ROTHBURY’s famed Sherwood Forest comes alive with light and more, keeping the festival atmosphere going well after the sun goes down.
Photo By Andrew Skinner
By Mark Lewis
Shoreline Media Writer
Sight unseen and from afar, the ROTHBURY Festival looks like a whole lot of camping, hippies and dreadlocks, and a ton of varied music spread across four days in rural West Michigan.
Journey deep into the core of the vast festival grounds and you’ll certainly see all of those things. But you’ll also stumble upon a vibrant, pulsating forest draped in art and creative installations, with Zen gardens and a speakeasy, even (Speak EZ in this case), along with an ever-changing soundtrack of gongs, chimes and, most of all, the sounds of voices from every corner of the world.
“I want to live here,” said Janni, 24, of Rhode Island, as she reclined on one of Sherwood Forest’s many hammocks scattered willy-nilly or in groups anchored to one or two central trees.
“I want to die here,” said ‘Freedom’ — a euphemism, it’s safe to assume, in place of the more mundane name her mother gave her — a 23-year-old woman from Boston with a pixie-like figure and handmade wings to match.
“Don’t do that,” Jammi responded matter-of-factly, and held that tone until the whole group of maybe 10 women broke out in giggles. “I want to leave here with everything we came with, and with everyone.”
Hundreds of these kinds of conversations occur continuously among the skinny red pines of the forest; people talking so long and about so many things, everyone’s surely forgotten how the discussion originally began. That is especially true in the daylight, as Sherwood Forest, no larger than a dozen acres or so, appears to go on forever due the blinding similarity of the treetops. Closer inspection, though, reveals art installations in literally every direction, ranging from large balloons in various shapes strung high above the ground, to a constellation of panels hung from branches at eye-level, decorated in a pleasing array of symbols straight from the Eastern religions and New Age mysticism, dangling to-and-fro in the breeze as though they were sides of beef hung carefully in a meat locker.
The ensuing visual stimulation no doubt sparks plenty of those conversations.
At night, though, Sherwood Forest becomes something entirely different. The din of conversation is swept up in the ambient noise of three bands on three different stages, coupled with the sound of techno-drum thumping wafting in from the Tripolee area, mixed with a show playing simultaneously at the Speak EZ, a stage and seating area where folk artists in daylight give-way to burlesque shows by nightfall. With all due respect to charming folk musicians everywhere, the erotic and esoteric burlesque acts of Angela Eve, Trixie Minx and Kitty Twist will stop most conversations in their respective tracks.
“You see the most tripped-out (expletive) in Sherwood,” said Francis, a clearly intoxicated 28-year-old Californian who’s been to more festivals “than I care to remember. But, the vibe in here is incredible.”
That vibe of the festival’s literal and figurative heart seems to transfer the good feeling to everyone entering the forest through one of its three access paths. “It’s what makes ROTHBURY different from all the others. You can’t fake something like this, which is why it’ll be different next year and why it was different from last year. Different is good.”
Different is good, as far Sherwood Forest is concerned, as long as by different one means more of the same.