WORDS: Emmalee Brunt, with music section by Roco Newson
PHOTOGRAPHY: Roco Newson + Joffery Middleton-Hope
Truth be told, the team over at BK have been to over 100 festivals collectively around the world, and What The Festival has just been voted in our top 10. It was our first time attending this event just a few weeks ago, June 16-18, 2017, at Wolf Run Ranch, Oregon, nestled at the base of Mount Hood beside one of the most breathtaking backdrops we’ve ever seen. Mount Hood towers directly above the ranch, creating a beautiful natural distraction and a fantastic landmark if you end up getting lost.
As with any first-time experience, we’d like to review the event to provide insight to our festival community who may attend next year and to showcase what really stood out for us over the weekend.
Ingress and Egress
SUPER SIMPLE! No one likes to wait in long lines. The parking team was friendly and well organized, getting us in and out with minimal waits. Check-in was quick as well with awesome staff who had the answers to all of our questions.
WTF has a strongly enforced zero waste policy, which we are MAJOR fans of. Not only is there signage throughout the entire event, but proper receptacles to divide garbage, recycling and compost, making it simple and easy for patrons to sort it on their own. There is also a mindset of collective responsibility, with campers reminding each other to pick-up their own campsites and a strongly enforced no smoking policy throughout the event, and for smokers to only indulge in designated areas. We also appreciated the green-team task force that roamed the festival, gently reminding people to pick-up after themselves and what they pack in they must pack out. Well done WTF, we love events with an environmental consciousness!
Our friend Tucker Gumber aka The Festival Guy added to the environmental vibe with his festival initiative of No Trace + 1, meaning that each individual should have the mindset that they always maintain a clean space, and if you see any litter, just pick it up. It’s that simple. You can check out more about The Festival Guy and the No Trace + 1 here.
We have to say, aside from Basscoast, WTF had the cleanest porta-potties of any festival. Always stocked with TP, always clean and pumped daily, clean toilets might seem like a ridiculous thing to talk about, but it is an important part of keeping a festival clean and your patrons happy. No one likes a dirty porta-potty. NOBODY!
The vendor area is expansive with amazing food options for all diets, and was open early and closed late. All of the vendors were super friendly and they had a fabulous selection of clothing, jewellery and art. Didn’t bring cash? Not to worry, there are ample ATM’s onsite.
This was no doubt one of our favorite aspects of the event. Art for days! There were so many art installations that it took us nearly 3 days to explore them all, and we were lucky to meet many of the creators along the way. To immerse oneself into stunning art pieces day and night provides a memorable experience. It’s like a playground for adults and brings a deeper sense of experiential meaning, creativity, and learning to a festival.
Splash Pool + Stage
The stages were THE highlight for us and should be on other festivals radar for production inspiration. The Splash Pool & Stage is constructed each year and takes roughly a month to build. Made from an ice rink, with interlocking wood panels and a waterproof tarp-like bottom, WTF’s pool is North America’s largest wade pool and is one of the most impressive stages we’ve ever seen. Fitting what appeared to be hundreds of people splashing around in floaties and having water fights while listening to their fave artists, made this an experience one to remember.
The Easy Speak, which was WTF’s smaller stage for daytime workshops and nighttime performances was creatively built with shipping containers and magnetic walls that made it appear like a 1920’s speak easy. This was a truly creative way to build out an inviting space to take in performances all weekend long.
The Groove Qube threw us for a loop when we arrived on Friday night. We found the Stage Manager and grilled him on how it was built. Essentially they sourced water containers and stacked them on each other to create a space that resembled a rubix cube, with lights and lasers that could be controlled from the soundboard. Each container had individual lights set within them, creating a space-like feel and a truly immersive experience for the dancers inside. We partially lived in this thing during the evenings.
And then there was the Dragon Stage, which was an artistic masterpiece, created by Glen Boyd, one of the Founders of WTF. The Dragon looked like an Asian style teapot, with a pagoda-like stage set atop of the golden serpent. Plus, this thing breathes fire, and if you’re lucky enough you might get to press the button that controls it.
The Shinto A Go-Go
The Shinto A Go-Go is a Japanese-inspired space that was a chill lounge-style atmosphere in the day and a late-night party in the wee hours of the morning. Super creative Japanese-boat like style, the Shinto always had solid vibes throughout the day and night.
Workshops, Talks + Activities
This year we made a big effort to attend a variety of talks and workshops while we attended the event, and it made for thought provoking thinking and discussion amongst us and the group. We really appreciated all of the topics and it allowed the patrons to choose their own adventure, with workshops and activities that would suit all walks of life. Wanna chill? Try out the yoga classes. Want to get a workout? Try the 1990’s aerobic classes. Need some time to share or reflect? We loved the discussions on deconstructing toxic masculinity with Eamon Armstrong of Fest300 or the talk on how to give less fucks with Patrick Adigweme. It was awesome to chill in the shade and take in a more cognitive approach to the festival.
Ohhhhh the music… Where do we even begin? This festival is jammed packed with some of the best up and comers and already established artists. We were blown away by many of the acts- here are some highlights.
BIG WILD – DJ, producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and engineer this man’s talent has no end. His unique sound is described perfectly by his name, big, wild, and downright dance worthy.
Cut Copy – If you were at WTF this year and saw two blondies front row crying, singing, and dancing their hearts out to Cut Copy you now know who it was. This band has been a staple in our lives since the early 2000’s and it was a dream to see them together live in such a magical setting.
Giraffage – When he mixed pop beats from a dream world dimension and mashed-up the classic apple cell phone ring tone with Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, Giraffage literally had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. This man know’s how to close a fuckig pool party!
Brasstrax – Horns, percussion, and killer production. Brasstrax feels like one of the bands we will be glad we saw on a smaller stage when they blow the fuck up!
Classix – Front to back non stop dance party magic. Classix, we love you.
Fort Knox Five and Q-dub followed by The Funk Hunters back to back sets both slaying the mother fucking dragon was truly some next level shit. They threw down some the best sets we’ve ever scene them play. Ghetto funk, funkiness, bass, and glitch hop at it’s finest!
Octaban – The perfect festival closer. Bass, hip hop, and future sounds echoed in the forest of the Shinto stage on Sunday morning. Smiles were ear to ear as the festival die hards welcomed the soft sunrise and the ending to what was one of the most magical weekends to date.
WTF is a leader in the west coast immersive festival world. With roughly 8,000 attendees onsite, the event had enough people to make it seem big and busy, but without the insanity of long lines and getting lost in the sea of people that typically accompany larger festivals. We absolutely LOVE the attention to detail that the organizers methodically bring to the table, giving attendees the ability to go at their own pace, listen to music, explore art, workshops, and classes, and all the while being held in a stunning location at the base of Mount Hood. Our team will be back next year, eager to see what the WTF has in store and urge anyone who hasn’t been to this amazing event to check this gem out, because it’s up there with our other top 10 festivals/human social experiments: LIB, Burning Man, Coachella, Shambhala, Falls Fest and many more!