A Review of What the Festival
Written by Brent Harper
Photos by What the Festival
At a Glance
So, this is year two of Festival Squad’s coverage of the splendid event known as What The Festival. Keeping the tradition that last year’s contributor Alex Rowland set, I decided to go to this festival only a few days before the event started. Let me just say that this fest now holds a special place in my heart and I will be returning as long as I roam this planet. Wolf Run Ranch is where it all goes down. It is quite rural, and you’ll have to drive a bit to get there, but at the end of the winding roads that lead to the ranch, you are rewarded with stellar mountain vistas and a team of amazing people just as excited about the weekend as you.
Music genre: Deep House, EDM, House, Rap, minimal Techno, Dance, Electrofunk
Camping: This is a camping fest. There are two main campgrounds (east and west) separated from the festival area by a security checkpoint. There is also car camping, RV options, and a really sexy glamping option. You have to pay for parking, so carpool if possible. They also allow you to sleep in your car in the parking area (which is what I chose to do).
Capacity: This is a medium sized fest. It was estimated by a WTF employee that roughly 10K festers were in attendance. It is a great fest to cultivate some intimate relationships.
Crowd type: Hipster, hippy, Country folk, crunchy granola (you know what I mean, right?), and just downright friendly and awesome people.
Water stations: Many water stations. They’ll be clearly marked! I always recommend that fest-goers locate ALL of the water stations when they first arrive. It might save your life.
For the First-timers
From Portland: It is 2 hours away. Take I-84 to exit #87 toward Highway 197 South. From there, follow signs to Dufur. Once you get there, you’ll see signs that point you in the right direction
From Seattle: Either take I-5 South toward Vancouver/Portland and take the same direction as above. OR you can take I-90 to Highway-97 South; then get on I-84 West for 76 miles to Highway 197 South. You will come across Dufur and follow the signs to Wolf Run Ranch.
Public Transit/Shuttle – For the absurdly low price of $5 you can take a shuttle from Portland to Wolf Run Ranch. This would be my recommendation, especially if you are flying in from elsewhere. It leaves to the fest Thurs and Fri from Mt. Hood Ave Express station at 1:00 p.m. (in 2017) and they recommend you arrive 45 minutes early.
Flying – Fly into PDX and either a) take the shuttle or b) rent a car and follow the driving instructions listed above.
Boating – Cruise up the Columbia River until you reach The Dalles, OR. Then hitchhike the rest of the way there.
Skydiving – Tell your pilot to get you close to 45°25’04.6″N 121°19’35.9″W, jump out of the airplane, and continue to be radical.
What the Festival organizers have put a lot of thought into their stages. There are 8 stages total and they are all quite unique.
- Your day will start at the Splash Pool. There are three wading pools for you to help you stay cool while you listen to some jams. Bring a pool floaty and a beach ball to toss around.
- In the afternoon, you’ll migrate to Effin’ Stage. This stage has a unique roof to really focus the sound and prevent sound bleeding; and when the bass kicks, you can really feel it.
- After a few sets at the Effin’ Stage, the WTF Stage comes to life. This stage has amazing production value and the light setup is top-notch. During the day when the clouds part you get a stellar view of Mt. Hood which is quite majestic.
- The Effin’ and WTF Stages shut down at midnight and then the party gets funky in the forest. The Dragon Stage is a piece of art. It is a giant stainless steel dragon that breathes fire. The DJ sits atop the beast and controls the awe-struck crowd with the 1’s and 2’s. It is at the bottom of a hill so it creates a natural amphitheater.
- The Groove Cube is a stage composed of up-cycled plastic containers stacked about 15 feet high and it is completely enclosed which really helps keep the soundwaves contained and prevents sound bleeding. The plastic containers have LEDs inside and it really makes for a unique experience when it is synced to the beat.
- The Equinox Stage is probably the largest stage in the forest. It is also an amphitheater-style stage and you have a great view and sound quality from where ever you are dancing.
- The Shinto a GoGo Stage is a small stage that has a very rustic feel to it. Imagine a Buddhist temple crossed with Little House on the Prairie crossed with gypsy camp…
- The Easy Speak Stage is a cozy stage set back in the forest. It is small but that makes it feel like you’re at a private show.
Paper Diamond was mind-rattling and beautiful, both audibly and visually. I had only heard a few of his track previous to seeing his set, so it was mostly new to me. I highly recommend checking him out if he’s ever in your area.
If you know me, you know Gramatik is my jam. I’ve seen him several times and, honestly, I was considering skipping his set because of that fact. I’m really glad I didn’t because he threw down a lot of tracks and mixes that were new to me. He was on the WTF stage and the lights really added to his performance.
