Best and Worst of Northern Nights 2018

The recipe is relatively simple. First, choose an iconic American symbol: the California Redwood. Next, build music stages in and around said redwoods. Then, invite 6,000 or so of your closest friends and give them space to camp under a canopy of stars. Finally, add a touch of legalized cannabis. Put it all together and you have Northern Nights 2018. Oh and did I mention there’s a river to float in?

While many festivals are closing their doors due to bloated infrastructures, uninspired lineups, and overpriced tickets, Northern Nights 2018 welcomed its largest crowd yet. Still a small festival by relative standards, NNMF maintains its charm by creating an intimate yet expansive experience among the treasured redwood giants.

Tucked away beside Highway 101 at the Humboldt/Mendocino County line, Northern Nights keeps a good balance between being easily accessible and intriguingly remote. There’s no cell service so screen zombies need not apply. This is a festival meant for people to unplug and connect with their fellow festival goer. All of this adds up to a pretty unique festival experience. Check out below what I found to be the Best and Worst of Northern Nights Music Festival 2018.

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BEST: The Attendees

How does one properly quantify the vibes that flow during a festival weekend? Undoubtedly, the experience will be highly subjective. While some may experience nothing but smiling faces and shared joints, others may catch awkward stares and second hand smoke. In the case of Northern Nights however, it’s difficult to imagine a more objectively friendly crowd.

Throughout the weekend, I was continually impressed by the interactions I had with strangers. Maybe it’s vast amount of weed being smoked, or the result of having a relaxing river to float in all day, but everywhere I turned people were in a good mood. There’s something about a friendly interaction that’s contagious and by the last day of the festival, it seemed like everyone had caught the bug.

Because the festival is not oversold, there’s no grappling for position at the front of the stages. Everyone has space to move and be themselves. As a result, attending Northern Nights feels less like a crowded festival and more like a camping trip with a few thousand of your best buds. Let’s hope organizers can continue to help the festival grow while maintaining such intimate, friendly vibes.

BEST: Mr. Carmack may have dropped his best set ever

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Carmack, it’s probably time to change that. The bay area DJ is poised to become a household name if he can keep performing like this. Trusted with closing the main stage on Saturday night, he took the opportunity and ran with it.

Mixing a wide range of musical styles and sounds, Carmack always kept the crowd on its toes. Best known in the trap community, he managed to float in and out of hip hop inspired electronic beats while maintaining an accessibly groovy aesthetic. One through line, though, was the heart thumping bass. The sound system at the main stage brought the thunder and Mr. Carmack was more than happy to test its limits. Songs like “Pay for What” and “Chargé” have never sounded better and Carmack’s energy and enthusiasm could be felt throughout the crowd.

Not shy about imbibing during his sets, Mr. Carmack closed his set by taking a swig from a bottle and yelling “Now let’s fucking party!”. Sounds like a plan.

WORST: Organizational problems

No festival is perfect, especially when it comes to making sure its attendees are properly informed and instructed at all times. Northern Nights is not the worst when it comes to organization, but there is some room for improvement. Upon arrival, I was directed to several different volunteers and asked if the one prior had scanned my car camping pass. After answering no, I was directed to another person who seemingly knew even less about the situation. Once I arrived at my designated campsite, I realized it was in a completely different place than where the map had indicated it should have been. Not a huge deal, but small hiccups can add up. I listened in as volunteers said they had been working without direction  for more than a day. There were also things involving our press situation, the details of which I won’t bore you with, but taken in conjunction with the other complications led me to believe I was picking up on a trend. I’d be willing to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt, especially considering how friendly everyone was and how difficult communication can be without cell service. Let’s call it a work in progress and hope for improvement as this festival continues to grow.

BEST: The Scenery

Aren’t trees the best? Maybe I’m just a sucker for nature, but the shade and serenity provided by the giant redwoods at Cook’s Valley Campground had me continually smiling. Northern Nights plays to its strengths and has made its trees a centerpiece of the experience. Filled with happy campers, art, its own stage and trippy lights, the Grove was undoubtedly the place to be  all weekend. I can see why people fork out over $200 for a reserved spot under the trees, there’s just something magical about being in there.

Additionally, I’m starting to feel as if having a body of water should be a requirement for camping festivals. There’s something about the vibe that floating on a river creates. People are happier, cleaner, and cooler. If you want to find the party, follow the people carrying the giant inflatable unicorns and ducks with sunglasses. Once I got to the River Stage, I could see why Northern Nights puts it near the top of the list of reasons to attend. The music ranged from house to techno to more bass heavy trap and dubstep. It didn’t matter what the genre was, people were always having a good time.  The plan was simple: jump on your floaty and let the beats take over.

All in all, it’s hard to imagine too much more Northern Nights could have done right. Organizational hiccups aside, this is a festival that is really starting to hit its stride. The location is near perfect, the attendees are the friendliest people on earth, and the lineup has something for everyone. As long as the organizers continue to understand the need for a restrained approach to capacity, I can see Northern Nights being the pro-festival goer’s festival. Check it out next year and see if you agree!

Words and photos by Ross Allen

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