After wrapping up a third consecutive year at Wolf Run Ranch earlier this month, my post-fest reflection has brought me to the conclusion that What The Festival?! only continues to get better with time. Once again, this festival lived up to the excitement my fellow campers and I had pent up since the moment we left the year before. As always, the weekend was overflowing with countless opportunities to delight the senses and explore new things. Complete with delicious food, creative vendors, breathtaking art and visual displays, and of course, top-notch musical performances, WTF?! 2017 was an event that was unmatched by anything I’ve experienced before.
If you’ve never been to WTF?!, be sure to check out my pre-coverage for a more detailed look into what you tragically missed this time around. Don’t worry, there’s always next year!
For those of you who made it to this year’s WTF?!, let’s take a look back into some of the undeniable highlights of the weekend.

Thursday: 

Early entry is an absolute must for this festival. Three full days and nights is simply not enough for an avid WTF?! enthusiast such as myself.

My group and I reached the ranch near sundown in the middle of a torrential downpour. Fearing the worst, I mentally prepared myself to arrive onto a scene filled with disappointed hopefuls with sopping wet camping gear. I’ve never been happier to say I was wrong. Despite the gloom and seemingly never-ending precipitation, we were welcomed on site by lines of cheerful volunteers and a train of excited attendees whooping, hollering, and even playing instruments outside their cars as we waited in line. After being given the green light by the always phenomenal event security, we parked our car and began setting up camp in the lush wooded area.

Unsurprisingly, those within the camps radiated positivity and friendliness. Still, as fun as the campsite is, my group had a ton of newcomers come along for their first time this year, so naturally we were just eager to look around. Though the majority of the festival didn’t kick off until the next day, we were more than satisfied by the sounds of Haywyre at the Equinox Stage and ill.Gates and NastyNasty at the Groove Qube for the inaugural warm-up night.

Friday:

The official launch day of WTF?!, the majority of attendees are just now getting here. Having already established my camp at this point, one of my favorite things to do on Friday is to watch the faces of new arrivals light up as they walk into the festival grounds for the first time. It’s the kind of overwhelming joy and excitement that makes you feel like a kid again. Imagine if the childhood you had once experienced would someday turn into a musical theme park tricked out with a playground, pool, and sleepover. This is What The Festival.

Around noon, the central area of the festival is already buzzing with people hungry for delectable delicacies and curious about the wonders within the merchant tents. After devouring my annual Sustainable Sushi burrito, I quickly realized I had forgotten something as I browsed the vendors. This being my third year at WTF?! I was shocked and dismayed upon discovering that I had neglected to pack any decorative headgear for the weekend. My sadness lasted about thirty seconds before I found myself being drawn to the Kritter Klips tent by an ultra-cute pupper whom I NEEDED to pet. Her name was Stella and she was a very good girl. Thanks to Stella and her equally wonderful owner, I found some snazzy sequin clip in animal ears that perfectly matched my hair color. Once the ears were comfortably secured into my hair, I was not shy about flaunting them to my entire campsite. I love them and wish I could wear them every day.

Friday at noon is also when the Splash Stage welcomes us into its warm and shallow waters for the first time. It’s the earliest operating stage every day, and with its sandy shores and sunny day tunes, it’s the best way to get the day started. Later, after splashing around for a while and exploring the forest pre-illumination, I was becoming increasingly eager for night fall. The Effin’ Stage, WTF Stage, and Dragon Stage would finally be open, and I could hardly wait. The night began around sunset, when Pressha blew the roof off of the Effin’ Stage. Pressha cranked up the crowd’s energy levels right off the bat, drawing an impressive audience for such an early time slot with his killer song selection.

We then headed into the Illuminated Forest to see the spectacle in full swing. Glowing with colorful lights and illustrated by astounding art pieces, I’m pretty sure the Illuminated Forest should be recognized as the eighth wonder of the world. After our first journey through the trail, we made our way to the WTF Stage for the first headliner of the weekend, Gramatik. Once the Lowtemp king had concluded his groovy time on stage we grabbed some drinks from one of the several convenient bars and rushed over to the Equinox Stage for the dark sounds of Woolymammoth and edIT. To wrap up the night, we traveled deep into the depths of the forest and came upon the surreal sight that is the Dragon Stage for Ott. Needless to say, the weekend was off to a great start. Despite my exhaustion, I found it hard to sleep that night because I was already craving to do it all again tomorrow.

Saturday: THE CROWN JEWEL.

Saturday was, in my opinion, the best day of this year’s event. The sun was finally shining, everyone was immersed in the WTF?! culture, and the musical schedule was overwhelmingly stacked. Plus, we would finally find out who the mysterious surprise guest closing out the pool stage was!

