Rothbury Wrap Up

By most accounts, the inaugural Rothbury music festival July 3-6 was a great success, with an estimated 40,000 attending the Michigan camp-in that featured a mini-Phish reunion and sets from Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Snoop Dogg and Widespread Panic among the 70-some artists who took the stage.

But the success was tempered by two deaths during the festival and a South Dakota bank’s attempt to foreclose on the Double JJ Ranch, Waterpark & Golf Resort that was the site of the event.

Local officials await toxicology reports on the unidentified man and woman who died in unrelated incidents July 6. The woman reportedly attended the festival with a service animal and had an undisclosed medical condition.

Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, a village of 416 residents, was ordered July 16 to immediately turn over proceeds, including those for festival services, as part of a foreclosure proceeding on the property.

The funds in question are those paid directly to the resort for supplies, cabin rentals and other income but not including monies from ticket sales, merchandise or any other revenue collected by event partners Madison House and AEG Live.

Madison House’s Jeremy Stein told Pollstar that the dispute between the resort and its bankers does not affect the festival itself, nor will it throw a monkey wrench into announced plans to stage Rothbury again next year.

"We’re a third party to the whole thing," Stein said. "The timing unfortunately coincided with the festival, which got swept into the whole talk. It’s not that big a deal in the big picture but we wish everyone the best and hope for a good outcome."

Madison House’s Carrie Lombardi added that the foreclosure issue won’t affect plans for Rothbury ’09 whatsoever.

Music fans should be glad to hear that. For a first-year major festival, reviews were glowing. More than 90 percent of those attending camped at the site the entire four days, according to Stein, making Rothbury one of the few major U.S. fests besides Bonnaroo to offer full onsite camping.

Among the amenities offered to campers was use of a lake for swimming and the "Sherwood Forest" area between stages.

"The Sherwood Forest was kind of a little piece of festival utopia that has been in our vision for a long time," Lombardi said. "It was nice to see it manifested and to hear that so many people enjoyed it as much as we did.

"There was a huge light show in there, we had a secret stage where State Radio played and DJs played late night sets. There were hammocks for people to lie on in the shade, and it was a fun little space in the middle of the festival."

Rothbury organizers also made extensive use of "green" initiatives. Approximately 75 percent of refuse generated by the festival was either composted, recycled or otherwise re-used, and Lombardi said organizers expect to be even greener next year.

And in its first year, Rothbury appears to have broken at least one record – the Guinness World Record for the largest sculpture of canned food. More than 45,000 cans were collected in a food drive and assembled into a sculpture by architect John Brittingham and students of his graduate architecture program at Montana State University.

The canned food drive was the largest single collection in Conscious Alliance history at approximately 66,000 pounds, which will benefit Michigan food pantries.

And then there was the music.

The lineup included heavy doses of indie rock and electronic music from artists including Modest Mouse, Of Montreal, Thievery Corporation, STS9, Atmosphere and a Crystal Method DJ set among others.

But for most the highlight of the weekend was the unification of three-fourths of Phish in various incarnations. Frontman Trey Anastasio, who has kept a low profile in recent years, made a guest appearance during a set by bassist Mike Gordon and vice versa.

During Anastasio’s acoustic set, the pair introduced two new songs, whetting fans’ appetites for possible new Phish material.

The Phish frenzy peaked when drummer Jon Fishman joined his erstwhile bandmates during Gordon’s set for a rendition of The Beatles’ "She Said, She Said."