Guest written by Alex Rowland
With less than 48 hours until the start of the festival I was asked to go and write a review. Without knowing anyone else going to the festival I packed up my tent and a few other items and set out to the foothills of Mt. Hood on an adventure that I will never forget. Despite the rainy weather on the first couple of days, What the Fest was filled with good vibes, breathtaking scenery, fantastic music, and amazing people. Witnessing both a full moon and the sun sharing the sky during the summer solstice for the first time since 1948 was just one of the many unforgettable moments I had the pleasure of experiencing this weekend.
Location: Wolf Run Ranch – Dufur, Oregon
Camping: Yes! (See where to stay/ camping for more information)
Capacity: Small, Roughly 7,000-8,000 attendees.
Crowd Type: 18+ Ravers, Hippies, Funk Fans, and Hipsters.
Music Genre: Deep House, EDM, Funk, Psychedelic, Instrumental, Independent Artists
What the Fest was a beautiful conglomeration of crazy costumes and happy faces ready to dance the weekend away. With no reentry or day passes available for the weekend the crowd level stayed consistent and never felt like there were too many people. The small crowd size made it easy to keep the festival grounds clean, especially the porta potties. The people at What the Fest welcomed everyone with open arms making sure that no one felt alone at any point throughout the weekend.
What the Fest offered a variety of musical genres with EDM dominating the lineup. Music ranging from funk to instrumental, electronic, and psychedelic filled the sky. Local DJs and well known bands created a spectacular weekend of music and dancing to keep everyone warm through the cold weather. Smaller stages for more relaxed musical sets were also available for anyone that wanted to take a break from dancing and lay in the soft grass.
How To Get There
What the Festival is located roughly 90 miles east of Portland, Oregon at Wolf Run Ranch in the small town of Dufur. If you plan on flying in from out of state the Portland International Airport (PDX) is going to be your closest option however, a car is essential to get to the festival. From Portland, travel down I-84 East through the breathtaking Colombia River Gorge National Scenic Area towards The Dalles. Once you arrive in The Dalles jump on US-197 S and enjoy the drive through some of the most beautiful wide open farmland in the state to Wolf Run Ranch.
Where To Stay/Camping
There are no re-entry or one day tickets available for What the Festival making it a strictly camping festival. Walk-in camping, car camping, and RV camping areas provide a variety of options for all festival goers. The walk in camping areas are located to the East and West side of the festival grounds in a forested area, making it perfect for both tent and hammock camping. The camping areas are located just a short walk to the main stages and the illuminated forest so you will hear music at all hours of the night. Wolf Run Ranch provides spectacular views of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams from the main stages.
What the Fest offers a diverse variety of local food trucks ranging from Greek, Indian, sushi, burritos, crepes, dumplings, and of course pizza! Ice cold smoothie and ice cream stands kept people cool all day, and hot tea and coffee helped people stay warm throughout the night. Healthy food options for vegans and vegetarians were also readily available. Refillable water stations were scattered throughout the festival grounds, allowing everyone to stay hydrated and keep their water bottles full. Four bars serving beer and mixed drinks available for anyone 21+.
The eight stages scattered throughout the festival grounds were all unique and well placed so that no crowds or sounds were mixing. The three main stages (WTF Stage, Effin’ Stage, and Splash Pool Stage) were all located on top of a hillside where people could soak up the warm sun whenever it decided to pop out from behind the rain clouds. A breathtaking view of Mount Hood could be seen behind the WTF stage when the sky was clear. The Splash Pool Stage was also located on the top of the hillside and was the place to be when the sun finally decided to stay out on Sunday providing people with a nice place to stay cool. When the sun went down and the chilly mountain wind picked up festival goers migrated down into the illuminated forest to escape the cold and enjoy more music. The Dragon Stage and Groove Cube were two of the festivals more unique medium size stages. The Groove Cube was constructed of LED blocks that flashed and changed with the music. My personal favorite however would have to be the giant fire breathing Dragon Stage. Smaller stages like the Easy Speak Village and Shinto A Go Go allowed for soothing musical sets by independent artists or guest speakers where people could escape the chaos and relax.
