What art cars are to Burning Man, totems are to Electric Forest, which took place June 23-26 in Rothbury, Michigan, and featured headliners like Bassnectar, Major Lazer, and The String Cheese Incident. Not only are totems an opportunity to show off your arts and crafts acumen, but they also help you navigate the sprawling festival grounds as a group, and bring yourself back down to earth when other factors, uh, do the opposite.
As has now become an annual tradition, we traversed some seriously trippy terrain in search of the most magical, memorable and downright ridiculous totems from throughout the weekend. Where years past saw a good deal of sexual and relatively subversive signs held overhead (dickbutts for days), it was nice to see some more lighthearted images this year that were merely meant to make you smile amidst mantras of positivity and inclusivity. Especially for an election year, there were surprisingly few politically-charged totems; it would seem most attendees were happy to abandon America's civic circus sideshow for a few days.
As music festivals serve as a place where we can create the culture and cultivate the vibes we most deeply desire, totems are the symbols and taglines that dot the sky and help set their tone. Here's what we caught.
1. Betty White
Owner: "Does Betty White need a story?"
2. Bill Clinton
Owner: "It's the perfect face. I'm here, I'm livin' it, I'm doin' it."
3. Butts, Butts Everywhere
The weekend wasn't totally without a couple references to rear ends, and we can certainly appreciate a bugged out Tina Belcher.
4. Mr. Cactus
Owner: "Well we're from Arizona so…"
5. Totem S. Thompson
Owner: "He lost his nose last night, somehow."
6. Forest Gump
The Forest is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to find.
7. Fuck Real Life
After adding fur to make his forest-favorite totem "cuddlier" last year, Trajan's improvement for 2016 was much more practical that past year's.
8. Heart Hands
This girl's sister wasn't able to make it to the festival this year so they used a sketch of her hands to make this totem as a way for her to still be there with them. Aw.
9. If You're Lost Go Dance With Them
A regular feature in the forest, totems like these inviting wandering spirits to join them are always a welcome and heartwarming sight.
10. The Name Giver
Our photographer, Katie, was given the name "I take good photos" while I was bestowed "I am Home." Interactive totems FTW.
Owner: "It's from a YouTube video called 'Pikachu on Acid.'"
Rick and Morty seemed to edge out last year's regular Adventure Time totems as the psychedelic cartoon du jour.
At this point we aren't ruling anything out.
14. Sun and Moon
Owners: "We went through hell for this. They made us take the pole off at the gate. My boyfriend got in an argument with security, then we found this pole in the forest."
The 2016 award for Most Magical goes to Blake and his unnamed unicorn. The intricate creation had fiber optics, motion-sensor LEDs, tabs of Justin Bieber acid on its tongue, and required multiple battery packs to operate. It was like a walking Circuit City built for a psychedelic hippie dream world.
16. Matt Vo
Mostly from Clarkston, Michigan, this group had lost a dear friend, Matt Vo, the weekend prior to Electric Forest. As we waited for all of them to arrive for the photo, they shared stories and told us about the kind of person he had been. "Matt was super genuine," a young man named Chad lovingly expressed. "He would give the shirt off his back to anyone. Friends went to him for guidance." A friend in the group had come up with the motto: "You can't spell love without Vo," and the love they felt for their lost friend was surely palpable.