Those from the upper-left corner of the United States hold on dear to the stereotypes we are tagged with. Carefree, grass roots, wanderlust, and overall vibes are monikers many of us wear proudly. For the thousands of those who are the self-diagnosed Peter Pans of their time, Oregon’s What The Festival is the mecca where these kindred spirits may rally. Held just a short drive outside of Portland, this three-day festival is the perfect curation of music, art, food, and friends. 2017 shaped up to be another phenomenal year for this ever-growing festival, and we are happy that they invited me and a friend along for the ride.
What the Festival is wildly individual compared to many other music festival experiences. Its emphasis on the experience of the music might sound foreign to a seasoned bro-step aficionado, but one step into the festival grounds and it all makes sense. If you imagine the countless musical acts throughout the weekend as tiny dots scattered across a page, the beauty of this festival lies in the lines connecting those dots. It is in the art installations that are larger than life and in the intricate costumes the attendees wrap themselves in. Through heart and soul, it is clear that no expense is withheld to make this festival come to life.
Though the festival grounds themselves are just over one square mile, the interweaving paths of the Illuminated Forrest connecting the side stages make it feel worlds larger than it is on paper. The still calmness of walking among these paths while the sun is in the sky belies the magic of the Illuminated Forrest once the sun sets. These peaceful walkways and pavilions come alive at night, as LED installations and interactive works of art speckle the forest with every turn of your head. Some pieces gave you pause while others were made for reflection, and a vast majority were there for shock and awe. There was even a gazebo which was aptly named Temple Plur, where you could go and be forgiven for the debauchery of the previous night.
As for the music itself, it never ceased to impress. The wide array of acts gave nibbles to all music lovers tastes. The main stage held the likes of ZHU, Cut Copy, and Gramatik. Rezz was the name in everyone’s’ mouth throughout the weekend, as she simply shut down the bass stage and left everyone out of breath. The massive lawns that held the larger main stages let the large crowds get down with ease, and nobody had to catch an elbow trying to find room to dance. And there was plenty of dancing, with no better example than when the legendary Shiba San dropped his ‘OKAY’ remix to close out his set. I don’t use this word often, but calling it LIT would be a grossly inadequate understatement.
It would be hard to talk about the nighttime events without mentioning the daytime parties. And you can’t talk about daytime parties at What The Fest in any other way than to mention the Splash Pool. Hundreds of scantily dressed partiers splashing knee-deep in an above ground pool is an experience few can boast about. Now add artists like Classixx and Griffage to help facilitate the antics, and you have a one-stop recipe for the best vibes of the year. . . and the worst sunburns! Sitting around in the sun around the side of the pool watching the biggest concentration of fun that you can see people having is not an image one can soon forget.
And finally, the cherry on top of a dusty and fun-filled cake: the food. What The Fest brought together some of the best local food vendors to keep festival revelers nourished throughout the long weekend. Artisan pizzas, mouth-watering dumplings, and killer smoothies were enough to keep me on my feet all weekend long. The best part was, they didn’t pinch you on the pricing! I hate walking into the festival grounds and being caught having to pay $15 for a sandwich. Ballin’ on a budget was the name of the game when it came to keeping my belly full, and I am all the better for it.
When the final beat dropped and the headline act, The Funk Hunters, finally delivered their heartfelt words on the festival, it all hit home. This festival goes above and beyond everything you thought a festival ever should be. It is now my golden standard for weekend getaways, and it should be yours too. Between the staff, the attendees, the artists, the stages, the food, the vibes, and the hugs, it is hard to pinpoint what your favorite part is, because What the Fest is greater than the sum of all these things thrown together. 11/10 would recommend to anyone within earshot. We will be seeing you next year What the Fest.