What The Festival recently announced it would not return, making 2017 its last year of operation. Beginning in 2012, once a year the festival transformed central Oregon into an incredible gathering of art and music. Inspired by the Burner community and billing itself as a boutique experience, the festival hosted a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds and subcultures from across the continent that would eventually grow 5,000 strong. After their inaugural year, the festival purchased Wolf Run Ranch to create a permanent home for one of the most spectacular annual Northwest events.
What The Festival owed its success to the magical vibes of creativity, openness and hospitality it engendered among the attendees. Elaborate costumes, wild body paint and kinetic sculptures filled the grounds, creating the perfect festival atmosphere to let loose and express yourself. This bred a feeling of familiarity among strangers, where crowds were kind and courteous – usually leaving room for people to dance and move freely. People even arranged others’ shoes that were kicked off in a scramble to get to its famous pool stage. Many camps grew into families over the years, spending months coordinating for the festival and planning to return for years to come.
The fairytale setting of the festival provided a strong foundation for its vibe. Lightly wooded camping areas gave way to a dense forest and sprawling field, all under breathtaking mountain views. At night the forest transformed into a wonderland of rainbow LEDs and lasers. Large interactive art pieces and handcrafted decorations created an immersive, otherworldly environment. Strolling through the forest one also found smaller stages, bars and unexpected places to relax like hammocks and ornate hookah lounges.
Lineups showcased a wide range of electronic artists with healthy mix of other genres. Big names like Claude VonStroke, Dillon Francis, The Glitch Mob, RL Grime, Odesza, Thievery Corporation, REZZ and ZHU made appearances alongside up and comers and local artists with sets that managed to feel intimate yet dazzlingly produced. Beyond music, What The Festival offered a wide lineup of dance classes, yoga sessions and workshops on anything from how to make friends at festivals to rope bondage. No matter what hour of the day or night it was, the festival always had something exciting to stumble into.
But the magic of What The Festival wouldn’t be possible without its lovingly crafted stages. A clear favorite was the Splash Stage, with three wading pools to dance in that hosted some of the wildest daytime dance parties in the northwest, all while managing to stay clean and inviting. The forest hosted several stages of its own, including The Groove Cube, a square enclosure of multicolored cubes that changed color and blasted lasers to the beat, and the Dragon Stage – a massive silver Chinese dragon that shot fire with the music and seemed to dance when illuminated. The two main stages at either end of the field provided wattage worthy of the big names they hosted.
When the festival announced it would take a break for 2018, its devout following was disappointed yet hopeful for a 2019 return. But after six years of love and music only a single webpage with a heartbreaking announcement remains. What The Festival may be gone, the friends and memories it created are its true legacy, and will undoubtedly go on to inspire even greater things in the northwest in the years to come.
*Featured Image of JPod at What The Festival Via Betty and Kora*