By Mary Sanford — Shoreline Media Editor
and Danny Hopkins — Contributing Writer
Somewhere last Friday there were 30,000 people who did not care that Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin had announced plans to resign from office.
That somewhere was the ROTHBURY music festival.
What they did know, was that they were starting day two of what is becoming one of the number one music festivals in the U.S. — at Double JJ Ranch and Resort in Rothbury, Mich. — and that they had three full days of music to enjoy.
Traffic management seemed to work and the backups were few and short as concert-goers made their way into the grounds Thursday, starting in the early, early morning hours. The process in reverse got the campers out of the grounds and on their way Monday morning with little incident.
Compared to last year’s first day, the mood in the main campground seemed tame July 2, although someone was getting a pulse check by the paramedics next to the portable bathrooms by early afternoon. The kids were moving fast, and the music hadn’t even started yet.
Increased security this year included pat-down searches and empty-your-bag scrutiny.
Brian Shields, who drove from Louisville, Ky., brought two kegs from his home state. He had a problem, though: He couldn’t find his tent, which is where his kegs were located. Shields came to Rothbury “because the weather at this festival is better than any other festival.” Bonnaroo (the Tennessee festival to which ROTHBURY is often compared) is too hot, he said. He also said he came here last year and had a “really good time.” His friend, who wouldn’t give his name, was a Rothbury rookie, like many, many others. The word has spread.
Newbies and old festival pros wandered the grounds. Unknowns to icons graced the four ROTHBURY stages over the four-day festival.
Festival-goers finally saw the sun Friday after many people huddled in their camping areas Thursday, drinking to stay warm, when it was cloudy with a constant threat of rain; windy, brisk.
Cool evenings all week invigorated crowds into enthusiastic late nights.
Sleep came early most nights — early morning that is — since the last music venues of the evening didn’t close down until 4 a.m., except the last night when things shut down a little earlier.
Umphrey’s McGee played the final notes of ROTHBURY 2009 at about 1 a.m. Monday to a packed Ranch arena.
This was a little unexpected by some, who theorized that a good portion of the gang would be gone early Sunday, not staying for Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan. Judging by the full Odeum, main concert area, and the crowd that stood (or sat in the dirt) for an hour to get the front positions for Dylan’s Oceana debut Sunday night, the younger crowd’s interest in an icon was underestimated. Or, maybe they were sticking around to see Umphrey’s additional ROTHBURY performance, which started at 10:30 when Dylan quit a half hour early.
As Umphrey’s was reluctantly finishing their set, the dark Oceana night was spiked with a sea of glow sticks, and semis from another stage were heading down county roads toward the freeway, with equipment packed away and bound for a greener venue; leaving Double JJ grounds to rejuvenate and the dust to settle.
Concert-goers were reluctantly wandering back to their campsites, wisely putting off the driving until Monday morning. They made the festival-over let down a little easier on themselves with impromptu stops in Sherwood Forest where groups gathered like lost refugees in the avant-garde woods.
There was nothing left on the multi-page schedule. No more music to guide their every move.
Some had to put off thinking about the transition back to their real world, others would move on to the next festival.
In general, there were more people, fewer problems, tighter security, and the same great vibe at ROTHBURY 2009, which establishes Oceana’s biggest event as more than a one hit wonder and leaves everyone wondering what’s up for 2010.