Backwoods Music Festival: The Midwest’s Best Kept Secret [Review]
Somewhere off Route 66, Stroud, Oklahoma.
Finally off the interstate, we approach a dry, hazy road surrounded by farmland and old wire fences. The dust continued to kick up and we were now driving about 10 miles per hour through the bumpy dirt paths of Oklahoma’s countryside. The streets didn’t have names to identify them, but numbers instead. Numbers that seemed to use some type of coded map language as their only source of identity in this middle-of-nowhere landmark. We were so far away from everything.
At last, we reached our destination address – N3480 Road. A little further down, the lights got brighter and we roll up to The Tatanka Ranch in Stroud, Oklahoma.
This giant country lovin’ ranch will be the weekend home for Backwoods Music Festival – a music, arts and camping festival residing in the actual backwoods of Oklahoma. A festival that successfully took production, design, organization, venue location, and general awesomeness to another level. It’s a well-kept secret in the festival scene that’s completely deserving of all the positive feedback it’s getting and here at Sensible Reason, we were able to capture some of the magic that went on at the ranch over Labor Day weekend.
Backwoods has actually been around for a while, previously a much smaller gathering combing local musical and artistic talent. For the first time in 2015, Backwoods’ production crew decided to expand the festival by booking big-name artists and sponsors at an entirely new, enormous location in Stroud.
Nested on 1,000 acres of prime Oklahoma countryside, The Tatanka Ranch resembled that of a luxury millionaire’s estate. It was a hidden oasis in a vast area of nothing but pasture, scattered homes, dried up rivers and dirt roads.
“Think Big” seemed to be one of the driving philosophies behind planning Backwoods as the grounds extended for miles through wooded areas and fields. The land contained various stages, structures, flow artists, vendors. Placed in the middle of all of this, a crystal clear lake.
Temperatures were hot this Labor Day weekend and the sun beamed some pretty intense, dry heat during the day. As a result, most festival attendees were found swimming in the lake or resting on the shores.
Posted up lakeside under some flowing curtains and tapestries was the cool, pillow-packed shaded area of Sensible Reason’s hookah lounge where the vibes were chill and the smokers were encouraged. Those passing by enjoyed some free hookah as they puff-puff-passed, cooled down and socialized.
Adrenaline junkies opted for the helicopter rides during the day (also provided by the festival) for a higher perspective on what was going on.
Others were spotted at the outdoor saltwater pool by the VIP area, or lounging in hammocks amongst the trees throughout the Nirvana Woodlands.
These woods were straight out of a storybook and were home to hidden stages, rustic cocktail bars, sitting areas, and art built into the surrounding landscapes.
Although there were daytime performances at Backwoods, they ended up being some pleasant background music for those escaping the heat wave elsewhere.
As a result, there were very few who actually attended the sets simply because it was too damn hot. These few who braved the weather were the real MVP’s, dancing and taking advantage of the open grounds. Although the Backwoods’ daytime performance crowd was slim to none, things got different later on.
As the sun started setting, the temperature got more comfortable and people started to emerge by the hundreds. Many gathered on the lakeside shore while taking in the breathtaking Oklahoma sunsets with jam bands like Earphunk and Papadosio playing at the nearby stage. Their smooth instrumentals provided the perfect soundtrack for both the sunset and the upcoming night ahead.
Beside the lake, beams of light pierced through the air from the laser tower and Ferris wheel, and the Nirvana Woodlands started lighting up some pretty epic art installations.
With nighttime upon us, the true beauty and well-thought out production of Backwoods’ stages and venues was now in full effect. The music got louder, the energy turned higher, and the people of Backwoods got funkier.
The Main Stage at Backwoods belonged to The Motherland and was built to resemble a giant castle – going over and out in terms of production and architecture. The stage had two castle towers on each end and was well equipped with fantasy-inspired designs and massive LED screens displaying beautiful visuals to accompany the performance. These screens also displayed the current schedule of artists and upcoming performances when no one was playing. (Hello, organization!) This Main Stage succeeded in flying colors when it came to production and organization for big-name artists and large crowds, setting the bar quite high for future festivals in terms of what a main stage should be like.
Infected Mushroom brought the noise to The Motherland on Saturday night with their heavy, psychedelic-infused beats and bright lights. Early night sets at the Main Stage belonged to the smooth glitch-hop beats of Break Science and funky house jams of Boombox.
