To say What the Festival is offbeat is a bit of an understatement, even when you take into consideration the Pacific Northwest’s festival landscape. Although its crowd overlaps with some of the same colorful, open and creative types who are typically attracted to Burning Man, Symbiosis and Decibel, What the Festival is more like a carnivalesque summer camp for grown ups. Imagine hanging out around a wading pool roughly the size of a skating rink and camping in the woods. Imagine larger-than-life interactive art installations, hookah lounges, yoga enthusiasts and hula hoopers. Imagine sculptures created out of found objects and people dancing and grooving nonstop in their bathing attire. Electronic music of all kinds dominates this festival: dubstep, trap, bass, house, techno, downtempo—you name it. Oh, and the dazzling light shows in the background of these performances don’t hurt, either.
Founders Glen and Tiffany Boyd attended Burning Man for years, and along with music producer, Peter Clark, they wanted to provide something creative and fun as an alternative to the festival landscape. Given their shared interest in music and the dominance of technology in our lives, the Boyds founded and then sold the web analytics company, Web Trends (the fest goes by the shorthand WTF). Likewise, its three stages include acronyms that riff on tech abbreviations: WTF, Effin, and LOL (its three performance stages) and OMG, its shorthand for VIP status. The first two are in an open area whereas LOL is nestled in the woods.
By day, you can hang out around the splash pool (it’s only a foot deep) and cool off in the sun while multiple DJs spin music. Or, if you’re up for it, you can attend one of the many workshops or lectures offered throughout the grounds (yoga, anyone?). At night, the mainstage (WTF) and Effin (bass-driven music) provide the musical performances. Starting at midnight and going through the wee hours of the morning, LOL, the intimate comedy stage with its retro-vaudeville approach, takes over for entertainment.
What the Festival – Let’s Get Small
In its inaugural year, WTF was held in the White River Canyon just outside of Tygh Valley, but for 2013, organizers bought Wolf Run Ranch, about 20 miles away, for its permanent home. Since its inception, WTF’s attendance has more than doubled in sized, to over 5,000 attendees with over 70 acts performing. Organizers have brought in lineups of electronic rockers such as Ghostland Observatory and Beats Antique (tribal tempos meets world music), along with the likes of California scenester Thriftworks, DJ Kepi, Gramatik, Purity Ring, A-Trak, J. Phlip, Tycho, and Cyril Hahn, among many others.
But even while attendance touches 5,000, organizer Tiffany Boyd says that they want to keep their “small, boutique feel.”
What The Festival is situated in a combination of an open and wooded space on a ranch with views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. It strives to encourage sustainability when it can and impart an outdoors lover’s mantra of “leave no trace;” you’ll find gentle reminders of this throughout the grounds. Its parking policy prioritizes carpooling—if you travel with three or more people to a vehicle, parking is free. You’re handed a garbage bag upon entering the grounds, and recycling stations aren’t hard to find.
Most significantly is the fact that this is a three-day event in which everyone camps, so you become fully immersed in the experience. Your admission includes walk-in camping, in which you park your car and haul your stuff to the wooded camping area. However, if you prefer car camping, that’s possible too, and it is just what it sounds like: you set up your tent adjacent to your car. You can go fancier than that and upgrade the experience with various premium boutique upgrades for both cars and RVs; in some of these options, the hard work of hauling and setting up gear is already taken care of by the time you arrive.
What The Festival typically offers surprise spots for respite during the day, whether it’s a vendor offering tea service, fort-like art installations that you can hide out in and escape the blazing heat, randomly placed platform-like beds for impromptu lounging, or artsy benches with shade. It’s not hard to find a quiet spot.