music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Electric Forest Festival Review

July 14, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski
Electric Forest 2018



Photo credit Norm Kittleson

Magic returned to Rothbury once again for two weekends preceding July 4th. The Electric Forest Festival once again exceeded expectations with a stacked lineup, amazing artwork, crazy performance artists, and so many new wrinkles to uncover. You could marvel at giant topiaries, get your tarot read, go on massive scavenger hunts, search for fairie doors, or fill out a passport to time travel and discover the secrets of the Forest. And that doesn’t even include the massive amounts of jam, EDM, soul, rock, and funk music you could check out. Every year I wonder how Electric Forest will continue to meet and exceed the expectations they’ve cultivated over the years, and every year I’m marvelled at the fact that they’re able to do it.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

It’s pretty easy to see that Electric Forest is a completely different animal from other festivals as soon as you get into the campground. While most festivals have a vendor shakedown area with some canopies and maybe a few flags, Electric Forest has a pair of 30 foot topiary dogs at the Shakedown entrance. Covered picnic areas, a “Brainery” for classes and panels, and two rows of vendors about 200 yards long. Custom metal and woodworking, clothing of all styles, light-up toys, steampunk-inspired fractal glasses, innovative food choices, and that’s all before you even get into the actual music venue. Once you’re at the gates to the venue you’re greeted with a giant Electric Forest sign. Inside there’s a ferris wheel, two hot-air balloon rides, three massive stages with full light productions, multiple other stages, vendors of all sorts, and, of course, the magic of the forest.

I can see why some folks do both weekends of Electric Forest. Not only is the music excellent, there’s so much to do that there’s no way to come even close to hitting everything in one weekend. There’s just so much going on, and everyone wants to find the secrets and participate in the different games. The upside of that is that it’s rare that any one area gets over-crowded. Yes, some venues can get pretty packed at times, and, yes, sometimes you have to wait in line for something, but even during the busiest of times I never felt uncomfortably crowded. Sadly I missed many things that I wanted to see, but, with so much great music, there’s just no way to do it all.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

Thursday got started with a bit of Dixon’s Violin in the forest before I headed to the back of the venue to explore. Since I had friends who were at Weekend 1 I knew that, if I wanted to truly unlock all of the secrets of the forest, that was the starting point. For better or worse, plenty of other folks had also gotten that memo, so there was a wait to get everything needed to start. No worry, there were new people to talk to and lots to see while waiting. After obtaining my passport and being pointed in the right direction to get our hunt started, we went to check out Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles. Henry put together a solid group of musicians for a fun set. The good thing about funk (for me at least) is that you don’t really have to know the songs if you get get into the groove, and Henry and his band laid out a great groove. It was an excellent way to start the weekend. From there we took a recommendation to check out Too Many Zooz. This trio of two horns and a percussionist showed that you don’t need samples and a laptop to throw down a massive EDM-style dance party. They built crescendos that led to peaks and huge drops, and did it while playing their sax and trumpet in ways likely never intended.

The Thursday highlight was an impressive performance from Xavier Rudd. I had been told not to miss him, and I certainly enjoyed his more acoustic singer/songwriter style that I had heard on his albums. His live performance kicked it up several notches, however. This was another artist who knew how to work a crowd, building up great energy with his band and delivering an amazing musical and visual performance. We closed the first night checking out Too Many Zooz back in the forest and exploring areas such as the Chapel and Trading Post.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

Friday was a great day for music in the forest. Three sets in a row at the Observatory stage in the middle of the forest kept my friends and I out of the heat and in the presence of some great musicians. After walking through the venue and catching a bit of TV Broken, Third Eye Open, we claimed our spot for the Michigan Rattlers. This was one of the few bands on the bill with a Americana/bluegrassy style, and they had a nice crowd to support them. Certainly a fun, high energy band, and they endeered themselves to me with a cover of Tom Petty’s “Time To Move On.” Toubab Krewe followed on the same stage. This is a band that has impressed me from the first time I saw them. Their unique blend of rock and West African rhythms makes them a fun band to check out on any occasion. While they don’t bring out the same type of party atmosphere that many of the other Forest bands do, they certainly hold their own musically. We decided to skip Fruition and claim our spots at the Ranch Arena for the first String Cheese Incident set of the weekend.

Cheese’s Friday Night show was a fun mix, with some surprises and lots of jamming. The first set was a bit of a feeling-out process, without many transitions or huge bustouts. All of the vocalists got a chance to get out front with the early run of “Eye Know Why,” “One Step Closer,” “Get Tight,” and an excellent “The Way That It Goes.” Billy and Kang stepped up for a hugely energetic “Lonesome Fiddle Blues,” and everyone seemed very playful for “Best Feeling” with a nice interplay in the jam. They closed the first set by transitioning into “Colliding,” a nice set closer to give the crowd some energy.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

The second set definitely had more meat to it. The band started out by debuting “The Big Reveal,” a song that they had just released from their Sound Lab studio. This admittedly Grateful Dead inspired song was one that many fans saw as becoming a jam vehicle, and the band showed plenty of comfort with that the first time out. They didn’t let up, moving right into a huge combo of “Just One Story”->”Texas”->”Riders on the Storm”->”Texas.” “I Wish” and “Purple Strains” helped ground the crowd after the huge start to the second set with some solid work by the band without going too far off the rails. They closed out with a sandwich of “Way Back Home”->”Don’t Come Around Here No More”->Way Back Home.” The second Tom Petty cover of the day certainly went down as a huge highlight for me, as Petty is an all-time favorite of mine and that’s one of his best songs. The band closed their night with an energetic encore of “Hi Ho No Show” before going back and wrapping up an incomplete “Just One Story.”

The night wasn’t over, as we headed over to The Carousel Club to wrap things up. First up was the Rouge Neo Vintage Dance Party, a burlesque show that added some more heat to an already hot and stuffy stage under a giant tent. An Everyone Orchestra followed, featuring members of Fruition, Toubab Krewe, Kyle from SCI, Natalie Cressman, and Joe Hertler. Despite being truly exhausted at this point, there was no way we were going to walk away from this excellent lineup. Cressman was a highlight, moving from her trombone to vocals effortlessly and adding a great voice to the group. The other surprise was Mimi Naja from Fruition on the mandolin. I didn’t know how the mandolin would fit with the rest of the instruments but she led plenty of jams and took her fair share of leads as well.

Photo credit Candy Carter

Saturday again showed that you can never really know what to expect in the forest. We started back at the Carousel Club to catch the The Glitter Unicorn Sparkle Spectacular. We had no idea what it was and it ended up being a drag show. They were a lot of fun and put on a great show. We stuck around for a bit of Natalie Cressman before the heat of the tent drove us to a cooler area. We ended up catching the entire Fruition set at the Ranch. This band does a pretty wide variety of things, but they do them all exceptionally well. I’m still sitting on their songwriting a bit, but they certainly are fun to see live.

The Saturday SCI show was their traditional “Shebang” with some pretty amazing second set surprises. Like Friday, the first set felt like the band was setting the table for the evening. Lots of great tunes with the band holding off the jamming until the end of the set. “Black Clouds” opened things before Kyle led the band through “Nothing But Flowers.” Whenever Kyle sings The Talking Heads the joy is apparent. Otherwise the highlights came near the end, with a great “Looking Glass” leading into a cover debut of Traffic’s “Glad” directly into a massive “Howard.” The band was clearly ramping up, and “Howard” was a taste of things to come.

The second set was where the band threw out all the stops. They opened up with “Stop, Drop, Roll,” a song that’s been part of their Saturday Forest set the past couple of years. “Sometimes a River” followed, and you could tell the band was getting to amp things up. “Bumpin’ Reel” raised the energy, and things really started to heat up. The band transitioned into “Riders on the Storm” from the previous evening, and a set of drones emerged from behind the stage, flying in formation, They would continue to make patterns in the sky during the shebang, while dancers emerged on platforms, giant floating clouds moved through the crowd, and fire performers lit things up on the side of the stage. The full run of “Riders on the Storm”->”Immigrant Song”->”Red Rain”->”I Can See Clearly Now” was only about 15 minutes, but was full of energy and felt much longer. “Red Rain” featuring Ruby Chase on vocals was a highlight for me, but the band did a great job of exemplifying the spirit of the forest throughout.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

The band wasn’t done, however, and brought Ruby Chase back out for another new song entitled “Otherside.” This will likely be an extreme rarity given the guest vocal on the studio track, but it turned into a very powerful live song, very different than what you normally expect out of the band. Kang led the band back into more familiar SCI territory, with the island-tinged “Tinder Box” (which included Nershi laying in some slick riffs on his guitar), an extremely powerful “Dirk,” and wrapping things up with “Bollymunster.” Cheese did a great job of showing everything they’re about in just one set.

I had intentions of checking out Chromeo immediately after Cheese but simply was entranced by the Forest. The beautiful cacophony of music from multiple stages and the voices in the forest can be enthralling, and it was easy to veer of path and just start finding things to look at and people to talk to. There was a piano open to anyone to play, electronic light-up drums to jam on, fountains, and various shrines to just sit and relax. Luckily we had no trouble getting to Turkuaz for their late-night set. The more I hear from this band the more I see them as a modern-day Talking Heads, full of quirky energy and musical ambition. Their 90 minute set didn’t start until 2:00 am, but they came out swinging and making sure the crowd forgot about their exhaustion. Dave Brandwein served as the bandleader, keeping the large group together through their tight songs. Craig Brodhead was one of the most impressive musicians that I saw on stage all weekend, and the band put a great closing stamp on Saturday night.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

