Curing Lactose Intolerance with a Healthy Dose of Cheese
By: Bob Casey Jones & Aaron Giles
Every year I get those same jitters. You know, the ones you know you’re not able to quell on your own; the type of jitters that can only be remedied by driving to a ranch in Michigan on a summer weekend and then letting yourself go completely for the next 4 days. Those are the jitters I had. Thankfully for me Electric Forest happened to coincide at the same time as my said jitters so I made my way to Rothbury. A lot can be said about what went on here, a lot. In all honesty though, a simple review is not enough. It’s not enough to just talk about it. It’s not enough to fantasize or daydream about it. You have to experience it. Experiences are what make life worth living. You learn from experiences. You grow from experiences. You become you from experiences. Electric Forest is not just a festival, it is an experience. It’s an experience that anybody who loves the music scene needs to experience (at least) once for themselves. Until you experience it, you really won’t have a true understanding of it. I promise. But you’re going to have to wait until 2014.
The timing could not have been better. We pulled up to the gates of the festival as the sun was beginning to rise. No more than an hour later we were inside and began to set up our tents. It was everyone’s intention to take a nap after and garner as much rest as possible because we knew once the festival grounds were open, those chances would be few and far between. By the time our tent was set up the sun was up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so it was ixnay on the apne. (Side note: Have you ever tried sleeping in a tent at 8:00 a.m. when the sun is up and the temperature is high? If not, you totally should…) Safe to say it was a long wait for the festival gates to open but once they let us in it was on.
Walking around the forest I was completely blown away. They weren’t kidding when they said it was going to be bigger. IT WAS HUGE! Sherwood Forest had always been much more interesting at night but this year so many new art installations and new places to go made Sherwood Forest an amplified hotspot. The Saluun was an old style bar with a Wild West theme placed right in the heart of the forest and became a go-to spot for the majority of my friends and many other festivalgoers. Music could always be heard with three different stages located in Sherwood. The Forest stage was nestled in one of the back corners and was the perfect place to escape, to really get lost. The Observatory had the look of a Chinese Pagoda. The stage itself was very tiny but the structure as a whole was designed very well and was a great place to relax, if you ever felt the need. The Silent Disco was also located in the forest and went late into the night. I could not wait to see this place light up but first there was music to see!
Suckerpunch brought the heat early on the main stage! Composed of Marc Brownstein & Aaron Magner of the Disco Biscuits, Jamie Shields of The New Deal and Mike Greenfield of Lotus, these 4 men came at us with a high energy that was felt from beginning to end set. For having just reunited last year after a decade apart, there was no musical rust; the cohesion was tight and crisp. The best moment of their performance came during the last song, an awesome rendition of The New Deal’s “Gone Gone Gone”. The crowd went absolutely nuts and everybody remembered why they miss The New Deal so much. It was the perfect way to get this weekend started right.
As the sun began to set the forest really came to life. The installations and art exhibits alone set this place apart from any other festival venue on the planet, the music and vibes speak for themselves and keep people coming back.
Michal Menert played out his soulful hip-hop style beats to a full crowd at Tripolee. His cool downtempo grooves set the tone for the night and from there we trekked all the way to Sherwood Court where we would be raging for the remainder of the night.
At 10:45 PM it officially got weird.
EOTO came out with their renowned 3D Lotus Stage, a plethora of lasers, and a set consisting of light guitar tones and heavy bass drops. EOTO at Electric Forest is always special, they seem to have a homecourt advantage and the energy at the set can’t be compared to any other.
The anticipation for Lotus’ late night set at Sherwood Court was growing stronger as the day went on. The field was already full of fans that were ready to get down before they even took the stage. The band was greeted to a loud roar when they took the stage and proceeded to make us dance. They came out hard, early with “Tip of the Tongue” which got the crowd going wild as if this was the final song of their performance. Lotus had that energy the whole show. “Greet the Mind” was on point like it always is, bringing those funky Lotus vibes to the forefront and hopefully turned on a few new people to Lotus. The best part of the performance came at the tail end when they played the classic cut “L’immeuble” and led it in to fan favorite “Spiritualize”. It was 20 minutes of pure, unadulterated jam. Basically, it was glorious. The glory was far from over as Luke Miller (guitar/keyboards) addressed the crowd, pointing out that Lotus had formed in Indiana about 3 hours from the festival. “We’re gonna play one of the first songs we wrote together…” The unmistakable beginning notes for “Umbilical Moonrise” filled the air and you could simultaneously feel thousands of smiles rise on thousands of cheeks. It really is a treat to see “Umbilical” played live and this rendition was as beautiful as ever. Lotus brought the heat like they always do and it was the perfect way to end Night One.
