There are stories within the grooves of the trees, the shape of the leaves, and the color of faces among the woods. Entering the Sherwood forest transports you to another realm where true freedom reigns. Every handmade structure and decorated pathway is set there with loving intention, creating more than just a weekend getaway. Each and every soul brings a piece of themselves to build the magic that is Electric Forest. Many say the forest itself has a soul. An inner rhythm that beats with your heart. Maybe that’s why you often hear people say ‘I’m home” or ‘Welcome home.’ There is a magical connection that leads to kinship in the forest and it leaves no traveler behind.
Honoring the summer solstice every year since 2011, an average of 40,000 people gather for 4 days in the small town of Rothbury, Michigan. What pulls Electric Forest apart and set it above other festivals is in the heart of the festival grounds: Sherwood Forest. Chinese lanterns, rainbow umbrellas, and flashing globes hang above enticing you to push onward, to come in and play. Through the entrance crowds of people flow in and out, high-fiving each other, hands swinging together eagerly, eyes gazing among the lights and hearts leading the way.
After the first day everyone is asking each other “Have you been in the forest?” Sometimes people miss it. It’s tucked away in the far corner of the venue. Fairly easy to miss the first time around.
“Have you seen it at night?”
“No I haven’t.”
“Well you have to. It’s the best.”
You’re walking through a portal that takes you into another place. You have seen the photos, heard the stories, built an experience in your head of what it will be like. A masquerade of dancing animals, glowing faces, and paintings that appear to hover in three-dimensional space. The first time is like being born into a brave new wild world. The excitement overwhelms you and maybe you cry, maybe your eyes grow double in size (because you’re on drugs), or maybe (most definitely) you just smile. It forces you to leave behind your inhibitions and worldly structures. Shed your skin and be all of yourself. In the church (yes an actual church in the forest and not your average church) there is only one law and it is love. Everything and everyone is placed there for you to love. Love. Forget everything else.
In the center is The Observatory, one of the many stages. The Chinese-traditional inspired structure wraps around creating one large cluster of gazebos. Benches and seats provided above level, little shops fill every corner below. It’s 2am and the sound of a violin vibrates from the center stage seeping into the alleyways and into the hearts of the forest dwellers.
It’s the final set of the day closing the third night. I find myself drawn away from the pack, walking towards the light that is Dixon’s Violin. One man and his violin. He tells us that there is no plan for his set, just flow. The special guest Anthony Ward joins him on stage while he plays. A cosmic mystery unfolding before me, I watch him as he grabs a single straw of wheat, holds it in-between prayer hands, honors the four directions, and then carefully sets it in a vase filled with spinning water. I have no idea what’s happening. A few more times I watch him in awe and confusion until it dawns on me. He’s doing improv floral arrangement. (Later, I find out it’s officially called, ‘Conscious Flower Arranging.’)
It’s mesmerizing. It’s equally hilarious and beautiful. It’s something you could only find in a place like this. A place of ultimate creative freedom and expression. A place of sacred divinity on earth. The Sherwood Forest.
Like a mother to a newborn child the forest takes you into her warm embrace. She beckons you to join your brothers and sisters among the dancing neon lights. Like the blood flowing in your veins the love of music carries you through the night.
A gallery, a maze of bells, a fallen robot, a place to nap while pink and blue clouds twinkle twinkle little stars. You choose. You’re the pilot of this adventure. The experience of the forest feels like a beautifully woven dream tapestry. It feels like another lifetime spent in another world. Like a dream, it’s difficult to recall the details. When you’re there you’re so in the moment. Co-creating an experience with old friends and new. Beautiful connections and mysteries uncovered not only with others, but within yourself.