With its idyllic location (The Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort, a tree-lined mecca six miles inland from Lake Michigan), environmental bent (organizers set a “near-zero waste” goal for the festival) and jam-band friendly lineup (Widespread Panic and Phil Lesh, among others), many artists and attendees were trumpeting the inaugural Rothbury Festival as the next Bonnaroo.
“The vibe here is great,” says Phish bassist Mike Gordon. “It’s beautiful here with the lake and the forest. It’s like Bonnaroo without the mugginess of Nashville.”
Baltimore resident Evin Barger, 21, who attended Bonnaroo from 2005-2007, sees a similarity between the newborn Michigan festival and ‘Roo’s early years. “All the musicians here are the same sort of genre,” says Barger. “There’s no heavy metal. There’s no Kanye West. I love Kanye, but Bonnaroo is not the place to see him.”
“Every festival needs to find its niche,” says Rothbury Communications Director Carrie Lombardi, discussing the sense of unity in Rothbury’s lineup. “There were certain bands that we knew would attract the kind of crowd we wanted to bring out.” Festival producer Jeremy Stein added, “This is a long-term concept. This is the first year to try it, and then we’ll go from there. I have no doubt there will be more Rothburys.”
The festival’s environmental goals proved inline with those of the tie-died idealists that populated the crowd. In addition to bio-diesel and solar-powered stages, the festival organizers provided separate receptacles for compost, recyclables and landfill. “The biggest problem I had was walking up to the cans and trying to figure out which one to put my gum in,” admitted Michael Franti from the stage.
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Count Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood among those saluting the ambitious environmental program, saying, “You’d hate to not be able to have these things because they become too much of an albatross.”
But for all of Rothbury’s altruistic goals and the site’s obvious benefits (the whimsically-named Sherwood Forest offered attendees welcome respite from the sun), some see little difference in the growing number of destination festivals. Says Black Keys singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach: “Same shit, different field.”