The Micro-Festival That Made A Big Splash: What The Festival
WORDS BY: JONATHAN AKBARI
PHOTOS BY: SHAWN KAYIAN O’LOONEY
June 18th-21st, has arguably been one of the busiest festival weekends of the year across the nation. Festival travelers often unite to bring in the start of summer and celebrate the longest day of the year. The choices were seemingly endless ranging from EDC Vegas to Sonic Bloom to Firefly… but nestled away at Wolf Run Ranch, Oregon sitting against a backdrop of Mount Hood was something special brewing… What The Festival.
What the Festival boasted one of the most communally inclusive experiences of 2015. The summer camp vibe festival has always been a boutique gathering, treating attendees to one of the most forward thinking lineups: a world class house music featuring a Thomas Jack themed tropical house party on Sunday, Dirtybird Records packing the lineup with Justin Jay, Justin Martin, and Eats Everything, or some of the hottest names in trap and bass music like Great Dane, Chrome Wolves, and The Librarian to name a few. Attendees could see some of their favorite artists under the Giant Disco Ball or at one of the six stages, ranging from a pagoda inspired dragon stage in the forest, the Effin Stage, LOL, and the Splash Stage.
In its first year, WTF was held in the White River Canyon, but for 2013, the husband and wife team, Tiffany and Glen Boyd, bought Wolf Run Ranch about 100 miles from Portland where they are finding their permanent home and near the grounds of WTF. In just three short years, WTF has grown from 2,000 to this year’s 5,000 attendees and from 60 to 85 acts respectively. Their growth has been exponential – evolving since its inception five years ago to this year’s sold out event.
Modeled after their experiences at Burning Man, Tiffany and Glen have curated a truly family experience that extends from their union and can be felt through all the attendees’ conversations and in the daily flow. What felt like a summer camp, What The Festival never felt crowded. People would stop and greet you with a smile or a story. Every interaction was meaningful, warm and authentic. There was never a shortage of smiles and beaming faces as we rang in the start of summer together. It was a gathering of open-minded and like-minded individuals where friendships blossomed and adventures were embarked upon.
What The Festival is a place to learn, grow, inspire and release. During the days the Splash Stage felt like a “day at the beach” with sand and a sunscreen booth that sprayed attendees, while others were picnicking on the grass. With the largest wading pool on the West Coast and a lineup that featured some of the best artists in future bass and house, everyone was treated to funky jams and innovative remixes while dancing and cooling off together.
Attendees were all treated to some of the best local faire from Portland’s rich food truck scene. With fourteen vendors ranging from Garden Monsters (voted one of Portland’s top three food trucks to the festival mainstay) and Get Fried Rice, we were treated to short lines and easy access all day and all night to the fine cuisine. With healthy and vegan choices to complement the more conventional food stands, the overall experience was an adventure for the pallet. The marketplace was rich and diverse with twenty-three regional vendors; people could buy new jewelry, hula-hoops, and custom clothing. Staffed with 360 volunteers, who mostly have attended the past four years, it was a tightly knit staff that emanated a cohesive vibe and held the festival together.
As we arrived at the ranch on Thursday for the early entry party, we were greeted by some of the most knowledgeable and friendly staff we have come across in our eight years of attending festivals across the globe. It was clear there was something unique about our time at What The Festival; it was much deeper than meeting new friends, it felt like family. From the music to the team that helped curate the magic, the sense of unity was an undercurrent that was felt by everyone all weekend.
Musically top collectives in house and future bass were represented over the weekend. Dirtybird Records, We Got This and Soulection treated fans to new cuts and a host of artists – all three being more than labels, but a close family. Justin Martin from Dirtybird stated that the team, “… are looking to blur the lines between genres and include fans from all music preferences.” The family vibe was omnipresent in the lineup, with different musical collectives like Oregon’s We Got This, a group of bass DJ’s who brought their signature trap sound and always collaborate to come with innovative sounds and fresh takes on the genre. Ranging from international sensations Odesza, Anna Lunoe, and Snakehips to Los Angeles’s trap powerhouse Great Dane and Sweater Beats, the sounds and stylistic selections were endless and all encompassing of electronic sounds.
Fans could feel the connection to their favorite DJ’s and performers. Rarely do you find artists roaming the grounds greeting fans or sharing a smile or a conversation.The festival was really all about the fans without a superfluous artist barrier. It’s no surprise that artists are often booked for one show but end up staying all weekend to enjoy the festival, enjoying some of their favorite acts as fans.
It’s the little things that made a big difference. As we toured the grounds, we were taking in seven of the larger art installations or venturing through the Illuminated Forest at night, stumbling upon a plethora of other art pieces or interacting with the Shinto A Go-Go a western themed Japanese tea house that served miso soup and hosted music throughout the night… every detail made an impact. With an abundance of over twenty movement classes to choose from, you can learn the proper way to tut, twerk, or upgrade your dance moves. There was something for every movement type, accompanied with yoga in the woods under the tall trees and shady groves. We often got lost but found magic throughout our quests. The world of wonderment and awe that ensued was truly something unique.
Embodying the eco-friendliness principles of Burning Man and other transformational festivals, the grounds were virtually trash free and spotless with an increased focus on beautifying the venue. With an abundance of compost, recycling and waste bins, attendees took it upon themselves to pick up pieces of MOOP (matter out of place) and voice their displeasure if someone littered. It was clear that this was home when everyone made sure it was cleaner than when we arrived. The natural aesthetic was second to none, with fiery skies at sunset and fresh mountain breezes blowing through the valleys. The natural beauty that surrounded us throughout the weekend humbled us all.
Everyone we spoke with at What The Festival was elated to be there and was smiling from ear to ear – treated to perfect weather, summer vibes, and majestic landscapes, the feeling was mutual, we were home. WTF was a masterfully crafted experience that encompassed all facets of a festival stretching from music to art to the rich and vibrant community. What the Festival separated itself from its cohorts in opening its gates with a warm invitation to be a part of something larger than the individual. It’s no easy task making 5,000 people feel like they are one unit and one family. Five stars aren’t simply enough to rate this magical transformative weekend. As we left the grounds we left with bigger smiles and a sense of belonging in a land far from home. The serendipity, unity, and love that was felt at What The Festival might just be enough to keep us going all summer long.