Four days at the forest is certainly a marathon and not a sprint, and it was nice to be able to take things a little easy on Sunday. Locos Por Juana opened things up for me, a fun Columbian mix of salsa, punk, and funk. Dub Trio was just getting started when they were cut off by an incoming storm, and the main venue was evacuated. We ended up returning to the venue with time for one more Forest excursion before catching The Main Squeeze and Karl Denson. These two acts closed out the weekend the same way we brought it in, with some great funk. The Main Squeeze continues to get better every time I see them, and Corey Frye is without a doubt my favorite vocalist from the genre. He’s got power, soul, and an unbeatable stage presence. Karl Denson closed out the weekend with his Acid Jazz Drop set, featuring members of his own band as well as Frye, Natalie Cressman, Jennifer Hartswick, and Cut Chemist. Adding Cut Chemist’s beats to what Denson and crew were doing showed a great understanding of how to blend these different styles. Cressman and Hartswick were obviously very familiar with each other through their work in the Trey Anastasio Band, and collaborated nicely both on their horns and vocally. I thought that they could have used Frye a little more effectively, but he provided some nice backup to what everyone else was doing. After the set the fans walked out exhausted by satisfied.

Photo credit Norm Kittleson

This was a year that I went to the forest once again a little worried about the music. There were plenty of names that I knew and some things that I knew would be interesting, but, other than Cheese, there wasn’t a huge personal musical draw for me outside of The Main Squeeze. Luckily (and I should expect this at this point), nearly every single band that I was hoping would put on a worthwhile show more than came through. I was somewhat upset that I didn’t get to do nearly everything that I wanted to do as far as some of the “extras,” but that just meant I was too busy catching awesome music. And the festival needs to have enough things to do to keep folks busy for both weekends I suppose. But there’s no reason to complain at all. Electric Forest sets the standard for what a music festival can be, going above and beyond with every single detail. I can’t wait to be back next year.

Photo credit Candy Carter

Photo credit Norm Kittleson



John Popper announces solo tour
John Popper will be hitting the road on a short solo acoustic tour in September. The frontman will be hitting some small venues New York and the midwest for this run.

Sept. 15 – Rochester, NY – Anthology
Sept. 18 – Chicago, IL – City Winery
Sept. 19 – Bloomington, IN – Buskirk-Chumley Theatre
Sept. 20 – Memphis, TN – Buckman Arts Center
Sept. 22 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark
Sept. 23 – Bloomington, IL – Castle Theatre
Sept. 24 – Davenport, IA – The Redstone Room
Sept. 27 – New York, NY – City Winery

Twiddle sets dates
Twiddle announced their fall tour. The band will be on the road at least through early October, primarily in the eastern half of the country.

August 30 Branford, CT—Stoney Creek Brewery
August 31 Westerly, RI—Paddy’s Beach Club
September 13 Morgantown, WV—Mainstage
September 14 Richmond, VA—The National
September 15 Raleigh, NC—Lincoln Theatre
September 17 Athens, GA—Georgia Theatre
September 19 Tallahassee, FL—Wilbury
September 20 Gainesville, FL—High Dive
September 21 Tampa, FL—Crowbar
September 22 Ft. Lauderdale, FL—Culture Room
September 23 Jacksonville, FL—1904 Music Hall
September 26 Greenville, SC—The Firmament
September 27 Atlanta, GA—Variety Playhouse
September 28 Nashville, TN—Cannery Ballroom
September 29 Birmingham, AL—Saturn
September 30 Chattanooga, TN—Songbirds
October 3 Indianapolis, IN—The Hi Fi
October 4 Cleveland, OH—Beachland Ballroom
October 5 Covington, KY—Madison Theater

Circles Around The Sun announce tour
After releasing an album of new material, Circles Around The Sun will follow up with a short run of dates.

Aug. 22 – Asbury Park, NJ – Wonder Bar
Aug. 23 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl
Aug. 24 – Ardmore, PA – Ardmore Music Hall
Aug. 25 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
Aug. 26 – Pine Plains, NY – Huichica Music Festival


Camp Bisco
July 12-14
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Lotus, Papadosio

The Ride Festival
July 14-15
Telluride, CO
The String Cheese Incident, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Something

Peach Festival
July 19-22
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dicky Betts, moe., Twiddle, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Blackberry Smoke, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon, The Main Squeeze,

Northwest String Summit
July 19-22
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams, Fruition, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers

July 25-29
Floyd, VA
Foster the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Hiss Golden Messenger

Element Music Festival
July 26-29
Snug Lake Ampitheatre
British Columbia
Lotus, Spafford, Particle

Werk Out Festival
August 2-4
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
The Werks, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Lettuce, Papadosio, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Turkuz

Summer Meltdown Festival
August 2-5
Darrington, WA
Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Papadosio, Twiddle, Pimps of Joytime

August 17-19
Wellston, VA
Dawes, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Larry Keel, Steppin’ In It, Jon Stickney Trio, The Crane Wives

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crow, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Waterloo Festival
September 7-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Otiel & Friends, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Hangtown Music Festival
October 25-28
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth (3 Nights), The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled By Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Pimps of Joytime

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Panic en la Playa Ocho
January 25-29
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!