When Electric Forest HQ decided to scale back to a one weekend format, there was a stark divide amongst Forest Fans over the logistical move. On one side of the aisle were people in favor of an expanded weekend format. This included Forest newcomers, who knew no other format, and veterans who appreciated how double weekends scaled down attendance by thousands. sometimes tens of thousands. After all, weekend two attendance in 2018 was estimated at around 30,000 (as opposed to estimates in the 45,000s in 2019).
On the other side of the aisle were the Forest “purists” who yearned for the old days of single weekend lore. After all, the Rothbury-based festival had been dual weekends for the previous two years. This group also brought up the good point that doubling foot traffic wasn’t good for the long term sustainability of JJ Double Ranch.
Despite conscious sustainability efforts put in place by Electric Forest organizers, there are still attendees who leave their camps like this:
No matter what side of aisle you may find yourself, or whether you dance the line, the mere fact is that the larger a festival becomes, the worse off for the local ecosystem. Just look at massive UK festivals like Glastonbury, who had to take a “fallow year” in 2018 to allow the ground to recover.
Humans are destructive, and not by nature. Our destructive impulse is a learned behavior brought on by living in a society of over-consumption, where abandoning a tent in the middle of a field is simpler because one can have Amazon deliver a new one in a matter of days. Convenience outshines civic responsibility and, suddenly, we find ourselves shrouded in an ethical conundrum.
Thankfully, Electric Forest HQ is among the few and rare large festivals that recognize their institutional accountability in the grand scheme. When they made the announcement to downsize in 2019, it was an environmental initiative that had true integrity at its core. These were people who truly cared about the land around Sherwood Forest and were thinking about the community of Rothsbury, Michigan. The one thing that was unclear was just how long the initiative would take to roll out.
Now Madison House Presents and Electric Forest founder Jeremy Stein has spoken up about just how long that may be. “It’s really a two- or three-year project that I’d say we’re right in the middle of,” Stein told Billboard in an exclusive interview.
“We learned a lot in the last couple of years going to two weekends,” he continues. “One particular thing about the Electric Forest site is that there really isn’t much infrastructure.”
Stein admits to jumping the gun a bit by expanding to two weekends in 2017, realizing there was a need for internet and water lines to water wells and caring for the grass.
What we noticed is that in order to really support multiple events in the future, we almost skipped half a step. We needed to pull it back a bit and get that infrastructure in a better place. What we are effectively doing is building the site from scratch every year. Any festival producer will say that’s a very hard thing to do.” – Jeremy Stein
Whether environmental responsibility rests on the individual or the institution is really a chick or egg argument, but Forest is a tiny microcosm for viewing sustainability on a global level. Moreover, Forest is among the growing number of US-based festivals to implement consciously-oriented environmental policies into their core missions… even if it means sacrificing profit.
So, we spent the last year curating, landscaping, putting in new grass and some new structures and putting a lot of money into things that will help us in the future. The goal is to focus the money and resources on the art, music and stages. In order to do that, you’ve got to get some permanent infrastructure in there.” – Jeremy Stein
When large organizations accept their part in making bold, long term changes like these, the values behind them trickle down into the community. This is how institutions have the power to instill individuals with their values. Perhaps governments and corporations could take a note from this playbook.
Sustainability is not a moral high-ground issue. It’s not a debate over what’s right and wrong. It’s not a progressive or conservative issue. It’s a human issue. Initiatives like these are not just ensuring the future of music festivals, they are taking their small piece of responsibility in the future of our planet.
When asked whether the plan’s intent was to expand back into two weekends, Stein remained rather vague: “It’s definitely an idea. There’s no doubt that that could happen. We’ve done it before, and we did it with less infrastructure. The timeline is unclear, although it’s not too far away.”
Whatever the case, here’s to looking forward to a two-weekend format somewhere soon on the horizon. As for the Forest purists, better get your single weekend experience in within the next couple of years.
Source: Billboard. Featured photo: aLive Coverage.