Yes, you read that right.
Before I really begin, I should disclose a few things. I am not a festival goer. Hell, I rarely attend concerts. I am more of a dive bar, garage band kind of gal, though if Rob Zombie is playing near me I will try to get tickets, and I have seen Hollywood Vampires. I just think I can spend all that money on other things, like tattoos, shoes. You know, the priorities. Recently I was given the opportunity to work as a vendor at an EDM festival, Electric Forest to be precise. I don’t even listen to that kind of music, but I was getting paid to be there and when I wasn’t working I had free range of the place because of my wristband.
Festival people are an entirely different species of humans. In fact, many of the locals here experience cognitive dissonance at the sight of a festival goer, resorting to name calling or assuming the worst. Easy to do, when the average festival goer uses neon tape as tights and barely has more than a boa or tie dyed frock on. They stink, they do drugs, they steal, people die all the time and it gets covered up. Well…not exactly. Sure, they camp out for about 4 days, with no shower, so they have that camp life scent about them. Or they don’t, and quite frankly I was surprised at how smelly they were not, with the way locals talk.
Yes, weekend one had some theft and drug possessions going on. As I pointed out to my friends however, a look at the local cops and courts on a weekly basis and you see that it’s no different than the average night outside the festival. Fake reports go around constantly, leading people to believe things like people die and it gets covered up, or someone lost a finger and it was found by someone else. Well, that finger incident that went around Facebook after weekend one was a hoax….it was a fake finger. Investigated. There are cops all over the festival, checking on things. They let pot slide inside the festival, but keep an eye out for other drugs, which is a good thing.
Now, all of that aside, here comes the real experience, from the viewpoint of someone who never goes to festivals like this, and doesn’t listen to EDM either.
I worked in the Candy Shoppe, for Cosmic Candy Company based in Pentwater, Michigan. My primary job was to be outside the shop, selling kettle corn, drinks, cotton candy, and this amazing organic green tea virgin mojito. When I say amazing, I really mean it. I made them so damn amazing that when I went to grab a burger and fries from one of the other vendors, they gave me my food for free because I made him the BEST green tea mojito in the world. His words, not mine. We were placed in the perfect spot to catch the droves of party kids that were flocking from one stage to the next, as well as flocking from their campsites into the main area of the festival.
There were college kids, dreadlock sporting seasoned festival goers, dad’s accompanying their preteen daughters, metal heads walking with their loved ones, and people of all ages, from infant to elderly. I saw a man walking with his infant in a front pack, and a couple being pushed in their wheel chairs around the festival. Mostly, what I saw, was a bunch of rich 20 somethings dressing in elaborate (or not) costumes doing their thing. They tip well. Once I was offered a hit from a joint, but I was working so I turned it down with a frown. Our mojitos were a big seller, with only one person turning it down due to a lack of alcohol in it. Everyone else loved them, and they loved us. There were so many thank yous coming our way, so many people told us they loved us and appreciated us working while they came to play. I got compliments on my tattoos, and was told how pretty I was by more people than I can count.
That’s what working looked like. My second day working was the last day of weekend two, two weekends being the new thing this year. The festival carried on until 3am, then everyone closed up their booths and went home. My shift ended at 7pm, so I went wandering because I wanted to see the forest at night, I’ve seen so many pictures, I wanted to see it in person. 7pm is still light out, so I made my way over to the food vendors for a burger. That free burger I mentioned earlier. I ate the burger and fries while listening to a bluegrass band strum out some Grateful Dead tunes on the main stage in that section. After scarfing that down I headed into Sherwood Forest, the centerpiece of the festival. Some amazingly talented, creative, and imaginative artists got together to bring this forest to life. I got to know the layout, sort of, while it was still light out. I took photos of what I encountered, from a group of improv mimes dressed in all yellow old fashioned clothing to three aliens exploring a new world that spoke in a series of clicks. A giving tree, a trading post, and several stages and building put together with ample space to sit and rest if the need hits. Then I found Sherwood Court, the main event. There was EDM blaring, and every now and then I would catch something that rang familiar because my oldest son listens to it.
People were laying all over the fields, just taking it all in, or dancing along with their friends. The bigger groups of friends came with a totem, something they made to signal the others so no one gets lost, on a long pole. Two girls walked by me with their wrists tied to each other, clearly not wanting to get separated. I found a vendor selling tea and got an iced tea, then wandered around some more. There was an area called The Hanger, which drew me in like a moth to flames. It had a strong 20s vibe to it, sort of like if electronica and neon had been available in the 20s, this is what it would have looked like. At one point, I just sat on an old couch in a set called There’s No Place Like Home, and listened to jazz fusion for a while. People sat next to me, everyone was really friendly and chatty, and it was just a neat atmosphere. Then I wandered back into the forest to await darkness.
I sat on a bench that surrounded a giant sculpture of a goddess, near the Jive Joint, another vintage themed set, and listened to the oldies play while the sky grew darker. Behind us was a “silent disco” where everyone was given a set of headphones and let loose on the dance floor. Then, all the lights were finally visible, and it was time to walk around the forest again. First of all, I was not on any drugs last night. That being said, when I came upon the giant elephant in the middle of the forest, I thought I was tripping. They did such a good job on the lights for that elephant that I literally second guessed my own sobriety. It was amazing. The fairy houses came to life, and I was seeing things I hadn’t noticed before. Each of the art installments were lit in different ways, providing a striking contrast between forest during the day and forest during the night. Yes, EDM pounded through my entire being. But I have a 19 year old son who listens to it, so I wasn’t completely taken aback by it.
Neon hula hoops, glow sticks, light up shoes, and glow in the dark body paint washed over the crowds of people herding themselves from one stage to the next. I have to hand it to them. They got in way more walking than I did, and I walked a lot. By 1am I was done. I had worked all day, walked all night, and was flat out tired. I found some teriyaki chicken and rice, munched on that, and wandered among the vendors looking for something to buy as a reminder of my time there. Pins are a big deal to everyone who goes to Electric Forest, so I found a vendor that was selling in three price ranges and picked one from the cheapest, a cute little white and black voodoo doll. Perfect for me. Then I went back over by the Candy Shoppe, and plopped down to eat my food under a tree. I was there until I got a ride after the festivities, so I just relaxed at the tree a bit. This is when so many people just randomly talked to me, checking up on me, asking me if I was alright, or if I needed water or anything else. They told me they loved me, blew kisses, reminded me how awesome I was, that I did great today, and that I was beautiful. These kids look out for each other at festivals, knowing that dangers exist, trying to eliminate as many of them as they can. By the end of the night, I walked away with my pin, a blue plastic flower, a tiny pile of unicorn poo, a hot pink gem, a bowl of weed, and enough mud on my feet and the bottoms of my pants to create my own art project.
I plan on volunteering to work next year’s festival. This time, I’ll be bringing some of my handmade jewelry to trade in the trading post. I am also looking into becoming a contributing artist, because that would be just the bee’s knees!