We came, we saw and now we will never fest the same!
Having attended fests of all shapes, sizes, genres, locations and vibes, it’s hard not to have certain expectations of a new gathering. I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving at Northern Nights, but I was not let down. In fact, I left the Redwoods of Northern California with more friends, memories, new musical digs and a smile so big I didn’t know I was capable of!
We arrived after a 9-hour drive from Portland, Oregon, driving through the beautiful Redwoods and alongside the breathtaking Pacific Ocean, to Cooks Valley Campground. We only had to wait about fifteen minutes to get our wristbands and be directed to our parking spot, which if you have been to a fest, entering can be a full-day process if not organized correctly, so thank you Northern Nights. I especially loved the fact that we did not have to get out of our cars and go to the box office to get our wristbands—the gracious volunteers and event staff took our ID’s and picked the wristbands up for us (WHAT?!).
When it comes to camping at a festival, shade is the main component I look for. With multiple camping options, Northern Nights offers amenities for all types of festival-goers. Attendees had the option to camp literally on the banks of the beautiful South Fork Eel River, which I learned is the third largest watershed in the entire state of California, in the luxurious Grove of Redwoods, in a reserved spot in the grove if you were expecting a late arrival or you could do what we did – pitch a tent wherever you could find a spot! After a series of synchronicities, we found the perfect location along the dirt path separating the grove from the river area in the center of the action, right among the shade and surrounded by people who are now lifelong friends. After getting camp set up, we took a stroll around the festival grounds. I loved how the fest was small enough that you could circumnavigate the grounds without walking ten miles, but yet big enough to see something different and interesting at every turn.
Daytime at Northern Nights was unmatched in opportunity. Compared to other fests I have attended, Northern Nights provided guests with multiple options for the daytime experience. Whether you wanted to spend your morning doing yoga (of all skills and levels), connecting with non-profits and giving back to the wonderful earth and land that provided the beautiful home for us festival heads or cooling off and jamming to a wide variety of artists down at the River Stage from noon to seven daily, there was something for everyone to enjoy until the nighttime took over. I personally spent my days down at the River Stage drinking frozen Acai margaritas from the bar, meeting and dancing my butt off with new friends and enjoying everything from down tempo sexy bass to straight up trap to world house beats to dubstep that moved me like I was back in 2005 discovering Bassnectar (extremely hard to do). It was such a surreal time being able to soak off in the refreshing Eel River while being surrounded by awesome floats (the pizza slice was my personal favorite), kayaks and even some homemade boats, and then being able to jump out of the water, grab a drink and cool off under the shade of the dance floor. Some of my favorite sets down at the river were Amp Live, Psy-Fi and Deejay Theory.
Steering away from the daytime, Main Stage kicked off music daily between 5 and 6 p.m.. Friday night brought one of my favorites, The Polish Ambassador into full swing. Joined by hip-hop guru Mr. Lif, vocalist and songwriter extraordinaire Ayla Nereo and musician Ryan Herr, who all had individual sets at the fest as well, Polish and guests started the night time vibe off in the most perfect way. Closing out the main stage Friday night was Goldfish (duo Dominic Peters and David Poole) from Cape Town, South Africa, who create a genre-defying mix of world house infused with live instruments that hopefully no one at the fest missed out on. Others that stole the Main Stage and created performances that will not soon be forgotten were Rufus Du Sol from Sydney, Australia, Goldlink, Blackstar, which was the only let down of the fest because Mos Def was not able to join his counterpart Talib Kweli on stage (Talib still killed it, though), Shlohmo Live, Sweater Beats and Gold Panda.
One of my favorite aspects of Northern Nights is how greatly they support sustainability; finding a way to give back to the lands that we so gratefully get to take over for these unforgettable fest experiences, and The Polish Ambassador and Ayla Nereo are forerunners in this movement. They even had a community action day before the fest started where anyone who was interested could get a hands on learning experience of making water catch basins, which are much needed, especially with California being in such a severe drought. The festival provided dozens of “waste areas,” where attendees could sort their waste into different compartments: trash, Green & Brown, clear glass, recycle, cans, etc., making it as easy as possible for waste to be recycled efficiently and correctly. AMAZING!
After the Main Stage died down, attendees had many options of how to spend the rest of the evening into the early hours of the morning. With two DJ’s spinning at the nightly Silent Disco Stage (2-6 a.m.), the intimate Grove stage in the middle of the forest entertaining comedians and artists from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily and the myriad of art installations and interactive art, there were plenty of paths to explore on all night until the sun came up and it was time to do it all again!
Trying to wrap up my experience at Northern Nights is almost as hard as trying to decide what festivals to go to since there are so many to choose from these days. All I can say is after asking people I met “Why Northern Nights?” I heard a unanimous answer…the people, the vibe, the line up and most importantly, the intimate and beautiful setting focused on sustainability and giving back all wrapped into a fest big enough to offer guests a little bit of everything, but small enough to find a familiar face in any of the crowds at any of the stages. Northern Nights is definitely going to see the Compose Yourself Magazine crew back next year and we cannot wait to see this unique fest evolve with its festival-goers to keep providing a festival experience like NO other. Seriously, though, NNMF for the win!
CHEERS to everyone who made Northern Nights possible. Until next year!
All photos shot by Sydney Paschall for Compose Yourself Mag.