WORDS AND PHOTOS BY: SHAWN O’LOONEY // ADDITIONAL PHOTOS: DANIEL ZETTERSTROM & AARON GLASSMAN COURTESY OF WHAT THE FESTIVAL
Despite a little bit of moisture in the air, What The Festival was more than a perfect way to spend the summer solstice. A Northwest festival chock-full of family vibes, What the Festival returned to Wolf Run Ranch for its 5th year of magic. Tucked away in the hills of Dufur, Oregon, Tiffany and Glen Boyd were busy building their dream world once again where the Oregon family and extended networks can come together under the sun to be at home for the weekend. Overall, the span of electronic music was excellent, with some funk bands weaved in, representing local Portland talent and global acts. The grounds were populated with art that was truly breathtaking. There is so much to take in on the grounds of What The Festival, that it’s beautifully impossible to experience everything.
Photo: DANIEL ZETTERSTROM COURTESY OF WHAT THE FESTIVAL
Here are the 10 elements that made What The Festival special that were unmissable:
1. THE SPLASH STAGE
The best pool party happens right here in Dufur. Expanding from a two section pool last year to a much larger three section pool this year, vibes were on point, even when it was raining. Anyone who braved the weather on Friday was treated to the delight of a truly special Jai Wolfset. From fully clothed under an umbrella to shirtless dancing festival goers pretending it was 75 and sunny, attendees were out in full force… getting down.Saturday gave us a very special surprise treat as Splash Stage manager, Kepi, ended up closing out the stage with his perfect poolside tunes – actually a What The Festival producer/DJ veteran since 2012. Sunday brought the sunshine and it gave everyone a chance to go all out with their pool party attires and simply enjoy the heat and the beats. Other amazing poolside sets included Louis The Child(known for “It’s Strange“), Darius, Le Youth and BennyRox. With the Splash Stage being a uniquely special aspect of this festival, all attendees made memories in these waters daily during the weekend experience.
2. THE GROOVE QUBE
The Groove Qube, a brand new late night stage at What The Festival, was visually mesmerizing and brought an insanely loaded lineup of bass music every night. Starting off hot for the early entry squad, you had Portland local Mr. Wu and California-native MiHKAL laying the foundation for the rest of the weekend breaking the Qube in like champs. Anyone brave enough to wander away from Mr. Carmack or Lettuce on Friday night found themselves at one of the top sets of the weekend, Portland local, Chase Manhattan… and they probably never left as ACEMYTH, Mikos Da Gawd, Sugarpill, and Soohan had us grooving all night. It became a theme as Saturday made it even harder to leave the Qube once you wandered in as Pressha, Buku, Releece, and Octaban all turned the place upside down. You would think there was no way that Sunday could top the first three nights, but then Spekt1, M!NT, Josh Pan, and X&G rolled through from all over the country to deliver what may have been the best four-hour block of music I have ever witnessed. Long live the Groove Qube.
3. THE DRAGON STAGE
A staple of What The Festival’s late night scene, the Dragon Stage was back and better than ever this year fully equipped with fire breathing capabilities and lots of cozy places to stay warm. We saw a squad of Dirtybird Players with the likes of Claude Von Stroke, J. Phlip, and Ardalanalong with some other fun acts such as festival legend Random Rab, Champagne Drip,and Dimond Saints all gracing the decks inside the pagoda atop the Dragon. Anyone who was actually able to walk all the way through the Illuminated Forest, past all the art and the beacon that was the Groove Qube, (trust me, it was a difficult stretch at times), and actually spent time down with the Dragon, did not miss out.
4. THE EQUINOX STAGE
Photo: DANIEL ZETTERSTROM COURTESY OF WHAT THE FESTIVAL
The Equinox Stage was definitely the spot to watch sunset; you could see Mt. Adams bursting out from behind the stage as the pink and orange hues fill the Oregon sky. This stage kicked it off on Thursday with crowd favorite Nico Luminous bringing you that unique bass sound, and Buku throwing down a special house set for everyone. Friday we saw Portland’s own PRSN and Barisone doing their thing before Bristol’s Sam Bingadelivered us that fresh UK sound you don’t find often out here in the States. Saturday we spotted Santa Cruz’s G Jones on his laptop just hours before his set working on tunes as he found himself sandwiched between London’s Alix Perez and Shades (Alix Perez+EPROM) for an incredible block of bass. Known for doing tag sets with his friends, it was nice to see G Jones up there solo doing his thing. Tennyson and Masego on Sunday closed out the stage with the perfect down tempo jams that we had been craving after the past three days.
