Feature, Interview, Recap

My Electric Forest (featuring an interview with John Craigie)

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Don’t be fooled by the title, it is indeed our Electric Forest, but for the sake of this story it will be told through my lens. You could attend Electric Forest eight times, and have eight unique experiences – and I’ve had just that. Each Forest I’ve gotten a little better at curating an experience tailored to my taste and pace, remembering how the tortoise won the race. Slow and steady is a concept I had zero notion of in 2013 when I attended my first music festival and introduction to a world which has become my passion and career. It was the only year I attended as a guest, and felt right at home carrying my Good Sign before I had ever constructed a totem, let alone realized the lives we would touch, and blessed to be a part of.

We are blessed; don’t let the messages behind the screens fool you. There is hope – and we are it. I discovered people like me, drawn to a place that gave them permission to be the magnificent, weird, and loving creatures they were capable of being. We are raised on encouragement, discipline, and dreams – this place seemed to embody everything our parents and teachers told us the world could one day offer. 

I think a lot of people are tired of waiting;  Electric Forest and the community driving it actively reminds folks they don’t have to. I think therefore I am; decide what to be and go be it. With the help of Descartes and The Avett Brothers we find our way to accept that believing is seeing, and if it’s in your heart, it should be fought for, held onto, and offered to others in the form of courage, hope, and a gentle-helping hand. I had a lot of nicknames before attending my first music festival, Good Sign Man wasn’t one of them. Rothbury is one of those places where I learned to believe in myself again; to believe in the dreams others deemed irrational; and to believe that this ever-illusive better way people keep referring to, is found in music, and each other. 

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in your dream” Bob Dylan says. The magnitude and likelihood of a dream being realized exponentially increases within whom it is shared. Sherwood Forest produces potent and magical moments which serve as a catalyst for people like you and I to be extraordinary, by first realizing we already are. There truly is something for everyone at our annual ball in Northwest Michigan. If you are reading my words for the first time you might be curious why I’ve referenced The Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan in a story about an Electric Forest; while those who know me find comfort in words fueled by a familiar tune.

I’ve always enjoyed finding myself in dance to an electric beat, but I don’t really listen to electronic music. Logically, I’d say it’s the writer in me – drawn to lyrics, ballads, and the stories of others to help find my own. Spiritually, I never chose the substance of my soul – but have made a life dedicating myself to those who help satisfy it. For these reasons my Electric Forest didn’t involve ODESZA, Kygo, Bassnectar, or Zed’s Dead, and I don’t think any of them minded. Each year my focus becomes more finite because I am committed to shining a light on the performers I hope to see more of, in a place that will always have a piece of my heart. 

For the first time, I had the pleasure of attending Electric Forest with a performer from start to finish. As many of you know, that performer is Dixon’s Violin. I interviewed Dixon at Electric Forest in 2014 – it was the first time I covered music. I remember having a wonderful, philosophical, and comforting conversation that ensured I was on a meaningful path. Last year Dixon found himself in Ferndale, MI on his day off, and decided to pay me a visit at Otus Supply. He quickly learned that I no longer worked there, and after “pouting” (his words) for a little while realized he could give me a call. Two days later we met and he hired me. It is wild what can happen in a year when we get out of our own way and let it. Dixon played five sets this year, four of which I attended, and all of which were cherished by our Forest Family, new and old. 

Driving home on Monday he told me the story of his first Rothbury. Fortune favors the bold they say. Dixon wanted to perform in Sherwood Forest so he brought his gear, packed it in a pull-cart, and confidently told the man at the gate that he was a scheduled performer on his way to a set. While he couldn’t believe it worked, it is only fitting that the now longest standing performer at Electric Forest gave himself permission to play his first set, guerrilla style. There is a video out there somewhere among the webs where hundreds have gathered to see this visionary violinist dressed in a fashion you wouldn’t recognize today, wearing goggles and attire fit for space. I am really grateful to work with Dixon, and think it serendipitous he be the one to help me blur the line between journalism and the continually evolving role I have in music today. 

I remember the days attending Electric Forest with large groups of some of my best friends… while part of me will always miss those days (but mostly those friends), we all kind of knew I was going and growing on a different path, and couldn’t ever go back. When a person or place empowers you, you become indebted to it in one way or another. I never photographed a show before Electric Forest, interviewed a band, or fallen in love over the course of a weekend, only to let it go in the coming months. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. And live music is alive and well in Rothbury. 

My Electric Forest began with Dixon’s Violin at The Observatory, transitioning into Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers at Sherwood Court. This is where we took the first of eleven Phun Photos over the course of four days. 

I’d like to extend my thanks and joy to each and everyone of you who helped us create these special moments this year. People often ask me how I do it – the answer is you. As a quick side note and PSA – someone stole my Yetti Rambler while I was orchestrating the Phun Photo during Brandon Taz Niederauer’s set at The Observatory, and I don’t appreciate it. You are not welcome in my Electric Forest. I took the time, energy, and intention to create something beautiful for all of us to share, and you decided that would be a good time to steal something from me? Also, while swimming in Artist Village someone stole the umbrella I had made into a totem with two small Good Signs. This wasn’t even my umbrella. My camera gear and laptop were sitting next to the umbrella; I’m curious why you felt It was appropriate to steal one and not the other? 

Taz Phun Photo

I digress. Night one was capped off with a set from Lettuce at Jubilee, and Phun Photo number two. It is difficult to shoot in Jubilee, so I apologize for all of your beautiful, silhouetted faces. This was my first action with a recently purchased new camera (learning curve expected). 

