Written by Kris Von Krenner
Music festivals are intended to be an experience. People who attend them are looking for a sense of community, an escape from the mundane, and a chance to express themselves freely. There is something primal about gathering with people to celebrate music, art and dance, and What the Festival is a beautiful combination of all of this. Selling out 6,000 tickets in its fourth year, What the Festival can be proud of the colorful individuals it draws out of the Northwest. After taking a several year hiatus from festivals, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as Heather and I drove through the Oregon woods.
Upon arrival, I was instantly greeted with smiling faces. Every attendee, volunteer and festival worker seemed genuinely glad to be there. I immediately fell in love with the spirit of WTF knowing that I would have seven stages to explore throughout the weekend: the Effin’ Stage, Main Stage, Splash Stage, LOL Stage, Dragon Stage, Shinto A-Go-Go, and the Equinox Stage. I had read about the world’s largest temporary wading pool, and the weather was blistering hot, so it seemed like the logical decision to go investigate and cool off. As I approached the Splash Stage, my ears began to melt, not from the heat, but from Gladkill‘s amazing remixes. I knew I was in the middle of the woods, but I could not help but feel like I was at a summer beach dance party. Everyone was losing themselves to the music, splashing and dancing in the water. The amount of energy in Gladkill’s performance was echoed by the audience and their enthusiasm. He spun an eclectic mix of both old and new material that the crowd was happy to dance to.
Nightfall approached and I made my way to the main stage to catch Keys n Krates. I will admit that I was not ready to have my mind blown by such a performance. There is something to be said for their incorporation of a live drummer. The Canadian trio played the show like it was the last show of their lives. Hitting us with all the favorites, a swarm of people bobbed in unison of approval. Following Keys n Krates was Griz. This set kept the high energy flowing, but instead of drums, Griz plays a sax live. Highly recommended if you have not seen either of these acts and you enjoy stomping your feet to a beat.
By Saturday, the festival energy was pulsing at full speed. The Splash Stage opened at 11 am with Golden Beats. Despite being the earliest show, they attracted a full audience before the set ended. As the day went on, I had success exploring this beautiful new environment. I began by trying out some of the fourteen different food carts available at What The Fest. From gyro’s at Athena’s, or the popular dumplings at Dump City Dumplings, there are options for any taste and budget. With a full stomach, I wandered around attempting to gain a better sense for the entire place. What the Festival cannot adequately be described without mentioning the art. The entire aesthetic is calculated, to the point where I could hardly believe this was only their fourth year. The Illuminated Forest, where most of the art is located, and all of the “Experience Zones” as they were dubbed, were an amazing color feast for the eyes. From the Casbah Hookah Lounge nestled neatly in the forest, to Silent Disco under the North West’s largest disco ball, there was so much more than just live music to keep patrons entertained. The Shinto A Go-Go stage featured more Downtempo DJ’s and live performance art; a perfect retreat, in case one would want a temporary break from their dancing shoes.
Big Gigantic was the show to catch that night, as they were headlining the Main Stage. More smooth sax, this time with drums, and the crowd proved to be the most wild of the entire weekend. Every face around me was smiling and dancing with one another. During the set, the Kraken Gemini, two giant light-changing LED squids, decided to duke it out in a dance battle. This was a treat and really enhanced the performance! I must admit, I did not think I would get to see an epic squid fight during some amazing live music. I continued the night walking through all the interactive art exhibits, making music with strangers as we passed our hands through metal objects, or painting sand with projections to create landscapes. I concluded my WTF Saturday from about 2 to 4 AM with Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation at the Dragon Stage, (and the Dragon Stage is exactly what it sounds like: a stage with a giant, majestic Chinese dragon draped over it.) It was gorgeously tucked away on the side of a hill in the forests of Oregon.
The final day began, and my first must see was Pumpkin, once again at the Splash stage. His chill beats certainly gave the people a reason to splash in the pool. The day went on, everyone clearly tired, a little bit zombified, but still excited to rage well into the night with Odesza headlining on the Main Stage. Odesza performed an amazing set as they’ve come to be known for. I had been excited for their show all weekend and I was certainly not disappointed. Although every muscle in my body was aching, the amazing vibes and incredible beats compelled me to dance on.
Trying to encompass the event and pass it on is difficult because it truly is an experience. What the Festival is not just a gathering of live music to dance to, it is a colorful, happy, pulsating oasis; a temporary escape from reality, three days of living in a primal utopia where people are giving, never asking for anything back other than a smile and a good time. The community, the music, the art, the staff, and everyone in between that create What the Festival are genuine and loving. The festival might be over, but I still feel the energy inside of me. Next year is not soon enough and there is no way I will be missing it. From a relatively new kid on the block, WTF leaves an immediate impression and is a must-go festival if you are anywhere on the West Coast.
Peep the full photo gallery from our weekend courtesy of Heather Hanson at the end of the page, and check our our video recap of WTF below: