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Electric Forest is a new festival, not a Rothbury replacement

for Journal Register Newspapers

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Jeremy Stein does not want music fans to consider the Electric Forest Festival a replacement for the dormant Rothbury Festival.

As far as the event’s producer is concerned, “it’s a completely different event.”

Nevertheless, Electric Forest does come into the Michigan summer concert landscape on the same Fourth of July weekend that the Rothbury Festival occupied in 2008 and 2009. It will feature 70 acts playing for four days (June 30-July 3) on five stages at the scenic Double JJ Ranch, with the String Cheese Incident’s three separate shows headlining a diverse bill that also includes electronic artists such as Tiesto, Skrillex, Bassnectar and Pretty Lights, reggae progeny Stephen Marley, rootsy fare including Railroad Earth, the Emmitt-Nershi Band and the Ragbirds, and even classic Rockers REO Speedwagon in a special July 2 matinee performance.

There’s no question it’s a downsized festival. Stein, who works for Boulder, Colo.-based Madison House Presents, is hoping for 15,000 people at Electric Forest after each of the Rothburys drew about 35,000 — including attendees from all 50 U.S. states and eight countries. But after taking 2010 off while new Double JJ ownership ushered the resort out of bankruptcy, he feels this is the best way to bring a music festival back to western Michigan.

“We always had the goal of doing different types of events at the site,” Stein explains. “It seemed like this year it was best to go with something of this size — but still pretty spectacular.”

As at the two Rothbury Festivals, Stein expects the Double JJ itself to be as much of an attraction as the music — particularly Sherwood Forest, a highlight of the previous events that gave this year’s festival its name. “A lot of festival sites out there are really just built up in a big field,” he explains. “Here, with the lakes and the forest and all the amenities — like the water park and golf (course) and lodging — there’s a real specialness to the grounds.

“So to a certain extent, any event out there is going to have similarities just because of all that.”

As the Electric Forest moniker would indicate, an emphasis is being put on the wooded area that sits in the middle of the festival footprint. Stein promises a “general expansion of concepts of the past,” including art installations and “more ways for people to connect, little social networking projects.” There will also be a larger stage that will host music and cabaret performances, workshops and speakers.

The forest, Stein notes, “is almost two places, the daytime forest and the nighttime forest. During the day it’s an escape; there’s shade, hammocks, people can relax. That’s something very rare at festival sites.

“Then at night it turns into a whole different scenario in there. There will be a lot of things going on that will surprise people at every turn.”

Stein says the music community is very aware of how unusual the Electric Forest/Rothbury site is. The 300 submissions he had for acts wanting to play at the festival, he notes, “is not common.”

“Usually it’s the other way around — you’re trying to fill it up,” he says. “But it was really nice that so many of the musicians and bands told their agents and managers ‘I want to get on that (lineup).’ ”

String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi says his band was “impressed” with the site when it played the 2009 Rothbury Festival, which made the Colorado group excited to play multiple sets at Electric Forest.

“It’s a beautiful spot to spend a weekend, for sure,” he says. “We’re planning to do a lot of things to make it a special place when people get there and we’re playing.” And, Nershi promises, SCI will present three very different experiences during the festival.

“We work it out so no songs are repeated all weekend,” he says. “We put a lot of time into it. It takes a little bit of work to get prepared to really kick booty for something like this. But it’s good; it keeps us learning new songs, and we have a really big repertoire right now, so that keeps it interesting for us and for the people there.”

Meanwhile, he adds, it’s possible that the Rothbury Festival “could still have a future,” maybe alongside a continuing Electric Forest concept.

“We haven’t really talked much about it, really. We just know it’s a possibility,” Stein explains. “I would think somewhere in the fall the conversation will come back up again. We’re just focused on Electric Forest right now and trying to expand on the great ideas and grow with them.

“We’ve learned a lot on the site over the last few years. We’re just trying to use our expertise there to make the great parts really show and create something that will last and bring people out year after year.”

The Electric Forest Festival takes place June 30-July 3 at the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Mich. Weekend tickets cost $239.50, while a two-day July 2-3 ticket is $125. VIP packages are also available, and there is onsite camping and parking. Details are available at www.electricforestfestival.com or by calling 888-512-7469.

Web Site: www.electricforestfestival.com

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