I started following Big Wild two years ago. I’ve seen him at a few shows around the country, but never at a festival. He really took full advantage of the spectacular lights that the WTF stage offers. I don’t usually like to take a lot of pictures during shows, I feel it is distracting and you take yourself out of the immersive experience that is live music. However, I found his set to be so stunning that I felt compelled to snap a few pictures and take a few videos. I love his song “Crickets” which is a brief ditty but it really reflects the festival experience and meeting new people in just two simple verses.
A friend from college recommended Barclay Crenshaw. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard any of his music until his set on Saturday night. As I always do, I posted up by the sound booth to witness his set. Let me tell you that his music melted my face off. He has simple music, but the way that he layered his sounds was absolutely magical. The composition of his music aligned perfectly with my mental state at that time. His minimalistic style was elegant, calming and comforting. His set was at the same time as ZHU’s so it was a tough decision, but I’m really happy with my choice.
As I was wandering the forest on Friday night, I came across a group that I had never heard before: Marv Ellis & WE tribe. Marv spits the lyrics accompanied by a stand-up bass, some keys/mixer, and a barry saxophone. They were SO MUCH FUN and they really got into their performance. Marv is a soulful dude and it really shows when he raps. From what I can tell they’re pretty local to the Pacific Northwest and haven’t really blown up that much, but if you get the chance to see them live please do so. This group needs more coverage.
Sofi Tukker was recommended to me by one of the What The Fest organizers. They brought a lot of energy and Sofi actually jumped off the stage and partied with the crowd during one of their songs. They were fun.
Things to do
- Listen to some great talks and presentations aka Speak Easy Talks. They cover everything from meditation, self-help, creating and following your dreams, spirituality, and just good stories.
- Yoga and movement classes
- Wander The Illuminated Forest and be dazzled by the beautiful lights
- Check out some artists creating their work live
- Puff on some tasty shisha in the Hookah Lounge
- Hit up the Silent Disco underneath the giant disco ball
- There is an art gallery that features Pacific Northwest artists (I LOVED Theo Holdt’s work, check out his Instagram @theo_holdt)
- Shop around the Market Place for some rad festie gear
- Chill around your campsite and meet people!
- Dance… DUH!
VIP or nah…
I asked a few people around the fest if they thought they got their money’s worth out of the VIP upgrade and the general consensus was yes. You get to come to the fest a day early ($60), 4 drink tickets ($30), 3 shower tickets ($24), a bag of ice ($8), side viewing areas that get you really close to the stage (intrinsic value), a wi-fi area, and happy hour drink deals. Overall, I’d say yes, there is definitely value in the VIP upgrade for $125.
I was supposed to attend the festival with my friend, Derek. The week leading up to the festival, one of his greenhouses was knocked over by a huge storm that came thru Grant’s Pass. He had to miss out on the fest to make some repairs and save his plants. That meant that I was flying solo on this fest. While I was sad that he couldn’t make it, I knew the communal atmosphere the surrounds these fests would ensure that I still have a blast; and I did!
At the Paper Diamond set, I was lampin’ at the sound tent as per usual and I met a really chill couple, Ryan and Erica. They hail from Portland and they’ve been coming to the fest for the past 4 years. They assimilated me to their group of friends and really made me feel like family. We would wander away from each other from time to time, but we always knew to look for each other by the sound tent; that is one thing we had in common. Ryan and Erica, thanks for making my first What the Fest a great experience.
I also had a surreal experience when I was wandering around the festival grounds on Saturday night. A little backstory… I first met Festival Squad’s CEO back at the University of Illinois. We clicked right away and have been friends ever since. Apparently, when I introduced myself I mispronounced my name (shut up, I had a speech impediment when I was young and sometimes there are a few residual issues) and instead of saying “Brent” I said, Brant. Well needless to say she and her boyfriend and the time never let me live that down and I am still known as Brant to them to this day.
Anywho, as I was taking a walk in the dark, out of the ether came a pair of shoes with LED illuminated soles.
“Hey buddy,” said the mysterious wizard with the rainbow feet, “if you slow up for a second, you can have yourself a walking buddy.”
I stopped and waited for him and we started walking and chatting. After a couple minutes, we realized that we hadn’t exchanged names.
“I’m Brent, what is your name?”
“Brent?” he repeated for clarity. “My name is Brant.”
Needless to say, my head exploded at that exact moment and I had to tell him my life story. We chatted for a few more minutes and he floated away on his magical luminescent slippers, back in the ether.