Day Two started (somewhat) early as I found myself at Tripolee for Thriftworks. Though his music would be much better suited for 1:30 a.m. instead of p.m., every up-and-coming artist has to pay their dues. He’ll be rocking late night crowds at major festivals in no time. His awesome blend of dubstep, glitch, and ambient textures creates its own sound that people can really get down on. His Smokey the Bear remix was greeted with many laughs and confused faces but then it got dirty and everybody had the same look of “Oh, OK!” on their faces. Though many people were still sleeping or not ready enough to go back out again, the crowd was appreciative and loved every second of his performance.
Early evening brought us back to Sherwood Court for a special Pink Floyd cover band performance by Pigs on The Wing (ft. David Murphy of STS9). To hear old classics such as “Comfortably Numb” and “Money” live was truly awesome. They brought the old tunes back to life, and played them out about as well as anyone could. The band had great chemistry and onstage presence and the eclectic crowd of Floyd-heads young and old showed their appreciation throughout. Something about David Murphy raging in some rockstar Aviators to some Pink Floyd was just glorious. This set was definitely one of the gems of the weekend.
We hung around Sherwood Court until it was time for Break Science to take the stage. They really got the crowd into it as they played out tracks new and old, and cranked the bass loud. Their hip-hop style beats had the crowd bumpin and grindin. They even brought out Trombone Shorty for some brass section licks that got us all funk’d up. They closed it out with their new single “Who Got It” which features a verse from Redman himself. An awesome set from one of the most awesome duo’s in electronic music today.
After Break Science came one of the most anticipated electronic sets of the weekend. Word had been swirling around the Forest as to who was the special guest for the Grizmatik set. As the stage began to fill out we noticed two recognizable lads by the names of Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, the special guest was Big Gigantic. The set played out and it was filled with funky riffs, heavy bass, and jazzy solos, each artist throwin down some original stuff and some of their own respectivet tunes. Eventually Michal Menert and Paper Diamond joined Big G, Gramatik, and Griz up there and it really just appeared to be a dance party onstage. You could see how much these guys were loving being up there together and seeing them all up there vibing seemed like a sort of culmination of the work they’ve all put in. The music was great and the party was better, shouts to Big Grizmatik for throwin’ it down as always.
The time had finally arrived. It was completely dark and the mood was right. Ever since the debut of the Electric Forest festival one band has been linked to all the magic and wonder that comes with it, The String Cheese Incident. Make no mistake, there are those who come to Electric Forest strictly for two things: Sherwood Forest & Cheese. The crowd was already massive as thousands on thousands of people were ready to get real cheesy with one of the best jam bands ever.
As they took the stage, the crowd’s roar was deafening. You could see the smiles on all of the band members faces as they were just as excited to play for us as we were to dance for them. “We think that this is by far the best fucking festival anywhere so let’s have ourselves some fun!” exclaimed Michael Kang with a child like giddiness right before they dove into “Let’s Go Outside”.
You could tell about midway through the first song that Cheese had every intention of bringing it this weekend. They sounded so crisp and on point that you were already thinking about how you never wanted it to end even though it literally just started and there was a long, long way to go. They kept the train chugging with “Song In My Head” leading into “Can’t Stop Now” which got the crowd real hot. The first cover of the weekend came early in the form of “I Wish” (Stevie Wonder). The crowd recognized it instantly and was eating it up! (Spoiler alert; it tasted like string cheese.) Michael Kang would have made Stevie proud. “I Wish” led right into “On The Road.”
They weren’t even close to letting up. The final 12 of what was almost 30 MINUTES of uninterrupted JAM had the fastest pace and brought the most intensity. Things got funky. Things got freaky. Everybody was getting down. Kang capped it off by giving us his rendition of one of the King of Pop’s many famous lyrics: “Mama se mama sa mama coosa.” Those words danced along the ribbon of music, floating perfectly together. The first set was rounded out with “Joyful Sound” into “Bollymunster” and a “Rosie” ender. Cheese was on fire.
