Fest-Heads Give "WTF" High Praise

The inaugural What The Festival, an electronic and dance music convergence in White River Canyon, seemed to pop off with nary a first-year glitch. At the height of their merriment, PoMo asked festival circuit regulars how the new event compares to others

By Anne Adams August 2, 2012

“Icarus” poses in Spring Camp, surrounded on all sides by scenic bluffs. Having attended Human Nature (in Elsea, WA) and Where Life Begins (at Triangle Lake) prior to WTF, he notes, “At this one, the loving energy is just way more abundant.”

photo by Nic Cavanaugh

Editor's Note: Read our profile of What the Festival 2013 in our Summer Guide, and find out how to win passes.

Ask anyone: day passes are for dilettantes. Our region’s myriad wilderness-located, music-centric, camping-compatible festivals demand a little more investment than the mere ticket price; you’ve got to sleep in a tent, "go" in a honey bucket, schlep your supplies for miles. Fest-heads take this challenge in stride. Wearing crazy (but always weather-appropriate) costumes as they blaze through unknown terrain, they comport themselves like live-action avatars from video games, collecting talismans and consuming various substances for strength points as they undertake each mission. Meet some festival folks in our slide show! (Left)

For these people, music appreciation is only a facet of the larger experience. While the bands at a given fest are a set of names you drop back at the office or dorm, the experience is a multi-sensory milieu so immersive and addictive that festheads are rarely satisfied with one fix per summer.

Last weekend was the advent of What The Festival, a brand-new event whose dates nipped at the heels of Sasquatch, squared off against Fairieworlds, and beat Pickathon to the punch. Its musical flavor of choice, dance/electronica, may have conjured premonitions of Bono sunglasses and doublewide raver trousers—but it actually attracted the same fest-heads as other summer sleepovers. By the time Portland Monthly caught wind of "WTF," its name had already been whispered around campfires, tagged on Twitter, and yelled down enough shared-housing stairwells that many tiers of tickets were reportedly sold out.

Not to be deterred, Culturephile scored a camping pass! With a utility belt and a jug of water, your reporters surveyed the scene, snapping photos of willing festival folk and asking them to share their first impressions. (We can neither confirm nor deny our participation in frenzied dance breaks between story-seeking.) Here’s a summary of what they said, with more direct quotes in the slide show.

Location, location, location. This real estate refrain rang out louder than marquee acts like Ghostland Observatory and Beats Antique. Praising everything from the basalt formations to the festival campus’s plentiful chill-zones, most of the folks we talked to had something particularly nice to say about the place.

WTF’s White River Canyon location is indeed a pristine, spacious acreage, and its festival use seems fastidiously well-planned. Striking a balance between Burning Man’s stewardly "leave no trace" policy and Sasquatch’s (or Trash-squatch’s) hedonistic pile-it-to-the-sky practices, WTF maintains a low-stress cleanliness and a navigable feel that will only be threatened if and when its projected capacity grows in future seasons. Cloudless weather complimented by plentiful shade structures, free drinking water, organic food options and a centrally located wading pool made Sasquatch seem like a merciless gladiator death march by comparison—but put WTF on a comfort par with Pickathon.

In addition to two large stages (irreverently dubbed "Effin" and "WTF"), a third vaudeville-style mini stage (called "LOL") hosted solo and lo-fi acts like Cello Joe, who alternated between creating live loop-scapes and sitting in on multi-player jam sessions that laid dance music structures bare. Watching these folks re-create dance grooves from acoustic rudiments held a similar charm to watching artisans spin wool skeins at a Renn Faire—an acknowledgement that these repetetive thumps and bass licks were "where it all came from."

Enthusiasm is infectious, and the longer Culturephile watched fest-heads enjoy this new offering, the more fun we had. We salute What The Festival for strong beginnings and a seemingly uncorrupted commercial ethic. Click through our slide show to meet some festival goers and see WTF we’re talking about!

For more about Portland arts, visit PoMo’s Arts & Entertainment Calendar, stream content with an RSS feed, sign up for our weekly On The Town Newsletter, or follow us on Twitter @PoMoArt! Blog content reflects the views of the individual author and not necessarily SagaCity Media, Inc.

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