This past weekend, co-founder Jon Gilman and contributing writers Annie D. & Melissa K. headed up to the redwood forests of Humboldt County to experience one of the most enjoyable festivals any of us have had the pleasure of attending in our relatively festival-filled lives. We hinted at the different elements making up Northern Nights in our preview last week, but after experiencing it first-hand we came to the realization that Northern Nights is far more than just another music festival. Really, the music was an afterthought at times, though at others it was the focal point of our experience. In any case, thanks to Northern Nights Music Festival we now know what a “Transformational Festival” is, and the definition describes NNMF perfectly. Let’s go ahead and break it down.
I’ve got to say, we weren’t really sure what to expect of Northern Nights. Even attending was a bit of an afterthought. I didn’t go to the inaugural NNMF so it wasn’t like I was chomping at the bit to return. The very kind people running the marketing side of things had reached out in June asking if we wanted to be a part of the press attending Northern Nights, and offering perks like free food and beverage, free massages, artist interviews, and more. Without doing any research we immediately said yes – because who doesn’t like all those things? Many weeks passed and I’ll admit we had pretty much forgotten about the festival. That will not happen again next year.
A scenic but occasionally bumper-to-bumper drive up the 101 brought us to Cooks Valley Campground later than hoped on Friday night. The festival was already in full swing, Mr. Justin Martin was laying down the final main stage set of the night, and we were ready to party. After throwing up our tent and dumping our belongings haphazardly inside, we finally made it to the stage, and thus began one of the best weekends in recent memory. Instead of recounting all the details of our experience, I will just say that this festival was the perfect balance of crazy and chill, sprinkled with good vibes, and wrapped in bacon. There were surprises around every corner, but I also truly felt at home, which was something I came to really value for the duration of the weekend. Speaking of values, let’s talk some pros and cons from Northern Nights:
- Setting & Surroundings. Part of the sell for Northern Nights was getting our East Coast asses to the redwood forests. I mean, shit, the festival logo is a giant tree. Granted, we weren’t in the middle of the BIG Redwoods that you’ve seen on Planet Earth, but regardless, the allure of these ancient trees was enough for me. Rolling hills in the distance covered with lush green trees and a grove of redwoods on the campsite itself lending shade to lounging festival-goers were enough to make for a perfect setting for both camping and a music festival. But of course, the main attraction with the natural surroundings of Northern Nights was…
- The River. Have you ever been to a music festival on a river? I hadn’t before but now Northern Nights has raised my bar on the type of fun you can have at a music festival. We’re talking hanging out all day in the water on various creative flotation devices (a swan, a T-Rex, a dragon), cold beverages in hand, perfect Summer weather, and – oh yeah – a stage right in front of you. Not only could you cool down in the refreshing Eel River, but you could enjoy various DJ sets while doing so. Music ranged from House to Hip Hop to Reggaeton to everything in between and it couldn’t have been sweeter to hear your friends say, “let’s go down to the river.”
- Silent Frisco. I hate to say it, but I may have enjoyed the silent disco put on by Silent Frisco more than I enjoyed any single other musical act throughout the weekend. Silent Frisco is a San Francisco-based company that goes around the country throwing silent disco parties. It’s hard to really describe what these events are like to someone who hasn’t been, but if you wanted to keep partying after midnight at Northern Nights then your only option was to head to the silent disco where you danced the night away to one of two DJs playing at any given time on the two stations (blue and green) streaming to your wireless headphones. The DJs were all on point – we had some great House music and even a little Moombahton. Being able to switch between musical styles was great and all you had to do was look at your friends’ headsets to see if they were glowing blue or green to know what your friends were listening to. Big ups to all the DJs who spun from midnight til 6am each of the nights!
- The People. As cliché as this is, I don’t know if I’ve been surrounded by a group of more friendly and chill people at any given time in my life. There were definitely some Burners (Burning Man attendees) at Northern Nights, there were your hippies, your bros, college students, weekend warriors, etc., but it didn’t matter what you classify yourself as, everyone was there for the same reason: to have a good time. And have a good time we did.
- Intimacy. Though the festival sold out, it sold out to the right-sized crowd. The size of the campgrounds was perfect – not too much walking around but everything was spread out so that nothing felt cramped. There weren’t too many people but at the same time it was big enough so you were always meeting new people. In fact, we spent a good portion of our time hanging out with total strangers. The intimacy of the event also allowed our crew to relax and take it easy when we wanted to, or we could turn things up and really have a great party atmosphere when we wanted.
- The Vendors. Not only were there a ton of tents filled with really unique merchandise, but a lot of the vendors brought in black lights at night, luring festival-goers in with vibrant colors and psychedelic displays. Though they were all awesome, our favorite vendor in both style and personality were definitely the guys from Geometrix, a clothing and accessories company with sick prints and patterns on everything from hats to bracelets to bathing suits. Check out Geometrix’s Facebook page here. Stay tuned for their online store or in the meantime try to find them at the next fest.
- Friendly Staff and Volunteers. This is something that you don’t always realize you’re missing at a festival. Most festivals will have apathetic staff or staff that generally fade into the background. At Northern Nights, not only was every single staff member and volunteer we encountered just plain nice, they were the type of people we wanted to continue hanging out with for the entire weekend. We were greeted at the festival gates by staff members dancing as hard as the crowd we found inside. We had running jokes with the parking lot staff, who chatted us up every time we walked by. Shit, we even picked up a bartender and his friend who ended up hanging out with our crew the rest of the festival. The staff also walked around the campsites on what they called “vibe patrol,” making sure everyone was having a good time and sometimes stopping to party. I never expected this type of genuine friendliness from festival staff but I now realize how much it can improve a festival experience. Much appreciated, Northern Nights staff!
- The NNMF Logo. Their simple two-triangle redwood symbol (see above) is the perfect understated but recognizable logo. I wanna get me some NNMF gear.
- Theft. Plain and simple there were way too many occurrences of things getting stolen over the weekend. Whether it happened to our crew, we heard about it during the festival, or we read about it online after the event, it happened. I don’t know what’s wrong with people but stealing shit isn’t cool and it needs to stop.
- Music. As mentioned, the actual music tended to be a bit of an afterthought and there were only a handful of “true” headliners. Most of the attendees were down at the river during the day, leaving barely anyone to watch the performers on the main stage. You had to feel bad for those artists. It might have helped if there was one day stage (the river) and one night stage (main stage), without overlap, to give all the booked artists optimal exposure. Then again, I would have liked to be able to choose who I watched at night because, sorry to say, I wasn’t that impressed with groups like Beats Antique.
- No Real Daytime Dancing. We might be spoiled by predominantly going to electronic music festivals where people are raging from noon on, but one thing I know we all definitely missed at Northern Nights was having big crowds dancing at the stages when the sun was out. Because during the day most people were either chilling out at their campsites or down by the river, it wasn’t until nightfall that people really started to congregate at the stages. It might have been the festival’s size or maybe just the chill vibe, but it would have been nice to not have to wait till night for people to really get dancing.
- Not Enough Toilet Paper in the Porta-Potties. Enough said.
Pros and cons aside, we all left the weekend with huge smiles on our faces, literal joy in our hearts, and a 365 day countdown until next year’s festival. We hope to stay in touch with the friends that we made and hope the people at Northern Nights continue to make this truly amazing festival happen for years to come.