Music festivals that require me to camp quickly fall into a pattern—wake up with the sun, party, pass out, repeat—so let me save you from my sweaty soliloquy surrounding waking and fast forward to the Forest’s finest. (Oh em gee, alliteration overload, sorry not sorry.)
I once posted something about Big Freedia on Facebook, which prompted a friend to inform me that after seeing her in concert, “It wasn’t so much a concert as a religious experience.” Well, I caught Big Freedia’s early-evening set at Electric Forest and let me say, it was not only my favorite show of the weekend, but you can call me converted.
Making music aptly identified as “Bounce,” Big Freedia the Queen Diva brought a completely new vibe to the festival with her New Orleans booty bumpin’ beats. I have never seen a crowd grow as fast as hers once things kicked off. Only ten people lined the front barrier to the stage when things got started, yet Freedia and her booty-shorts-clad dancers amassed at least a thousand Foresters in the field before the set’s end.
Something else I learned from this show—it is impossible to sit still to Bounce Music. Freedia had no problem pulling approximately 20 audience members on stage to shake their thangs and damn, I have never before seen so much ass in one place. (It makes sense that she titled her latest album AZZ EVERYWHERE.) Even if you don’t have a booty, this music makes you want to immediately start shoving fistfuls of cornbread into your mouth just so you can bounce with the Queen Diva. If there is a booty deity, she is a goddess and her name is Big Freedia.
Needing a break after expending all my energy shaking whatever junk I may possess in my trunk, I headed back to camp and made friends with my neighbors from Ohio who soon accompanied me to String Cheese Incident. I know this band is not necessarily a new find to many and they’re not exactly a group I would seek out on my own, but a Cheese concert is certainly a sight to see.
About 90% of Electric Foresters flocked to the Ranch Arena holding glowsticks, firing off confetti blasts, launching giant bouncy balls into the crowd and in one man’s case, making their way through the hoards of people while toting a giant, puppet-like praying mantis. Everything from the energy of the audience to the spectacular light show made String Cheese Incident the best damn jam band I’ve seen in quite some time.
Next up, we took the wildcard route and ventured back into the woods for a set by guests TBA. Entering in time to catch the end of Alvin Risk’s set to warm up the crowd, tensions were noticeably high as those who ventured into the woods waited to hear who would be playing, glowsticks poised. Rumors of Bassnectar or Pretty Lights had been making their way around the grounds all weekend, but the main attraction of the Forest Stage ended up being GriZ (a return appearance since he had already played on Friday).
Yet I ended up more than pleased with this outcome, considering I had missed his set the day before and he has a great repertoire of buildups and drops. However, true Electric Forest magic occurred when Gramatik stepped out of the shadows to accompany GriZ in his mixology and form super group, GriZmatik. And the fun doesn’t stop there. Dominic “Dom” Lalli, the saxophonist and programmer for Big Gigantic soon joined the duo on stage with his soulful, sliding brass weapon of choice and made for one of the best electronic concerts I’ve ever seen.
For all those electro-haters who complain electronic music is just a dude playing music he’s mixed on his computer, GriZmatik featuring Dom is here to vehemently destroy your misconceptions.
Those who stuck around for the set could watch as GriZ and Gramatik shouted their next move to one another—Gramatik laying down his jazzy samples (more commensurate to his 2011 release, Beatz & Pieces Vol. 1), cross-fading the sounds and soon handing it over to GriZ for the build-up—while Dom seamlessly improvised on his saxophone, sending his hand-crafted melody line soaring above the rest. Nothing was truly planned in advance, everything flowed and I left the set quite enamored. GriZ, Gramatik and Big Gigantic are all acts worth putting on your radar as they exhibit true musicianship and dance-worthy beats to boot.
Following this stellar performance I caught the end of Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) where, due to the trancelike nature of their music and the 1 a.m. timeslot, I may have temporarily fallen asleep on the ground until a crescendo of intergalactic, tribal thumps suddenly had me on my feet and dancing it out in a matter of seconds. True to the Sector 9 nature of their namesake, the lights and sounds of the show gave off extraterrestrial vibes while the undercurrent of their Sound Tribe half kept a steady tempo in which you could easily find yourself lost. STS9 is another act I would highly recommend seeing live should they head your direction.
Finishing Saturday with Diplo et al at Major Lazer, they held back nothing in terms of their typical party fanfare and ended the night on a mellower note with Bob Marley’s “One Love.”
Alas, I had to dip out early on Sunday so cannot report on that day’s events, but considering Bassnectar sold out a 6,000-person arena in Madison last April and I’ve already gushed over Gramatik and Big Gigantic, you can probably guess who might have made my list of favorites.
It was a dusty, sleep-deprived journey, but fun nonetheless. Thanks for sticking with me as I made my way out of the woods and be sure to check back on The Daily Cardinal Arts page for more festival coverage throughout the summer!