The Sunday night lineup at The Motherland was overwhelming in the best way possible, with three of the festival’s headliners playing back to back with intermissions in between each performance so guests could gather and find a spot. That’s right, intermissions. Did we mention the festival was organized?
Porter Robinson came through with a beautifully emotional set paired with magical visuals. An impressive display of fireworks accompanied his set as he closed out with “Language”, the sky explosions syncing perfectly with the song as the crowd sang together in unison. The moment created that one-of-a-kind “festival feeling” you have to personally experience in order to understand, and Porter Robinson gave us that moment.
Following Porter was Odesza who brought their smooth sounding beats and live band to the stage, putting on a great show with a huge crowd as always. They even switched it up at one point with some trap, and the fans went wild.
After Odesza, The Floozies closed out the festival with some high-energy electro funk and really came through with their personalized remix of “Space Jam,” sending all of the 90’s kids into a funky-nostalgic dance party.
Although the main stage can easily be the focal point of any large festival, the remaining stages at Backwoods did not disappoint. Each stage was noticeably thought out and intended to have its own distinctive character that set it apart from the rest. Whether it was a large stage in a noticeable area or a smaller one only to be found while wandering through some illuminated trees, Backwoods gave a venue for every type of person to enjoy.
The Meadow stage appeared quickly after entering the main gate and was built as a tree house. Yes, a tree house stage. Made entirely out of wood and nested in a lush area of the festival grounds, this stage almost reached the top branches as it towered over the dancing area. Washed Out rocked this spot late night on Friday with a DJ set, bringing a good mix of tech-house and deep house to the tree-house.
When continuing to wander about the festival grounds, it’s hard to ignore the frequent bursts of fire being emitted from a particular area. Following the flame, it leads to the Diskoportal stage – the coolest stage of the festival in our opinion.
Designed to resemble something you’d find at Burning Man, the Diskoportal was a dystopian electronic music haven with a funky, futuristic feel. Built into the space were large, curved metal structures that enclosed the venue into a circle. In the center of the circle stood another structure, producing a giant burst of fire into the air every few minutes.
The Diskoportal was interesting in that it didn’t place primary focus on the presence of the artist. The performing stage was very small and dark and placed towards the outer edge of the venue. Rather than putting attention on who was playing, it placed primary focus on other factors like sound quality, guest dancers, fire blowers, and the people surrounding you – resulting in an all-around immersive experience for those who enter it.
Courtesy of The Untz and the only indoor space at the festival, the Elevate stage provided a darker, intimate show for those seeking some heavier underground feels. The bass-infused dub beats took place at this stage from artists like Doctor P, Liquid Stranger, Dieselboy, and Dirty Phonics leaving the crowd hot and heavy from getting down ‘n dirty, regardless of the air conditioned room.
Devoted to the best indie jam and acoustic bands in the afternoon and the funkiest of jamtronic in the evenings, the Kumbuya stage stood lakeside at the edge of the woods. An organic, earthy presence resided at this spot and the campfire continued all weekend. People danced barefoot in the sand or swam in the lake – or both at the same time. Dance parties went long into the night to artists such as Minds of Infinity, Tkettle, and Lucid.
A little ways deeper into the woodlands lays the final venue at Backwoods, The Globe Theatre. This stage was 100% eco-friendly, built entirely out of recycled materials and running on solar powered energy. Resembling a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, the rustic theatre was home to tons of raw talent throughout the weekend.
Artists played on the stage that stood in front of a standing area for guests. If people chose to wander other parts of the theatre later in the evening, they were greeted and socialized by different characters dressed in 1920’s cabaret attire. These characters were very impressive, possessing quirky personalities and completely immersed in their role as a theatre worker in the roaring 20’s. If one ever wished to get a feel of what a country-Midwestern speakeasy would be like, The Globe Theatre was the place to go. The venue perfectly maintained this persona throughout the weekend and was even home to some pretty wild and exclusive after parties.
Backwoods Music Festival won the hearts of those who attended. The production staff took a leap of faith this year by transitioning a smaller, local festival to a highly advertised gathering on a much larger scale — and they succeeded. The festival found the perfect balance between local talent and big name artists, combining just the right amount of trendy commercial culture with a whole lot of small-town country charm.
Bravo, Backwoods. We will be back next year.