Artists You May Not Have Heard of But Can’t Miss
What the Festival was filled with a lot of talented artists, many of which are not house hold names. Big name bands like Thievery Corporation, Bonobo, FKJ, and Lettuce (one of my favorites) gave killer performances on the main stages, but the gems I discovered were located elsewhere. Local DJ Gang$ign$ got the crowd going on Friday as the sun went down, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend. G Jones had a filthy set that made me dance harder than I’ve ever danced before. Independent artists like Dixon’s Violin and Stellamara created beautiful music as festival goers cuddled in the grass to stay warm. What the Fest was jam packed with talented artists, but a few gave disappointing performances. DJ Claude Vonstroke spent most of his set climbing on the Dragon Stage rafters until he eventually slipped and fell, stopping the music. Hippie Sabotage, who got in a physical altercation with a security guard half way through their set, was probably the most unfulfilling. However, despite a couple bad performances, the music played throughout the festival was very good overall and kept people jamming throughout the night.
Things To Do
There are a lot of different things to do throughout the festival weekend if there is no band playing that you want to see. Basic movement classes are offered for festival goers that want to learn how to hoop, spin poi, or basic dance moves. There are also a large list of easy speak talks where you can go and listen to motivational speeches about manifesting your dreams and how to let go of something that is troubling in your past. Classes are also offered to help people meditate and reflect on their life and their festival experience. When the sun is out and the festival gets hot the splash pool is a perfect place to spend the day in the water. The Illuminated Forest is a magical place where festival goers can wonder the forest and experience an abundance of art and sculptures created by local artists.
Why Go VIP
If you want to experience the festival in luxury The OMG Experience will do just that. The OMG VIP upgrade gives festival goers side-area viewing at the main stages, drink tickets for different bars, a pass to the hookah lounge, and most importantly, tickets to the Oasis Spa to wash away the grime collected after a day of dancing. The OMG Experience also has perks such as select beer and liquor tasting, happy hour for discounted drinks, and free interactive art classes. The OMG upgrade is a nice perk, but not necessary to enjoy your festival weekend.
What Makes This Festival Different
What the Festival is different from other festivals for a variety of reasons. The main thing that stuck out to me was the emphasis they placed on respecting and taking care of the land and your body. Wolf Run Ranch is located in a fire prone area of Oregon, making designated smoking areas essential to prevent forest fires from breaking out and keeping cigarette smoke away from non-smokers. Trashcans were also scattered throughout the festival grounds, giving festival goers the option to recycle or compost all of their waste. Leave no trace camping was one of the main themes of the weekend. Constant reminders to drink water and stay hydrated were also seen throughout the festival grounds. One of the most memorable moments that I had during the weekend was attending a small wedding in the Groove Cube on Saturday afternoon. The ceremony brought tears of joy and an abundance of love to just about everyone’s faces and ended with a massive group hug with the bride and groom at the center. What the Festival also focused on promoting local artist, vendors, and performers from all over the Pacific Northwest. A focus on buying local products and supporting local events is a nice change of pace form an always expanding and globalizing world.
For first time attendees and veterans alike, packing clothes for all types of weather is essential. The festival started off with rain clouds rolling in for the first day, making everything damp and chilly. On Saturday the clouds cleared but temperatures dropped drastically, and the day went on to make for a frigid night. Sunday’s forecast brought in clear sunny skies allowing things to warm up for a much need pool party. Bringing the right clothes is a must for staying comfortable throughout the weekend, and keep in mind that crazy costumes and face paint are more than welcome. Another important thing to remember is that because there is no re-entry, what you bring in is all you have for the weekend. So, make sure you bring enough food, water, and whatever else you need for a fantastic weekend. BYO alcohol is permitted, as long as it is not in a glass container and it stays in the camping areas (security checks all bags before entry is permitted).
The weekend that I spent at What the Festival left me wanting more. Entering the fest I was worried about not knowing anyone else, and by the end of the weekend I had met some of the most amazing people and created lasting friendships. I heard repeatedly over the weekend from many different attendees that What the Fest is one of the best festivals in the state of Oregon, one that keeps bringing people back year after year, that offers a welcoming environment where people can freely express themselves. Because of all this and more, I was able to have arguably the best weekend I’ve had in Oregon since moving here last year. What the Fest will always have a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to return next year!