Talia Keys (Interview): Electric Forest Festival

by Good Sign on July 11, 2015


By Kevin Alan Lamb

“Get excited and enthusiastic about your own dream. This excitement is like a forest fire – you can smell it, taste it, and see it from a mile away.” ~ Denis Waitley

I ventured through a magical forest in Rothbury, fueled by the very caffeine, dreams, lyrics and love that insisted I smell, taste, and see a vision of a better world, transformed into reality. With my gaze fixated upon the smiling eyes, apparent hope, and collective belief that progress must be made – not prescribed, I was delivered to a fellow trailblazer and legion of the light, Talia Keys, and the woman she loves, Melahn Atkinson.

“I grew up loving Michael Jackson, Michael Franti, Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. All these people fought for something. All these people were outspoken. All these people said f* the system here’s how I’m gonna do it,” Keys said after painting the Electric Forest Observatory stage, with equal parts rock and righteousness.

Growing up in Salt Lake City, Keys refused to be confined within the narrow archetype of what it means to be a female.

“I wanted to be a little boy when I was growing up — I didn’t identify that I was male — but I wanted to play music, play baseball, and basketball, and I wanted to be a f”ing Boy Scout. I didn’t want to wear a skirt, I didn’t want to be forced to bake and sell cookies, come on women! I wanted to build shit, build fires, go camping! Boys get to do all the fun stuff.”


Camille Keys bought her daughter’s first drum set when she was nine, instilling in her a hunger for music with a message. Each time Keys takes the stage it is with the intention to serve a jarring dose of political theatre. She speaks her mind because she has something to say; she strikes a chord to help direct those lost and lingering toward the light; and she “believe’s in the good things coming.” ~ Nahko and Medicine for the People

“I cried at Nahko’s set; I cried at Xavier’s set (Xavier Rudd); and right then and there I said I’m going to write music that people can sing along to, and that people can feel, and I changed; my music changed. My new record is eight political songs out of 11: Fool’s Gold,” Keys said while reminiscing her first music festival, Arise, in Loveland, CO.

Even the most brilliant-shining-star will burn out and fade away. Our time here is limited: our conversations are limited: our opportunities to meaningfully impact the lives of those we are fortunate enough to call kin – are limited. Only you can make the choice of just who you will share your time with. How do you care to be remembered? What weight are you willing to bear to ensure goodness prevails? What length are you willing to travel to find your voice? What heights will you climb to be certain it is heard?


“You gotta reach these kids, now more than ever. Festivals have changed. I used to be able to only find weed at festivals and now there’s so many synthetic drugs and too many kids are taking them; and not educated about it, and not taking care of their body, and they don’t think; everybody’s trying to do me” Keys said.

Each year the Forest Family arrives with a greater sense of escapism than the last. Totems displaying “F* Real Life” reveal the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities in entertainment, or fantasy. Life is both precarious and precious; so I can’t help but wonder who and what perpetuates this need for our departure from a society into which we are born free?

“A lot of people are coming to these places to get woken up, they might not realize it, but they do.”


Sherwood Forest is a mystical place made sacred by open minds, hearts, and reciprocity. It offers a context and catalyst for attendees to be awakened to a greater sense of self, society, and purpose. It unshackles those too frequently defeated and defined by discouragement and doubt. For many it is the first time permission is given to chase dreams; the first time they are told they are beautiful; and the first time they believe it.

“God I cried when I found out Michael Jackson died, he’d probably be my number one (to collaborate with), or Bob, I love Bob Marley, I would cry… He’s definitely one of those prophets, and he’s not perfect, he was an asshole too but we’re all assholes, that’s the beauty of it. Admit it. My ego gets the best of me. But if you really tap into it, the universe will be like ‘nope, no you’re not going to do this anymore’. I think people are unhappy and they don’t know why.”

Please never forget that you too, deserve to be happy. Do not be fooled into the pursuit of another’s happiness. You are beautiful and you are free to discover yourself and your happiness in the world around you. It will not come easy and it will not be given to you. Tremendous potential resides within your DNA but happiness is not accompanied by a navigational map: your choices are the road; your relationships the destination; and the most significant relationship in your life is with yourself.

Before Keys could be open to loving others, she had to work on loving herself.

