Electric Forest gears up for 2-weekend bash.

June 19, 2017

OCP file photo

Electric Forest gears up for 2-weekend bash.


By Fred Inglis. Contributing Writer.

ROTHBURY — The Electric Forest Festival returns this week to the Double JJ Resort for its seventh straight year. The major celebration of music and the arts has many cheering, but not all.

For the first time ever, EF is extended from one to two separate weekends. The capacity for each weekend will be reduced by approximately 10 percent from 2016, but suddenly June 22-25 and June 29-July 2, the Village of Rothbury will leap from a population of 450 people to the second largest city in the State of Michigan.

“You look at all the employees, artists, guests,” says Michigan State Police F/Lt. Jeff White, commander of the Hart post. “That’s a town of 65,000 people.”

OCP file photo

It creates an enormous economic impact to the area. It also brings a social impact that is problematic for some nearby residents.

Entertainment companies Madison House Presents and Insomniac operate the Electric Forest Festival. This is the first year the producers are working with the Village of Rothbury instead of Grant Township.

Supporters of EF appreciate the financial boon to local businesses, like gas stations and grocery stores. The producers say they’ve created an economic impact of “tens of millions of dollars over the past decade.” Local high schools have received more than $51,000 for
their music programs.

Tim Shield was one of the hometown vendors who paid $3,000 to EF organizers last year to set up a kiosk in the venue. He says he had to share 45 percent of his earnings from his snack shop with the organization and still earned a six figure profit.

OCP file photo

The event spreads the wealth far beyond just Rothbury. Bob Beckman, owner of Beckman Brothers Inc. in Shelby, brought hundreds of truckloads of dirt to the campgrounds to build a mile long road. “I think the Electric Forest has been great for the area,” said Beckman. “I know it’s really helped us out.”

But some businesses are not so excited.

“Our local traffic tends to fall off,” said Rothbury Tavern owner Mark Nelson. “Because they don’t want to deal with the traffic and confusion. Now I’m worried that it will be a two-week fall off.”

Some EF neighbors rent out their property for camping and enjoy the total festival atmosphere. Other residents are concerned about issues that come with any enormous population explosion.

One neighbor who lives a quarter mile from one of the EF stages has four children under the age of 12. She worries about the noise level that her kids are exposed to, and last year she discovered some EF campers wandering on the family property. “We would love to just
leave for the week, but we think we need to stay to protect our house,” she said.

OCP file photo

That problem could become more complicated this year because of the back-to-back weekend format. EF officials will hire nearly 1,800 workers and seven garbage services to clean up and clear out the campgrounds and festival area before the second weekend campers enter the area.

Some residents wonder whether those people who stay for the second week will pitch camp on private property in between the two weekends.

Neighbor Christopher Peterson says people camped out behind his house last year. “They left all kinds of garbage,” said Peterson. “How many are going to try to do that this year?”

“I promise you I will not allow that,” said Lieutenant White. “I don’t

The massive beer inventory at the Rothbury Wesco in preparation for EF 2017.

want that, and our troopers will make sure no one trespasses.”

Lt. White has 27 years in the state police force and has facilitated protection at every single EF event. Last year there was one death from a drug overdose. There were 57 complaints, and 16 people were arrested. White says he’d put those numbers up against any other city with a population of 65,000 people.

OCP file photo

“We are a focused and prepared organization,” White said. “My biggest concern is safety. We all know about the world we live in now. I will be in charge of the second largest city in the state during this time, and we know it’s an attractive target. We do have multiple evacuation procedures in place.”

Roland Brooks is an EF neighbor and has been the Grant Township fire chief for all the Rothbury-hosted festivals. Brooks is part of the public servants who are responsible for the safety of the patrons, workers and community members. He says this is not a generation gap issue.

OCP file photo

“We see people of all ages there. Ninety percent of the people that come here are great and do things right,” said Brooks. “But the problem is if you come up to a group of 800 or 1,000 people who get together and start doing something wrong, like an unsafe campfire, it’s very hard
to walk up to them and try to get them to cooperate.”

Security is not the only concern for neighbors. They are frustrated by the traffic and noise. Grant Township Supervisor Roger Schmidt says there is no official township noise ordinance, but there is one for disturbing the peace and breaking the campground contract.

“Electric Forest is pretty good about shutting down the stages on time,” says Schmidt. “But the campers bring their own music. The campground has a 1 a.m. curfew. We are responsible for about 70 percent of the jurisdiction. Last year, I think we gave out a $500 fine for a first offense.”

“This goes on all night,” said neighbor and attorney Christopher Peterson. “They don’t stop. I’m looking at a private nuisance lawsuit. They’ve stolen our Fourth of July Weekend from us.”

Each EF neighbor receives a wristband that provides complimentary access to the festival. This year, that wristband is valid for both weekends.

Rothbury Village President Scott Beishuizen said the village receives $6 per wristband sold for the first weekend and $5 for each wristband sold for the second weekend. That’s a nearly $450,000 payoff.

“Some of the money will be shifted to the township,” said Beishuizen. “The rest is not yet earmarked.” Grant Township received $67,000 to help finish repaving Water Road.

“We held a public hearing before our vote (on the second weekend),” said Village Trustee Robert Fulljames. “Several agencies like police and fire were here for that but not many from the general public.”

“We never heard about any public hearing,” said Will. “There’s got to be a better communication system.”

Until this year the EF producers used to get approval through Grant Township. Supervisor Schmidt says they have a mass gathering ordinance that prohibits an organization from holding consecutive weekend events. The village doesn’t appear to have a similar regulation.

“I just hope they don’t ruin the whole thing by adding a second weekend,” warns Schmidt.

Madison House Presents issued this response to my inquiry:

“From the outset, Electric has promised to be the best neighbors possible. We have upheld that promise every step of the way and will continue to. We are committed to understanding the concerns, adjusting operations where we can, and giving back to this community, that after
a decade here, we are grateful to be a part of.”

Village President Beishuizen says there is no guarantee that back-to-back EF weekends will be an annual event. The village council wants the residents’ input. Board meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month. The next one is Tuesday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Rothbury Village Hall.

This story is copyrighted © 2017, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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