By Alex Terranova / @freshmusicfreak
Part One of Four.
What the Festival takes place at Wolf Run Ranch, situated in the shadow of beautiful Mt. Hood, near Dufur, Oregon. The grounds feature eight stages of music including the daytime Splash Pool. Just as impressive is the Illuminated Forest featuring visual and interactive art installations, daytime yoga and movement classes as well as little shelter from the sun. The lineup this year is stacked…Thievery Corporation, Claude Vonstroke, Lettuce and Dimond Saints just to name a few. Transformational would be an understatement.
You know…as I sit down and begin to write this recap, I have to really think about my time covering What The Festival 2016. I took meticulous notes so that I wouldn’t forget any part of the experience and I will say that I have just deleted them all. Don’t worry… I did this on purpose.
Why would a journalist delete his notes you ask?
My notes are just the words and time stamps verifying my participation. They are dry and mundane. I can use them to tell my story, but for me the weekend was a blur of friends, family and new connections, all while living within a community of like minded music lovers….none of the experience was dry or mundane.
What the Festival is a very different experience if I compare it to how I’ve covered other festivals, from Bonnaroo to MysteryLand my experiences are vast. I have been around dance music since the mid 1990’s so raves and festivals are nothing new to me, but I can honestly say that What the Festival changed me. I know that people talk about this happening all the time when they go to a music festival. They talk about how leaving is so hard and that returning to reality sucks. I never really understood this because there was always something else to go to the next weekend, another party, another gathering, and that’s what I knew, so I would never get emotional about it. My friends will tell you that I don’t get very emotional about anything and they would be correct. Honestly, by Monday morning, I was ready to leave. I wanted to shower. I wanted to sleep in my bed. I wanted to decompress.
Thursday 11:30 AM – Eugene, OR.
I leave Jano’s house thirty minutes before noon with Jackie riding shotgun. We need to stop for some essentials, a head start is critical so our caravan will get the grounds on time and together. My car is loaded with half of the gear and trying to find the crew without cell signal would be tricky.
Jackie and I stop to see my kids on our way out of town. This is a must because Sunday is Father’s day and my son’s birthday. I know, I know…I don’t want to hear it.
Jano 12:02 PM: Just left...Exit 297
Jano 12:03 PM: 1:30 PM
Jano let’s me know where we can meet up with the caravan.
The drive from Eugene to Wolf Run Ranch is vivid, lots of green. It takes roughly four and a half hours with a couple of stops along the way. Jackie sleeps for half of it. When she wakes up…she coos…”It’s so beautiful.”
She has been saying that about Oregon since she arrived on Tuesday, and trust me listening to her talk never gets old.
Jackie sounds a little bit like Scarlett Johansson…she has depth in her voice, you know, like the sexy low pitch that hits you deep in your eardrum, makes you smile sideways and slightly laugh. When I look at her I see everything that is good in the world. Her energy has kept me transfixed since we met 18 months ago…funny this is…I haven’t seen her since then.
Normally, she would attend Electric Forest around this time of year but, circumstances as they are, it would be difficult for her to make it. She has been through some shit as of late, so…when I see an opportunity to get her mind off of things for a few days…I seize it, and fly her out from Wisconsin so she can help me cover the festival. I figure it will be a solid alternative…little did I know what this weekend has in store. That said, the last two days have been filled with travel, great food, shopping and press coordination with very little sleep. I just want to give her a real taste of Oregon “weird” you know?
Thursday 5:00 PM – Dufur, OR.
We arrive. I get out the car to snap some pictures of the car line and offer up some fruit snacks to the car behind me…clutch. They loved it. I have Jackie take over driving so I can walk the car line and chat with the attendees.
They talk about the amazing friends that they have with them on their journey. They talk about the artists they look forward to hearing and what the visual art installations are going to be like. They talk about everything.
“ I was gonna do Paradiso next weekend instead of this but Shades is playing and I couldn’t miss it.” – Alana. Boise, ID.
A quarter of a mile from the main gate I meet the first staffer. Grinning ear to ear she seems more excited to be there than some of the attendees and remember she is working. All of them that I meet have smiles on their faces. They welcome us with open arms. Everyone seems extremely excited for our arrival.
“Have a good time and be safe,” one staffer said as we pull onto the dirt road leading to the festival grounds. He has to be at least 60 years old…but looking at him not once did I feel like I was being judged. He just smiles and waves.I get back into the car and speak with my close friend Jano. He has attended What the Festival since the beginning, we talk about everything. The weather, the upcoming car search, camp set up and what the agenda for day one entails.
“What the festival has been a part of my life for 5 years now. It feels like home when I return each summer! It was actually the first festival I attended as an adult in 2012. The experience left me hungry for more. After the first year I knew it was something I would not want to miss. It is something much more than music and art. It is a community of like minded people that leave you with a feeling in your heart that is warming and welcoming. I will never forget the connections made with strangers that had smiling faces and left me feeling as if I had reconnected with an old friend I had not seen in years. It is a complete experience for all my senses – and helped me feel at ease in my mind body and soul.” – Jano. Eugene, OR.
We pull up to the car search line.
“Jano will you drive?…Jackie and I need to check in at press,” I ask.
“Yeah, but hurry up and don’t forget the parking pass.”
As he drove the one hundred yards up to get to our car checked, Jackie and I stand in line at What the Festival check in. Getting our credentials is taxing and the line is long, yet, everyone waiting has smiles on their faces. People are making comments towards the back of the line and people reply to the front of the line. The excitement is intense, like the flapping wings of a humming bird. I realize at this moment, What the Festival is going to be different, very different. Something washes over me that makes me feel for the first time that I am not an outsider trying to deliver a different perspective. This story is going to be very involved.