While I always have a great time seeing Lettuce, over the years my focus has been drawn away from bigger names, crowds, towards more intimate spaces and bands I’m just discovering, like John Craigie, of Portland, OR.  Craigie played a critical role in my Electric Forest, as one of the very few singer-songwriters who (in his words) slipped through the cracks. It is now weeks later and I find his clever, insightful lyrics and commentary on our human condition running through my head. 

When the apocalypse is over, I hope you like your job

Ain’t it a shame nobody sets anybody free anymore

I discovered Craigie sometime in the last six months and was pleasantly shocked when I discovered him on this year’s bill. He is described as  “…the lovechild of John Prine and Mitch Hedberg with a vagabond troubadour edge.”

His lyrics remind me of existential truths I have stumbled upon over the years, and seem to speak the realities we all see, breathe, yet let our guard down, and foolishly believe. His first lyrics that really resonated with me: 

Never trust a musician who plays with their eyes open

All the good stuff happens when they’re closed

You gotta give yourself the shivers

before you can give ’em to someone else

I find it difficult to write with my eyes closed, but shivers have long been present in my blood while transforming feelings into words. This stems from believing in yourself and your process. It speaks to the moments, and rhythms of brilliance we find our way to and in. I enjoyed two sets with Craigie at Electric Forest where in true folk-singer fashion he was joined by his friends and fellow troubadours Steve Poltz, Handmade Moments, and Cello Joe. Their sets were a tight balance of humor, storytelling, and shared release of what we all need to be rid of, while holding onto the shit that’s real. 

Here’s a quick chat I had with Craigie before diving a little deeper into my Electric Forest.

Listening to your Live in Portland album, it sounds like it’s a tough town to get a cup of coffee…What are a few of your favorite things you’ve discovered since moving there? 

Two things I love.  The music community and the proximity to nature.  There’s tons of great musicians here, some touring, some not, but whenever I’m in town there’s always a good amount of them here and always a good show to go to.  Great jams and great collaborations. Portland is bisected by two great rivers and the ocean is just over the hills to the west. Mt. Hood towers above us and hot springs are peppered in the foothills.

You songs and storytelling help serve as a time machine, taking folks on a reflective journey to process this bizarre and beautiful modern world. What storytellers are close to your heart, and who are some of the earliest?

Arlo Guthrie was an early influence.  Greg Brown, Todd Snider, Loudon Wainwright too.

Paint us a picture of what Santa Cruz looked like from your eyes in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when you were busking while attending UC Santa Cruz.

It was a crazy mix of yuppies and hippies and students.  The streets were full of wandering, crystal loving, barefoot transients and the well off people who had bought expensive houses in the beautiful seaside town.  And then there were the students at the crossroads of their lives, looking at both and deciding which path to take.

In an interview with The Boot you said “Music is not about making you feel better,” he adds. “It’s about making you feel that you’re not alone.”

I love this. Everyone wants to belong to something, anything. Music gives that gift. Who are some people in your life who helped you belong?

The people I thank the most are the musicians who have supported me all along.  Shook Twins, Niko Daoussis, Rainbow Girls, Brad Parsons, Fruition, and so many others

I see we have some mutual friends… last year I was Jay Cobb Anderson’s sherpa at Electric Forest, helping him navigate venue grounds before his set with Everyone Orchestra. What is one of your best JCA moments?

Oh man, that’s a great question.  But any JCA story that’s worth telling definitely wouldn’t be for the printed world if you know what I mean.  If you want the Craigie/JCA stories you gotta be there with us : )

Tell folks how the Shook Twins, and Gregory Alan Isakov helped you land the cover of Rolling Stone?

The Shook Twins are my sisters from another Mr., and Gregory is my brother from another mother.  They’ve helped in every way possible. From lending their amazing talents to my records and live shows, to just simply being my friend.  I’ve toured with both and vacationed with both and celebrated holidays with both. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

What do you know about Electric Forest?

To be honest, very little.  A few friends had gone in the past, but since it’s mostly an edm festival it wasn’t really on my radar.  I was so blown away by the art, and costumes, and stage setups. All the nooks and crannies, and secret areas.  I feel like I need to go ten more times just to fully experience it.

Playing to an empty room is still better than any other job

I hope Craigie felt the love at his first Electric Forest and spreads the word to his fellow singer-songwriters that they will always have a place, and voice to be heard in Rothbury. After all, we even had one bluegrass band this year, and Horseshoes & Handgrenades surely felt the love. The most important thing about Electric Forest is to do it your way (without stealing from me or anyone else). I don’t imagine there’s another place on this earth quite like it, built with such intention and attention to detail, love, for your individual taste, and our collective celebration. 

I don’t write performance reviews because I’m not a musician, or a critic, and typically spend my time at shows dancing and having a great time, grateful to share all of your space and energy for a minute or two. My Electric Forest this year was about finding balance, going to sleep when I was tired, being available to take engagement photos for Brenda and Sy after two other photographers failed to show up, enjoying meals with the ones I came with, and leaving proud of my effort and contribution to something that is so much bigger than myself. 

Special thanks to Madison House Presents for welcoming me back, yet again, to cover their special production despite being a blog with limited reach. Gratitude and love to Dixon’s Violin, Doxie, and Xania who were a pleasure to work, laugh, eat, play, sweat, and celebrate with from start to finish. Lastly, lots of love to The Rainbow Seekers and Desmond Jones for kicking it poolside, Norm for being Norm, and all the artists, staff, volunteers, and humans who make Electric Forest the most magical festival in the world. 

Below you will find photos of most of the performances and people who made my Electric Forest unique this year.

Just in case you were listening for one, This Is A Good Sound.

Dixon’s Violin

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers

Desmond Jones

String Cheese Incident

John Craigie 

Ghost Note

Ghost Light

Doom Flamingo 

 

Abby Vice 

Horseshoes & Handgrenades 

Good Sign Family

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