The set break was incredibly short – maybe 15 minutes. Nobody seemed to mind. “Damn, that was like the shortest break ever,” keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth joked. “I think I forgot to pee…” So before we even knew it we were right back in the thick of things! “Shantytown” got really spacey and really dark before the mood lightened with “Way Back Home.” An awesome drum solo from Jason Hann and Michael Travis punctuated the end of the latter song.
Cheese got real creative with “Rollover,” the next track. The breakdown was an exploration into the circuitry-humming world of electronic music. It was a futuristic dance party that everybody in the crowd was going right along with. From going so far away from the original sound that it sounded like a different song completely, “Rollover” segued back into the original chorus. “Rollover, rollover you and me, rollover,” echoed across The Ranch Arena and it felt for a moment as if everyone was swaying back and forth in unison together. “Rivertrance” featured a lead into “Mysterious Ways” by U2 (Kang sounded awesome on vocals once again) before rounding back into “Rivertrance”. When they brought it back everyone around me was dancing as if we were in The Shire with a pint in our hands and not a care in the world. We may not have had pints but some of our feet were already nearing hobbit status. Cheese finished it off with “Freedom Jazz Dance” into “Just One Story” before letting us wander into the forest, giving us a brief 22-hour rest period before the next set.
The Main Squeeze brought the funk to Sherwood Court on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. This band from Bloomington, IN has garnered a lot of attention lately and deservedly so. Their blend of rock, soul and funk make for a sensual kind of experience. You feel connected to the music. They covered “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by The Temptations and, if there were a roof, it would have been brought down during their performance. The Main Squeeze has some serious potential to elevate themselves among the lineup ranks, from small to larger print near the top of the bill. Look for big things from these guys in the future.
An early evening Lettuce set brought us back to the Ranch Arena to get funky. The band pleasured our eardrums for an hour and half playing out the jazzy, jammy funk that is Lettuce. We were again graced by the presence of Dom Lalli for some sexy sax to funk with. It was a party onstage that carried to the crowd and by the end of the set the main stage was packed full.
At 7:45 BoomBox took to Sherwood Court for some of their deep grooves and dancey riffs. They brought out a big crowd and some great vibes. Boombox is always one of our favorite dance parties and this particular set was no different.
It was that time again. After collectively rocking thousands of pairs of socks clean off, The String Cheese Incident was ready to do it all over again! “Far From Home” really got things cooking as everyone started to clap along and the fast-paced, bluegrass-like guitar riff had the energy of the place at a fever pitch. Everybody was getting down like a Beverly Hillbilly and it just felt natural.
Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli was then brought out as a special guest on Saxophone for “Birdland.” The saxophone master added his magic touch to a crowd favorite and really shined on the track. It really is an awesome sight to see so many talented musicians doing what they love and having fun while simultaneously amazing us in the process. The first set ended with an 18 minute “Shine” into maybe Cheese’s most loved song “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” You can always rest assured that when Nershi belts out “Colorado bluebird sky, you can live a mile high!” everyone in the crowd is going to belt it right along with him.
After another relatively short set break (they just wanted to play all weekend) Dom was brought out again to help with “Bumpin’ Reel.” The unquestioned highlight of this performance was the battle between Dom’s saxophone and Kang’s violin. They would go back and forth, one trying to outdo the other. When the saxophone spoke, the violin replied and so on. It was a sight to behold, a true exhibition of great musicianship.
