I could see the New York grind on the faces of many of my fellow foresters. I could tell who had been before and who was there for their first time. Along the way we shared stories, snacks, and the occasional joint at a rest stop. The city trailed behind us, not the least bit concerned by our departure. Soon the familiar site of cows and corn were all the eye could see. It had been 7 years since I left Indiana for New York, and now my bus was headed straight through my heartland to Rothbury, Michigan. The population of Rothbury is around 450 people, yet this weekend it will be close to 45,000.
First things first, I need to shake off the New York dust. Everyone you see greets you with a smile, or a “happy forest”. At first I am suspicious of such random acts of kindness, but I remember where I am. I feel the earth under my feet, the rumble of bass. This is the forest. Let the rest go.
I throw my city clothes in a corner of the tent. I can feel the transformation. As my socks come off, my walls crumble. I tie a headband around my forehead, and knot it with a warrior’s intention. I throw my shoes under the tent. I notice how heavy they are. And alas, I close my eyes and look up into the sky. My girlfriend pours a cup of blue glitter down my bare chest. I welcome myself back, as I dig my feet into the mud I grew up with. In the near distance I watch the forest take it’s first breath. The sun is setting and I can see the horizon. It’s been awhile.
We have a job to do. We’re scheduled to photograph the festival Monarch, Rachel. Rachel is transqueer. Rachel does not fit the male and female binary. There is no divide, no rules, no labels to their being. The forest is a place for them, for everyone. This is not your Coachella, or EDC. Jam meets electronic in the most perfect harmony. We leave our phones in the tent. We display every shape and color of body imaginable. And every single person is the the most sexy, most beautiful form of themselves.
Rachel and their royal court is in the festival chapel. The forest is full of wonders like this. There’s a barber shop, a tattoo parlor, a candy store, a water park, a massage parlor, and even a poetry brothel hidden under a fireplace in an old airplane hangar in the middle of the woods. As Rachel and their court dons fellow foresters with dazzling drag make-up, the clouds come rolling in. The sky turns black within minutes. In the distance there is the low rumble of thunder.
I can feel myself tensing. Work mode crawls its way back into the forefront of my mind. Storm and production don’t usually mix. Suddenly I’m thinking about how many shots I have to get. A light rain starts on the roof. I find myself nearly pushing someone aside who was in way of my shot. It’s startling. This isn’t very forest of me. I try to tell myself this isn’t New York. There is no competition here. Be patient. I was in a chapel full of drag queens and taking myself way to seriously. The first lightning struck.
A man in blue hurried into the chapel. He whispered into Rachel’s ear. The next thing I knew everyone was leaving the tent. They were evacuating the area. An exceptional storm was coming. Already the rain began to pick up. We were told we had to evacuate back to the tent. I lugged my 60 pound studio kit on my back. I could feel the pressure of deadlines and quotas ringing in my temples. I cursed the rain, as we hurried out of the chapel. And just like that, it started to pour.
Courtney and I take off running. I have 60 pounds on my back and all I can think of is equipment insurance and fees. I feel the weight of the past two years pulling me down again. Even my open Hawaiian shirt starts to feel heavy. The distance back to the tent feels like miles. I’m worried about my precious camera. I’m worried about the story we’re supposed to publish. I start thinking of my bills back home. I start thinking of the mud that the storm will make. I can already feel it coming on. I nearly fall as we get into an all out sprint. The tent is only 20 yards away. The muscles in my back and thighs are throbbing.
I jump into the tent and stay on the ground, to tired to move much more. I feel sorry for myself. I traveled 15 hours to get here and now this storm is going to take it all away. It had never stormed like this in the history of Electric Forest. Just my luck. The city followed me here, just to let me know I could never fully escape. I push the equipment under the bed. Courtney and I lay down looking up into nothing, as the storm continues to grow. That’s when the ground started to shake and everything flipped upside down.
There is was again. The ground was moving. This wasn’t lightning. It wasn’t the thunder. It was BASS.
I peek my head outside the tent. People are running. They’re running away from us. They’re running towards the forest. The bass kicks up under me. In an instant I forget all about my equipment, my story, my problems, my blah blah. I look at Courtney and she knows. She’s a part of the family. We take off as much clothes as legally possible. I leave everything behind, my phone, my money, my equipment. I happened to throw an old 35mm contax t2 into my backpack before I left. It fits into the pocket of my swim trunks, so it’s the only thing I take.
We run out of that tent with nothing on our backs. I look down at my rain soaked body and the glitter is all there. My armor. Shoeless, we enter the flow of foresters running towards the rain and away from shelter. That is the kind of festival this is. Someone slips in the mud in front of us. Her hand-crafted costume soiled with wet earth. She merely laughs as a group of us help her up and give her hugs. She tells me her and her boyfriend are going to see Above and Beyond. I couldn’t picture a more perfect set for the time being.
We follow her through the forest, as the lights start to come on. Slowly, and then all at once, the forest is lit acres upon acres of colored lights. The fog comes pouring in through cracks in the trees. This is the forest I remember, and everything else I forget. Everyone cheers. Someone shouts out a celebratory “Carl!?” and soon the entire forest is yelling out for the fabled and forever missing Carl. Let the forest tell you that story some day. So here we are holding hands with ‘strangers’ as they lead us to the stage in the woods. No one is pushing, no one is complaining. We are family.
Girls climb on shoulders. Rave crews settle under totems of pineapples, unicorns and Betty White. Joints are passed around freely. You meet your neighbor with a hug. LED hula hoops light up all around, as the flow arts boys and girls take their positions. A shutter runs through the crowd. Music trickles out from the stage towards us. Above & Beyond is here.
We are all we need. They start slow and draw us in. We’re itching for it. We’re soaking wet. They take their time. There is no rush here. I can’t tell what is rain, what is sweat. I wipe it from my eyes, when I see the screen behind them. The crowd pulses together. The screen reads “Look around you.” I do.
I see my new friends. I see old friends. I see people who feel beautiful for the first time in a long time. I see people who’ve come from every place imaginable. And I see her. I kiss Courtney and fall in love with her all over again. The rain runs down our chins like a damn movie cliche. I look back to the screen. It’s having a conversation with me, with all of us. “This is therapy,” it says. As cliche as is sounds, I just might’ve shed a tear or ten.
I was weightless. Floating above the ground. The rain was pouring energy into my head, and the ground was pulling it up into my feet as we danced. Then came the drop. I could feel a white light circulating between myself and every single soul in in that forest. The song sang…
Most certainly I'm where I'm supposed to be…
The trees, as they do every year, danced in the wind, undisturbed.
You’ll believe it when you see it someday. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask anyone who was there. The rain synchronized with the music just then. As Above and Beyond quieted their set, the rain gentled. And the forest sang together…
"Yeah we're all we need."
The rain stopped for a moment. Everyone was aware what had just happened. I saw faces lift up to sky and take it in. The next song started as did the rain. We were all in unison. Everyone and everything. This is electronic dance music as it was intended. I didn’t look back again.
The rest of the festival went on without a hitch. I left my baggage at the tent and photographed the rest of the festival with my little point and shoot film camera that fit in my pocket. These are the images that you see today, and I think they really do capture the wonder of the forest, or at least a mere fraction of it. We went on to see Odesza lift us all into a cloud, and Bassnectar drop us into oblivion. I saw an after hours set by Liquid Stranger that I will never ever forget.
I want to thank the Liveloud media and the rest of the forest team for putting on an unparalleled show. I want to thank Courtney for being the most amazing partner in dance and love. And I want to thank everyone who comes out to the forest each year for a little group therapy and a whole lot of love. May the forest be with you.