This year's What the Festival was more like "Weather the Festival."
Only in Oregon would 7,500 people travel to the foothills of Mt. Hood to dance their way through a "summer festival" weekend of heavy rain and 30 degree temperatures. In my three years attending, What the Festival had its first sellout crowd and produced the best version of its "adult summer camp meets laid back rave" atmosphere yet. Despite 3,500-plus more attendees compared to last year, the campsites were quieter at night, attendees were better behaved, lines were short—and even the Porta-Potties remained relatively clean
Here are the best things I heard, saw and experience during my weekend in the woods of Central Oregon.
Best Portal to Miami Beach: The Groove Cube stage.
WTF's best new stage was a fortress deep in the forest, made up of water tanks equipped with synchronized LED lights. Portland's Mr. Wu kicked things off on Thursday night with an upbeat dance party for early attendees.
Best Apocalyptic Pool Party: Friday afternoon at the Splash Stage.
During Pomo's mid-afternoon set, ominous dark clouds appeared on the horizon. By the end of his set, people were rushing back to their campsites to wait out the monsoon. It was quite a sight watching people joyfully dance in a pool backdropped by thunder clouds swallowing up Mt. Hood.
Best Use of Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam": Mr. Carmack.
After the rain subsided Mr. Carmack deejayed a diverse set of music culminating in one of the standout tracks on West's The Life of Pablo. Hands raised in unison throughout the crowd and people chanted along.
Best Radiohead Remix: JackLNDN.
JackLNDN dropped a dance remix of Radiohead's "Everything In It's Right Place" during the middle of his pool set. I've never felt so happy listening to a Radiohead song in my life.
Best Best New Band Set: Chanti Darling.
Willamette Week's 2016 Best New Band had one of the grooviest crowds all weekend, twirling ribbons and vibing out during the sunset.
Best Human Disco Ball: Grilled Cheese Disco.
Local production company Savory Events threw an early morning dance party starting at 4 am, handing out grilled cheese sandwiches to those who braved the chilly temperatures. The party started off with a performer clad in a disco ball suit bathed in blue and green lasers.
Best Sunrise: Sunday morning.
Nearly freezing temperatures didn't prevent countless people from bundling up and piling into massive cuddle piles to watch the sunrise over the festival grounds.
Best Weather: The last day.
It was finally comfortably warm, all the DJs at the pool party were fantastic, the sunset was extra "epic" setting over Mt. Adams, and Tourist and Bonobo pushed the sound system to its limits at the main stage. I'm sure there are bigger pool parties in more conventional settings, but I don't think there's a more free spirited and inclusive parties anywhere else in the world.
Best Pool Party Accessory: Human-Sized Hamster Ball.
Someone in a hamster mask literally rolled around between the three pools in a giant hamster ball.
Best Use of A-ha's "Take On Me": Motez.
Thousands of people sang along to Motez's final track to close down the pool party for the weekend.
The Best of Everything Else
Stray observations from this year's What the Festival:
Late night stages: The late-night stages kept people who wanted to stay up inside the main festival grounds, and that meant the campsites were surprisingly quiet at night. They should keep these going in the future.
Keep it small: I'm not sure how much more WTF can expand, but I hope they keep the festival small.
Main stage production: This stage actually felt like a main stage this year for the first time, with great production and out of this world bass-rattling subs.
Illuminated Forest: You could tell way more money was invested in the art this year and I kept discovering new installations throughout the entire weekend.
Book multiple sets for DJs and performers: I would have loved to have seen a few more sets by some of the DJs and performers throughout the weekend. Especially, a lot of the pool party D's at some of the late night stages.
Claude Vonstroke and Dirtybird: The Dirtybird community has done a lot for house music in the U.S., but Claude Vonstroke's much-anticipated late night headlining set was lackluster. He spent a lot of the set hanging from the rafters of the Dragon Stage, making it clear that some DJs don't really have to do much at all if they don't want to.
Trap/Grime/Dubstep: There's just too much at the festival. After the sun went down it was nearly impossible to consistently be at a stage and listen to anything else.
Leave no trace: WTF wants their attendees to leave no trace, but on Monday morning there were piles of garbage forming around a lot of the Porta-potty areas. I'm not sure why people aren't capable of taking their trash home with them, but the festival is going to have to do more than ask people nicely.
Festival entrance & RV parking: The walk up to the festival involved quite a trek on a dusty path surrounded by giant Porta-Potty pods and loud RVs with their generators running. They should place the RVs elsewhere next year.
All photos by Matthew Houlemard.