Electric Forest Festival

by Debi Moen
in Festival Spotlight
Travis Shirley brightened the Ranch Arena after sunset.
Travis Shirley brightened the Ranch Arena after sunset.

Travis Shirley Electrifies Main Stage of Unique Event

The annual Electric Forest Festival features jam band/EDM music on five stages at the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, MI. But more than that, Electric Forest Festival has, as part of its unique identity, the goal of enhancing the music with a multi-sensory fan experience with art installations throughout the (actual) forest in which the fest takes place.


Atomic Design's artistry was most visible by day.

Daytime Artistry

When lighting designer Travis Shirley was tasked this summer (his fifth year with the festival) with lighting the festival’s Main Stage, called the Ranch Arena, he knew he also had an experience mission: to offer an equal opportunity lighting rig for both daytime and nighttime artists.

To do this, he designed and specified a lighting rig that would cut through daytime ambient light and that would also do justice to light up embellishments of the stage design. Longtime festival vendor Christie Lites (with rep Robert Roth) worked closely with Shirley to meet his equipment specifications.

This year’s EFF Main Stage artists, with whom Shirley worked included festival staples The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Major Lazer, Disco Biscuits, STS9 and more headliners.

Production designer Tom McPhillips and his Atomic Design team designed the five stages, entrance and other event structures.

McPhillips embellished the main Ranch Arena stage with detailed Steampunk ornamentation, a mashup of historic styles and cultural art that took on an “electric time machine vibe,” Shirley says. “For this, I decided that a huge LED lighting rig would accent the fascia and coincide with the festival’s ‘electric’ theme.”

Shirley chose 165 Chroma-Q Color Force 72 fixtures as the rig’s focal point. The LED batten color changing fixtures washed the large areas of the stage with saturated color. “I went with LEDs because I was thinking about the name, ‘Electric Forest,’ and thought it would be great to create an electric looking stage.”

Shirley used Color Force fixtures to ‘wake up the entire rig.’

Waking Up at Sunset

The Color Force fixtures “wake up the entire rig,” he adds, noting how the three horizontal arrays are curved overhead, expanding in width from upstage to downstage to create a central focal point. “The bands perform in front of that; they get bigger in width,” he explains. “Then there are three vertical arrays. So, with three vertical on each side of the stage, and the three horizontal, you have nine arrays that creates a forced-perspective picture box or performance space.”

The trussing is as unique as Travis’ design. He created a series of Arcs by using Christie Link bars and the components in the CL Type “B” (16”) trussing system. This truss design gave him an “incredible depth” and enhanced the performance space, he says.

With so many interesting acts on the bill, Shirley wanted to ensure each had an opportunity to look great. “Even in the daytime, the Color Force had an impact. I didn’t want it to have a different feel from afternoon to nighttime transition, and it worked. Many times you shine lights in the audience’s face, and that’s all you can do in the daytime. Color Force allowed everyone to have a great show with the same tools no matter when they played.”

A Color Force fan, Shirley has used them previously on Pentatonix’s tour, but not in such high quantity. “One thing unique we did was not only run them in RGBA mode, but we also pixel-mapped them at times, so we had a low-res visual up there, which really looked great.”

Along with the 165 Color Force, Christie Lites supplied 21 Martin MAC Viper AirFX, 25 MAC Quantum Washes, 24 Atomic 3000 Strobes, 24 Elation Platinum Beam 5Rs and two grandMA2 full consoles. Conventional fixtures, dimming, hazers, cable, rigging and trussing completed the package.

Tom McPhillips led the Atomic Design team working on the event’s five stages.

Sharing the Gear

Typically with other festivals, the Main Stage rig is designed around the headliner’s rigs, and everyone else gets a “generic” look without use of the special equipment reserved for the headliners, Shirley notes. “This is the exact opposite, and it’s a challenge. Festival owner Jeremy Stein wanted the fest to be its own. Every act would get to use the gear. Even some of the smaller bands got some great exposure to a lighting rig that they might not have played with before, from the novice to the most experienced.”

The challenge was lighting all the scenic elements, the materials covering the mechanics. “The fascia lighting was a big task in itself,” he says, pointing out the Martin MAC Quantum washes that were used to uplight and downlight along with Color Forces.

Because each LD needs to reprogram their touring show for the festival, Shirley made sure to send them drawings well in advance. Shirley worked closely with the LD Andy Cass during the planning stages as The String Cheese Incident would headline three of the four nights. Cass had specific fixtures that Shirley spec’d in order to ensure a smooth transition into the fest — not only for Cass, but for all touring LDS.

A Multi-Stage Event

Shirley, who regularly tours with Enrique Iglesias, says each EFF performance stage is so different. It has grown from one Main Stage to five varying sizes, plus the lights with the installations throughout the forest. So the festival producers (Insomniac Events and festival owner Madison House) have begun splitting up the stages for other vendors and LDs to focus on.

This year, Shirley also designed the newer Jubilee EDM tent, which has run for the two previous years.

“I always do the Main Stage, but some years I design three of the five stages,” he says. “I just want to make sure I can focus on the job at hand, and with so many touring acts coming in, I needed to focus on the Main Stage — that’s a job in itself — and Jubilee.

“It’s a fantastic festival; it’s grown exponentially, and I’m proud of being on the team,” Shirley adds. “Christie is great at festival world. I’ve been working with them for nine years, and they know how I like to operate. We have a great working relationship.”

Christie Lites’ Robert Roth, who works with Shirley on other projects as well, agrees. “I was again excited to build a great team to support the creativity of Travis Shirley as we executed a stupendous design at this year’s Electric Forest Festival,” Roth says. “Travis always takes the Main Stage up a level year after year.”