“I was sober, fresh sobriety, I needed it. I was doing things for the wrong reason. I needed to check in with myself before I wrecked myself, and I was able to finally be open with my sexuality.”


Drugs and alcohol are a few of the multitude of distractions we let stand in the way of personal evolution. If happiness is absent from your life, it is time to start asking the right questions: does the company you keep encourage and empower the person you want to be? Are your days spent pursuing your passion? Are you proud of the person you are becoming? It is time to face the music, and face yourself, it’s worth it.

With the love of her life in her corner, and by her side, Keys is on a mission to promote peace, love, and happiness for all of this earth’s inhabitants.

“We met at a speakeasy in Utah, it was a Monday night blues jam. She’s the first girlfriend I ever had. I’ve dated primarily men, and I’m attracted to human beings, I mean how could I not be? I think being sober, I was finally able to open up to wanting to be political, wanting to speak my mind more than I already did. I’ve always been outspoken, I’ve always been that little shit who didn’t know when to shut up, but now I have a stage, a soap box.”

It was a serendipitous scene for Keys’ second year at Electric Forest, with the US Supreme Court ruling that guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 US states.

“There’s massive changing happening right here right now, look what happened two days ago, marriage, not gay marriage, just marriage.”

Like each performer who makes him or herself vulnerable to fans on a nightly basis, Keys’ time in the sun is balanced with her passing through the valley and shadow of darkness. Struggle is one of the few things within which all humans find likeness. No matter your political, religious, or sexual orientation, struggle will test you when you’re least equipped to endure it.

“I hardly ever get respect until after I play. It’s a misogynistic world. But that didn’t happen today, not here. This was very awesome. Most venues, most bars, I get treated so poorly by sound men, by the bar, by whatever, and you meet really good people everywhere but I still face this, every time. Oh ‘you want a free beer’ now, why can’t you just give me that type of kindness before?”


Despite shortness of breath and angst that results from struggle and strife, it is our conditioning in the face of these realities that enables us to grow through the discovery that our limits are merely perceptions, and our perceptions are as volatile as the weather. Although we remember progress by milestones reached, it is the miles, minutes, and days endured between our projected destination, that will define our character and measure growth. Let us see our struggles as opportunities, to be more prepared the next time we meet them. Joe Badaracco identifies leadership as a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective in the world as it is. From our individual struggle emerges value that can be shared to help others navigate happiness. Only through struggle does growth occur. Great artists use their personal plight to empower others.

“If Michael Jackson didn’t write political music, if Michael Franti never wrote a political song, or Nahko didn’t get political, we would be f*’ed! Meeting my girl was one of those affirmations that I was on a good path. We were both sober almost a year after then, and found out how I can do it, how I can handle it, how I can take it.”

In summer 2013, 31-year-old Keys returned to the diabetes camp where she first found her voice. She revealed her self-loathing in high school, how she felt fat and ugly, and urged the importance of being yourself.

“But for me to find my voice took a little while because I was timid. My mom is a beautiful woman, she let’s my girl and I live with her because we have too many medical bills to live on our own and I want to play music, otherwise I’d have to work for the corporate man. I’ve been diabetic since the age of 10, so I need insulin to stay alive. I pay $800 a month to breathe, that’s why I live at home. I’m 31 living in my mom’s, upstairs, it’s beautiful.”


Hold close those who will stand by your side and help you pick up the pieces. Have no shame if you’re fortunate enough to have family who will help carry you through the storm; it is a blessing. Be good to others because you never quite know the weight of struggle upon their chest, or depth of wounds in their heart. Your helping hand, words of encouragement, or ability to listen is likely enough to save someone’s life.

“I played this bar where these people’s homes where eight feet under water; they lost everything, in this town called Arraby, LA., right by the 9th ward, and literally what they did, they opened the floodgates and flooded the poor parts of town, intentionally. They intentionally flooded the poor parts of town, and saved the French Quarter, saved the historic parts of town. Maybe if they hadn’t done that those homes would have only had four feet of water and they wouldn’t have lost everything. They were playing God based off skin color, and money, and it’s just disgusting. But I was really inspired in New Orleans: they still have their heart, they still have their soul. That bar I played was underwater and it was revitalized. I opened for the open mic and it was beautiful… I got to hear real New Orleans people play their music… I was really inspired. I really think we’ve got a lot of work to do… but it’s gonna happen.”

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