We arrive back at the car just as Jano pulls up to the car search. He exits the car, they search, everything is good.
“Thank you and enjoy the weekend”...we are cleared and staffers wave the car through.
Thursday 6:33 PM – Parking
We park and begin the unloading of two fully packed cars. Jano leads Jackie and I to the main campsite. We set our tent and unpack the basics. Camp is outside of the actual festival grounds which is situated at the top of a small hill. It’s a little tricky to find level ground. The last thing I want is to feel like I’m sliding down a hill while I sleep. We find a choice spot…it is still sloped. Whatever….
“I’m Hungry.” Jackie says.
This is as good time as any to grab a bite and check out the grounds before sundown. I let Jano know we were heading out to get food and find the media tent.
Our camp was roughly a quarter mile from the main festival entrance. It’s a nice walk lined with RV camping on the left and everything from port-o-potties, smoking areas, showers and Vip camping on the right. The main road into the grounds is lined with mulch which makes for a more comfortable stroll when shoeless. We are greeted at the main gate by security, a quick search of our bags and we are money.
Jessica 8:25 PM: How much do they search?
Side Note: I am surprised I got this text. Service sucks out here.
Alex 8:36 PM: Easy breezy, looking for glass.
Jessica 8:38 PM: Sweet. We are coming through now:))
Jackie looks at me like she wants to kill me…
“I’m really hungry.”
I can see it in her eyes too…We head up the ridge just past the Pool Stage to the food venders. The food comes from all over, but we land on Killa Dilla and order an Albacore Dilla…
This is the best tasting quesadilla I have ever had. Apparently, the albacore is fresh caught on a boat that is owned by the father of one of the owners of the place and they drizzle a sauce on the dilla that blows up in my mouth with all sorts of flavor…I digress…that shit is good, and Jackie is feeling better too…Double score…
After food, I roll over to the media tent, check it, nobody is there. The tent next door has information, so I get all the info I need and am told to come back in the morning.
Back to camp…
I’m amazed at the amount of people that are here for early entry, but I understand why one might want to show up early for this festival. On our way back to camp I meet Sara. She is a beautiful woman, maybe five feet tall and rocking a short dark hair that is accented by shaved sides. When she turns toward me I can make out that she is also rocking a razor floral design carved into the side. Me being me, I make a comment.
“I just have to say…you hair is fucking sick!”
She thanks me and says, “Wait…check this out!”
She grabs the guy standing next to her and they kiss. No fucks given…the guy had the same design carved into his hair on the opposite side. I step back and get a picture. Mark, I later find out is her boyfriend. They are from Portland, super chill and make for a great conversation.
Pretty dope couple, I wish them the best and move on.
Thursday 10:15 PM
The crew heads toward the festival and I met up with Alexis, Amy and Jessica. We had located their RV on the last walk through. There is a lot to say about this trio of women, all of whom are at their first What the Festival as well. I could write a 1200 page novel based just on their shenanigans alone. Honestly, they are amazing people to be around and I hope each and everyone of you get to feel their energy. This guy did!
We start our adventure at the Equinox Stage. The stage is minimal in design with swirled accents that are red in color. The crowd is situated on a slope that makes for an appealing view no matter where we stand. Nico Luminous is dropping the dirty. His glitched out bass music sets the perfect mood.
It’s a bit chilly at night so Jackie and I break off and head to one of the many heating globes situated around the grounds. Up and to the right of the Equinox stage we find the fire globes and listen as Pittsburgh based Buku starts his manhandling of the decks. The hyped sound of his music sends the crowd into a frenzy. When I don’t think I can take much more of the cold, Buku releases into his remix of “Thunderdome” by Minnesota feat. G Jones. I am not cold anymore. Bliss. My respect for Buku and his ability to read his crowd is unparallel to any other artist.
I want to stay for the entire set but there is so much more to see. Just to the right of the heating globes is the entrance to the Illuminated Forest. It was calling my name.
“Let’s go check it out.” I say to Jackie.
Of course she agrees. Jackie has a love for Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan. Though, What the Festival is not as big as EF, the art installations are right on point with one another. We stroll down the hill into the forest. About halfway down the hill we encounter a old school cash register that plays music. My initial thought is that it is a car engine that plays music, so we glide by. (Back to this amazing piece on day two.) In the distance we both see the Groove Cube. The sound of Mr. Wu is booming from inside. The Groove Cube is room of square water cubes, stacked on top of one another and lit individually. Here watch the video you’ll get what I mean. The design is simple enough but has a huge impact on me visually.
“Forest doesn’t have anything like that!” Jackie says.
I think this is when Jackie stops making comparisons to forest.
I really enjoy listening to Portland based Mr. WU especially when he plays his downtempo sets, but it was cold and when we arrive he is full on hip-hop thug style and I just can’t get into it. We stay for about twenty minutes before we decide to head up the hill back the heating pods.
Jessica 12:19 AM: Hey Yo! Where you at??
Alex 12:19 AM: The heating pods up and to the right.
Jessica 12:21 AM: Kkkkkkk…
Alex 12:22 AM: Are you coming?
Alex 12:27 AM: Yo.
Jessica 12:27 AM: Lolz! We are at RV refueling..I want my hoodie…up the hill from the first place we were at??
Alex 12:29 AM: No like the heating pods…we are on our way to your RV.
Jessica 12:31 AM: My Hero lol…I’m old, I need tums…
Alex 12:32 AM: On our way.
Jessica 12:33 AM: Perfect.
Good Night….I’m back at 5:00 AM.