And then there was “Desert Dawn.” Now I will say this; nothing I could ever write about “Desert Dawn” at Electric Forest 2013 could give you a full understanding of just how epic it was. You honestly just had to be there. What seemed to start out as a perfectly normal “Desert Dawn” quickly became something much, much more. About five or six minutes in, a woman came onto the stage with a fire fan in each hand. Each fan had what looked like 10 wicks on the end and they were all lit up. She was then raised into the air and began to spin around and do death-defying tricks all while Cheese played beneath her. This was not even close to being over. More dancers began to fill the stage, doing a rehearsed number. Massive colored cubes began to pass over the crowd as people started to really freak out at everything that was going on. Fireworks cracked off in the background. Fire was shooting out from the stage. And then, it happened. You could hear the faintest of bass drums kick in the background and every second it got louder until The String Cheese Incident (yes, we are still talking about them) dropped some of the nastiest dubstep that you will ever here. When the bass dropped, pyrotechnics shot from the stage and the fireworks got bigger. The crowd was going absolutely wild as everyone was collectively raging out of nowhere. It was beautiful chaos. They kept the dubstep interlude brief, which bolstered the effortlessness of their return into the normal sounds of “Desert Dawn,” prompting everyone to erupt again. It was biblically awesome. The fireworks were still on display as the song played out and everyone screamed and cheered and clapped in appreciation. Band mates uttered celebratory salutations like “Happy New Year” and “Merry Christmas.” Bill Nershi joked, “We do that at every show.” Everybody, including the band, knew how special that was immediately after it happened. And the 2nd set had just started.
The last 30 minutes of the set really brought it with “Sirens” leading into “Texas,” a pairing that most Cheese fans would love to see. Another awesome cover crawled over the horizon as Kang sang out “I went downtown, I saw Miss Brown. She had brown sugar all over her booga-wooga.” “Kinky Reggae” was nothing short of amazing. Kang continued to put his voice on display and it didn’t seem to matter what he was covering, he sounded awesome all weekend. And just like that, Night Two of Cheese came to a close. Could we really handle one more night?
Early day sets were highlighted by the jams of Dopapod and Twiddle as well as a throwdown from PLM producer Eliot Lipp. Really though, we were all just biding our time before our evening dairy fix, everyone was ready to get cheesey.
It was that time again, again. It had become tradition for Cheese to start a little earlier on Sunday and that was the case again in 2013. Only Nershi & Travis came out in the beginning. Treating the crowd to a song as their side project Sporkus, Nershi played guitar and sang while Travis played hand drums on the guitar because he forgot his laptop. When the song was over everybody else magically appeared.
If The String Cheese Incident wasn’t simply having fun all weekend then I really don’t know what fun is. It has also become tradition for the first set of the Sunday show to be heavier on the bluegrass as well as feature special guests. This also remained true as Nershi brought out Greensky Bluegrass about four songs in. Here’s an equation for those of you unacquainted with a musical collaboration of this stature: The String Cheese Incident + Greensky Bluegrass = GET DOWN CITY! They took us on a wild, bluegrass ride that never let up. “It’s always fun pickin’ with friends,” said Nershi. The last song they played together was a bluegrass cover of “I Know You Rider” by The Grateful Dead. The crowd was pleased.
The second set got underway with “It Is What It Is.” One of the best things about Cheese is how they can start a song with a signature sound, completely change it in the middle, and bring it back right at the end. They have become masters of their craft. The whole show on Sunday didn’t have near the energy of the first two nights, but it didn’t need to. Cheese had already given so much that ending it on a more chill, relaxed note was the perfect way to go about it.
The last song they played was “Valley of the Jig,” which offered some insight as to just where the band might be headed. The breakdown dove deep into the realm of electronic music, meshing together so well with all of the instruments. It was almost scary because in a music world that’s grown dominated by electronic music, that a band like The String Cheese Incident can find common ground with a new, electronic-music-happy audience while also keeping their fans happy (once again, everybody was loving it) then the number of people they can reach is exponential. It was 3 nights of pure magic from one of the greatest jam bands ever, a true display of talent. Thank you for the memories SCI, you supplied us with a number of them.
Pretty Lights had a lot of hype surrounding his closeout set at The Ranch Arena. His new album was days away from finally dropping and he had just played ‘til sunrise at Bonnaroo two weekends before. He drew the biggest crowd of the weekend and wasted no time diving into the deep cuts. While he may have been having a little too much fun (let’s just say he was drunk and high on “life”) he still delivered a set worth talking about, dropping some relative oldies that had almost been forgotten. The unreleased material was honestly groovy, including a nasty dubstep drop that I have never heard before. It hit hard like a thousand punches, forcing many people to take a step back, grasping to take it all in. He didn’t play too many songs from the new album but, after a heartfelt speech letting the crowd know how much he loved them, “Yellow Bird” erupted from the speakers and filled the air with a warm, low-end hum. It was a pleasant moment that prompted a lot of people to love the friends around them and reflect on an amazing weekend.
It’s never too early to start talking about next year.