UpNorth Festival was a brand new festival that took place in northern Michigan in August. With a remote location, and a small (yet impressive) lineup, UpNorth was definitely not your standard electronic festival. However, it was exactly what festivals should strive to be: a community united by music. Even though the weather wreaked havoc on the festival the second day, flooding stages and forcing artists to cancel, everyone was in high spirits throughout the festival, and a little rain never hurt anybody. When the music finally resumed, everyone was ready to dance for what was an incredible remainder of the weekend.
UpNorth took place at Twisted Trails Park, a venue generally used for off-roading and other backwoods shenanigans. It seemed an odd place to host an electronic music festival, but the location worked surprisingly well. With the two main stages located in open areas near the campgrounds, getting to the music never took long, and there was always plenty of space to dance. The beautifully constructed Luna stage was located deep in the woods, and walking there took you through an amazingly decorated forest that reminisced of a small, early Electric Forest, with art installations, gardens, and live performances around every turn.
The music at UpNorth was absolutely incredible. For a first year festival, they curated an amazing lineup. Choosing to build a deep lineup over blowing their budget on big name headliners proved to be a great decision, and bringing in artists who are labelmates, collaborators, and friends allowed for some incredible surprise back-to-back sets. Curated events were everywhere, including Space Jesus’ Wakaan takeover and Mija’s Fk A Genre stage. Artists played incredible sets all throughout the day and night, with ExMag and Golf Clap playing as the sun went down, and Ganja White Night and Yheti playing late night sets until the sun was peeking back over the horizon. Artists like Ghastly chose to experience the festival for themselves, wandering amongst the crowd when they weren’t on stage themselves. Without major headliners to draw in the entire festival, the stages were never overcrowded, and everyone was there for the music, not just the names.
But the true stars of the festival were the humans that populated UpNorth. From the moment we entered the campsite to the morning we reluctantly packed our stuff and headed home, there was nothing but love surrounding us. We had neighbors who fed us beer, shots, and everything else we needed to party. We met people at every show who were just as in love with the music as we were. We danced, we talked, we hugged. The staff members were amazing, from handing out free bandanas to carting us around with our cameras from stage to stage when we felt tired and lazy. UpNorth was full of positive vibes, and everyone was there to have fun and love each other.
Overall, UpNorth was an incredible success for a small first-year festival. The organizers made it clear from the beginning that the focus of the festival was going to be on the experience and the community, and that’s exactly what they did. By shifting away from big names and expensive production, they were able to curate an amazingly cohesive lineup, and put together one of the most unique festivals I’ve attended all year. It wasn’t all perfect, but what festival is? UpNorth has nowhere to go but up, and I’m excited to see what they have in store for us next year. Come join myself and the rest of this beautiful community in 2017 for what is sure to be another unforgettable experience.