5. THE WTF STAGE
With the West Coast’s largest disco ball and Mt. Hood providing the most epic of backdrops, The WTF Stage hosted some of the best and most talented acts of the weekend with FKJ, Lido, Thievery Corporation and Lettuce. Each one so good that it may or may not have brought me to tears. The level of musicianship that graced this stage all weekend was through the roof. If you were lucky enough, you made it backstage to play a favorited arcade game, Buck Hunt, or caught Sam Johnson and his crew’s magically mechanical spider crawling across the crowd to some of your favorite tunes. Only sipping on Capri Suns could have made this stage any better.
Photo: AARON GLASSMAN COURTESY OF WHAT THE FESTIVAL
6. THE EFFIN STAGE
Complete with Funktion-One sound like all of the main stages, The Effin Stage had a wide variety of artists that were consistently blowing me away. Friday night brought a showcase that started off with a killer set from Gangsigns and ended with theMr. Carmack burning the house down. Djemba Djemba was not able to make it for his time slot but his Team Supreme and Penthouse Penthouse provided us with a special extended set that the crowd was absolutely loving. Saturday was special for those with an eclectic taste as we saw Oregon’s own Matt Wax. San Francisco’s BOGL, Sydney’s Hermitude, Vancouver’s Ekali, and Montreal’s Lunice take us for a trip around the globe. Sunday was a family get down with Danny Korn along with crowd pleasers J. Phlip and Claptone. This Effin Stage was, needless to say, spectacular.
This was where you wanted to be for sunrise or if you just needed some warm miso soup to soothe your throat after a long day. Friday brought us my personal favorite sunrise DJ, PRSN, for an absolute gem of a set which was highlighted with Claude Von Stroke jumping in for a little b2b action… Seriously, only at What The Festival.Saturday gave us, hands down,the most memorable DJ set of the entire weekend: El Papachango.This is a set and moment we are going to be thinking about for years to come, as El Papachango has the sunrise vibes super dialed in. Sunday highlights were N.O.X. and Mr. Wu, closing out the festival just as strongly as he started back in the Qube on Thursday night.
8. THE ILLUMINATED FOREST
Home of the Shinto Tea House, Groove Qube, Dragon Stage, and countless amazing art installations, simple strolls through the forest turned into some of the best moments of my life out in the WTF world. My personal favorite piece living in the forest was the unsuspecting musical cash register you could make music with just by pushing its buttons. Planted firmly near the Woodlands Stage where a lot of different classes and workshops were hosted during the days, I could never pass up a quick jam session with this little guy.
The forest also hosted the late night LOL Stage, which was a good relief for anyone that was looking for some comedic recess from the tunes. Another eye-catching installation was the spinning WTF light boxes up near the entrance that were almost impossible to look away from. There were countless other exotic pieces in the nooks and crannies of the forest that made this a very unique setting. A special shout-out goes to the pair dressed as robots with extreme dedication to the game of being live art installations. It was all amazing to watch.
9. SECRET SETS
Often times you find yourself in the right place at the right time. If you missed MiHKAL in the Qube Thursday night, no need to fret; he threw down a special two and a half hour set at the Third Eye Pinecone Booth. If you missed Little John at the silent disco, that was okay too because he threw down a special Monday morning renegade sunrise set at the Woodlands Stage with Treyzilla, O’SNAP, and Brunchlife rounding out the sounds.
Family is what a festival, What The Festival, is all about. Whether you’re running into the Boyd’s poolside, wandering the forest with your best friends, or kicking it with Doc Riz and the We Got This crew at the Rags booth, What The Festival is about creating and nurturing those strong family bonds. We all danced together. We took shelter together. We wandered the darkness together. We left feeling full of love and excited to do it again every summer.
I can’t think of a better place to spend the longest days of the year with people you love the most, than at What The Festival.