Important Lessons Festival Curators Can Learn From ‘What The Festival’

In the fields outside Darfur, Oregon exists a ranch that transforms in to the mystical world known as What The Festival. This year marked the 6th installment of the eclectic, boutique fest and we were lucky enough to attend. The stacked lineup, delicious grub and relaxed campgrounds proved festival organizers knew how to create a great experience. What The Fest, however, gave us much more than we expected.

Formed in 2012 by local Portland Burners, the festival has a fun-loving and playful atmosphere that has earned the title “summer camp for adults”. Heading to the ranch, located about 2 hours outside city limits, is worth the scenic drive alone. On our way to the festival we drove along the Columbia River. Once the festival ended we drove home through Mt. Hood National Forest. Both routes are breathtaking.

Aside from location, there are several aspects that make What The Fest stand out.

Variety

Musical acts range from all sorts of styles. We got down and funky to The Funk Hunters, put on our dancing shoes for Sofi Tukker, heard sweet notes on the saxophone at Zhu and Bakermat. We prayed to the trap lords at Kittens’ set,  were soothed by the soulful voice of Reva Devito, got dark and creepy with Rezz. Several styles of the spectrum were covered throughout the day and night. Great music was easy to find.

Variety also existed among activities. There was something there for everyone to do, see, act, feel. This gave us festival-goers the opportunity to curate our own personal experience. The forest was relaxed and quiet yet still entertaining during the day. We caught inspiring words at a few Easy Speak Talks and played games. When we wanted to party, we headed to the beach – aka the Splash stage. Whether we wanted to have a relaxed moment or party in the sand, we had plenty of options.

Interaction

The festival has a few traits that make you realize the promoters truly care. Not just about the festival, but about attendees and the campgrounds. The concept of “leave no trace behind” had a strong presence. It was one of the first signs we saw as we made the winding drive into the parking lot. This made us feel like we played a roll in caring for the sites well being. Designated smoking areas were tarped off so attendees could enjoy a smoke without risk of burning down the forest. Free water was everywhere. It was more than easy for us to refill our bottles and camlebaks inside the festival as well as at the campgrounds.

Once the final acts at the night stages wrapped up, we took a moment to admire the sparkling stars then ventured into the Illuminated Forest.

Art installations ran deep into the forest, all of which were interactive in some way. We ran through a giant jellyfish made out of streamers, walked a stone labyrinth, got cozy in Temple PLUR. The Performance Cube outside the forest also grabbed our attention. We watched hip hop dancers perform then relaxed on floaties while listening to a Sound Healing session.

Photo Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo, Vortex Magazine

Stage Design & Production

A festival on the beach? Sounds like a far fetched concept in the Northwest, but it’s one that comes alive at What The Fest. Placed on the north side of the ranch, the picturesque view over the Splash stage features rows and rows of farm fields. A wading pool surrounded by sand and a collection of floaties made for a lively party. Water guns and giant inflatable balls added to the playful, beach-like environment. Music at this stage ranged from melodic, tropical sounds blended with house.

Night stages are located on the other side of the ranch and feature Mt. Hood in the background. A huge disco ball separates the two stages which face each other across a long field. Sound from the sages never interfered with one another.

The Late Night stages take the festival to another level.

We caught the Desert Hearts crew at the Dragon stage on Saturday. The concept of this stage is pretty simple: a flame breathing dragon. We were lured into the LED Groove Qube by beaming lasers and were greeted to the sounds of Stylust Beats The set up of this stage makes it feel like you just walked into a house party.

Photo Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo, Vortex Magazine

Art installations, speaker series, video games, a hookah lounge, movement classes … the list goes on for miles. Every aspect we as festival goers hope to gain can be found at What The Festival. Our overall experience fell nothing short of perfect. We can’t wait to return to the ranch next year!

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