Once we’d filled our stomachs with yummy breakfast burritos from Dee’s Dillas, we took a stroll through the sunlit forest and learned some new hug techniques at HugLife 2.0. If you’re already feeling worn out at this point, there’s nothing like a good hour of giggling while hugging complete strangers to get you in the mood for fun again. An hour or so later, I met Hotel Garuda for a quick interview about their new track just before they  brought their dazzling evening set to the Splash Stage. Look out for more information on Hotel Garuda coming from us soon. Then, as the duo entered their final stretch of time behind the booth, I spotted a figure in in the distance.

He was tall, talented, and just happened to be rocking the most stylin’ flamingo hat you’ve ever seen in your life. It was him. The bird boss himself. CLAUDE VONSTROKE was the surprise guest! This legendary man is a treasured and veteran artist for WTF?! , so the level of joy that overtook the Splash Stage when he got up there probably broke a world record of some kind. Personally, I cannot describe the amount of love I have for this guy and everything he’s accomplished, and I think I speak for everyone at the pool when I say that. After throwing down an incredible house set that day, the legendary record label head proceeded to unleash a mind blowing set incorporating hip hop, mind bending beats, and a variety of other sounds as Barclay Crenshaw later that night following Rezz at the Effin’ Stage.

After several hours of earth shaking bass, something from deep within my very soul lured me once more into the darkest corner of the Illuminated Forest. I could hear it from the second I set foot past the treeline. The steady thump of a bassline in the distance. I was so impatient to be in that crowd that I genuinely wanted to run all the way to the Dragon Stage, but I knew that I needed to conserve my energy for the following five hours. Then, I finally came upon it in all of its glory. A hypnotic display of crimson light washing over the sea of bouncing totems hailing none other than the Desert Hearts Crew. If you’ve never seen these guys in action I URGE you to do so, for there’s a reason they have such a dedicated following. Boasting an unforgettably infectious house rhythm, a thoroughly entertaining stage presence, and some of the most flamboyant wardrobes you’ve ever seen, Porkchop, Marbs, Lee Reynolds, and Mikey Lion put on one hell of a show while also having the time of their lives. Every performance just feels like a big eccentric party with these guys. We danced until the morning light and then got some much needed Tom Kha Gha at Get Fried Rice before racing to the campsite before the sun was fully up.

Sunday:

The final day is always the true test of festival endurance and willpower. We’re sleep deprived, sore, and usually pretty dirty by this point. At any other festival, you’d probably be looking forward to going home right now. But not here. Though it is true that Sunday morning is somewhat of a struggle, the beautiful people of WTF?! are the shining light of hope and inspiration we need to shake the feeling of exhaustion and rally for one last day of amazing memories. We fueled up for the home stretch with some delicious pork dumplings from Dump City Dumplings, hit the Splash Bar, and then dipped our toes in the pool to get back into the swing of things. Soon enough the Splash Stage was back in action, and this time in full force. Sand and splashing water flew everywhere as the stage overflowed with smiling people and colorful pool floaties. That afternoon, I had the pleasure of sipping down some generously free champagne with fellow press people and getting to know their stories. What an impressive group of creatives. Shout out to Betty and Kora, you guys rule and I had a blast chatting with you! After dancing the day away at the Splash Stage, Giraffage closed out the pool with a gorgeous performance well deserving of the finale spot. After shaking the sand from our shoes one final time, we headed back to the campsite to use up the last of our salvageable food and drink and get dressed for the night. We used the first portion of the night to chill out in the hookah lounge, sip on some well-crafted cocktails, and listen to the euphoric sounds of Cut Copy beyond the trees. Next upon our itinerary was one of my personal favorites, an hour and a half long set from Dirtybird powerhouse, Shiba San. Meanwhile, Pacific Patterns heated up the Groove Qube with a set so heavy it shook the trees. In the remaining hours of the night we took the time to appreciate the Illuminated Forest through and through. It is truly amazing how talented the artists showcasing their work at WTF?! are. Their imaginative and original works never cease to blow me away. We spent the early hours of the morning exploring, playing, running through the jelly, and searching for keys in the Dreamhouse quest. We love the vibrant pins we found and will use them to decorate our gear next year! In one last visit to the Dragon Stage, we laid on the hill and enjoyed the Funk Hunters do what they do best.  It’s always in this moment that I feel the saddest about leaving the following morning, but grateful that I was lucky enough to experience this extraordinary place. Then, just before it was time to go to sleep, we grooved in the Silent Disco and grabbed some soothing tea in the Shinto a Go-Go. After having one last look at every astounding detail of WTF?!, we drug our sore feet back to the campsite once more.

And there you have it. Another perfect weekend spent in my favorite place in the world. To the curators of WTF?! and everyone who works to make it what it is, I can never thank you enough. This is truly a one of a kind experience that holds a very special place in my heart. To my fellow festival friends, thank you for making WTF?! the most pleasant environment to share for a few days. I love you all and I cannot wait to be back next year!