Welcome back, Electric Forest

June 21, 2023

Welcome back, Electric Forest

By Ross Field, Contributing Writer

ROTHBURY — By Thursday, June 22, the population of Oceana County will have more than doubled as folks from around the world pour into the Double JJ Resort in southern Oceana County to attend the 11th Electric Forest Festival.

For those traveling along US 31, this has not been a secret, as the infrastructure of the festival has been clearly seen being constructed on the grounds of the Double JJ Resort.

The multi-genre music festival began in 2011 but had its roots in the original Rothbury music festivals that began at the Double JJ in 2008 and attracted over 30,000 people to the sprawling resort grounds. After a hiatus in 2010 due to legal problems at the ranch, the festival returned as the Electric Forest.

Since then, it has remained the largest musical festival in not only Oceana County, but in western Michigan, and one of the largest festivals in the entire Midwest.

What made the Electric Forest so unique were two things: the musical acts that it presented were from a wide-ranging spectrum of musical styles from around the world, and the wooded grounds of the Double JJ, which became an art installation of huge magnitude — the Sherwood Forest — with lights and lasers and structures that transformed what at any other time would be just another stand of mature pine trees into an awe-inspiring artifice itself.

Since that inaugural year, the Electric Forest has evolved into one of the hottest festival tickets in the United States. Each year tickets to the festival have sold out within one day.

Musical acts have ranged from the most popular Electronic Dance Music (EDM) acts of the time to bands such as the traditional Preservation Hall Jazz Band who would end their multiple appearances at the festival by leading a New Orleans-style “Second Line” out into the psychedelic Sherwood Forest. 

This year is no exception, as the main liners at the Electric Forest are some of the top EDM acts on the charts like Odesza, Illenium, Zeds Dead, and Above & Beyond, all of whom have millions of followers on the streaming service, Spotify.

The Electric Forest is definitely an EDM festival, but The String Cheese Incident remains the host band of the festival, and this year the band plays shows on Friday and Saturday nights. String Cheese is a collection of incredible musicians who can begin with a traditional bluegrass song, segue into a rock and roll freak-out, and then end with a bluegrass jam 20 minutes later, all of it seamless and incredible.

Acts from around the world on the bill this year include Cimafunk, an Afro-Cuban artist and his band who produce an intoxicating mix of Caribbean rhythms, and Jupiter & Okwess, a Congolese band that combines native African rhythms with American funk to create a joyous sound.

But it is not all music and art. The Electric Forest contributes back to Oceana County in many ways.

Conscious Alliance is a nonprofit organization that since the beginning of the festival has had food drives that benefit local food banks. The local drive is named the Roy Price Memorial Food Drive after the patriarch of the Price family whose farm is located on Clay Road near the festival site. In 2019, the Forest Family donated 26,800 meals to the Roy Price Memorial Food Drive.

The Price family has hosted Conscious Alliance workers for many years and helps distribute food to the local food banks. Festival goers who donate 20 items of food to Conscious Alliance will be given a special edition 2023 Electric Forest poster.

The Shelby High School bands have been a part of the festivals since the beginning, with the Shelby High School Jazz Band first playing at the 2009 Rothbury Festival. Over the years, donations from the Electric Forest’s Music in Schools Program have helped the Shelby High School music programs purchase sound systems, acoustic basses, and other musical instruments. Last year’s donation will help the program purchase new saxophones for students whose families might not be able to do so themselves.

This year the Shelby High School music programs will be represented by a 40+ member band of alumni musicians, marching through the Sherwood Forest at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Sure, the festival can cause some traffic and noise problems for a week or so, but no local restaurant or business will complain about the increased customers over the last couple of weeks. And those local residents who purchased tickets or got them otherwise will be able to experience a phenomenon that the rest of the world wishes they could experience, here, in Oceana County.

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