Very few events in music have the power to defy explanation. When such things arise, they are almost immediately copied and redone to varying degrees of success until the idea is completely exhausted. If one artist goes folk and finds success—everyone goes folk. If one festival adds experiential art installations—others follow suit. The only new things are often those you haven’t heard about until it’s too late, but such is life for most people.

Then there’s Electric Forest. Nestled in the Northern half of Michigan’s lower peninsula amongst small towns, trees, and fields, Electric Forest has built something that defies replication. Though its diehards will argue it’s a shadow of what it once was, it’s the embodiment of what every festival aspires to become: An engaging, communal, and undeniably creative event that has a community of its own making that sees it as a must-attend happening each year. Ticket prices don’t matter. Flights and travel are not considered a genuine issue. If you are among the thousands who consider yourself #ForestFam, nothing stops you from returning to the woods each year. 

Understanding the fascination with this event and what makes it so special seems easy from the outset but quickly defies a simple explanation. Electric Forest is a music festival with camping and a litany of talented performers who lean heavily into the EDM genre, but that is only a small fraction of what the event is and represents. Spanning dozens of acres, the festival grounds are home to countless works of art and performance that pull from every corner of the imagination. Many of the pieces are planned by the event organizers. Still, just as many are the creation of the attendees and the crowd, creating a communal space of expression unlike anything found elsewhere in the United States. 

More importantly, these boundless ideas and acts of self-expression are accepted, praised, and even championed by others in attendance. The forest welcomes people from all over the planet, but Earth is the only origin that matters in that space. Everyone is treated as equal, and that simple act of kindness allows people to feel comfortable sharing their true selves with one another. 

Throughout Substream‘s time on site, the team witnessed sights that still create conversation days later. Whether it was the festival goer dressed as—and fully embodying—Jim Carrey from The Mask or the endless wonders of the festival’s wildly popular Dream Emporium—which included wrestling matches, puppet shows, and a car wash—each moment felt like a walking fever dream of thoughts and ideas.

And then there’s the music. Between the scheduled sets, the after-show sets, and the ultra late-night events thrown by attendees, spending twenty-four hours immersed in sound is effortless. That is, if you can hustle through the spectacles in the forest between sets without distraction (an impossible task). Once, while running to see Fletcher, our team nearly trampled the popular Therapy Gecko because they were distracted by a group of no less than 6 individuals acting as a faux construction team—complete with uniforms. 

Electric Forest is more than EDM. One can easily find music from all corners of the Earth on site, and the schedule keeps the variety constant throughout the day. For example, we caught Virtual Riot, DJ Diesel, The String Cheese Incident, Fletcher, 070 Shake, and more over a few hours. To list everyone we saw over the weekend would take three more paragraphs and clearer memories that we are still hoping to recollect.

Electric Forest is the only event we’ve ever covered that we cannot find the words to fully define. It’s an overwhelming experience in all the best ways. Attending EF provides a rare opportunity to fully lose yourself in an event where open-minded people celebrate togetherness as much as they do the things that make us unique. If it doesn’t change your life, it will at least alter your brain chemistry and leave you with a lifetime’s worth of memories to share.