Chicago, IL - On a warm and windy late summer weekend, Coasties gather for the 10th year of North Coast Music Festival. Same same, but different, this year’s festival was welcomed into a new venue, but with the same creative spirit.
After a walk through the city and into the park, and then a little more walking, patrons arrive at Huntington Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island. The new location is open and spacious, with room for everyone to move and dance to groovy jams pumped over the crowd. The ticketing process splits groups into a floor or lawn section. This process, although confusing to many excited ticket buyers prior to the maps introduced for the venue, allowed each of the sections of the festival to feel under capacity and roomy. There were rarely times during the weekend where traffic was encountered when getting through a crowd from one stage to another. Huntington Bank Pavilion is made for concerts, and it was clear.
The event was split into 4 stages with different options for music. The main stage at the Pavilion, was a permanent structure built into the venue. Around the main stage and floor ticketing section were food and drink vendors, air-conditioned bathroom trailers, and concrete to dance on. Even during the most popular headlining sets, the crowd was never too dense to walk through and secure a spot near the stage. This is where headlining acts Bassnectar and Major Lazor sent sweet melodies pumping through the crowd in the evening, and where many groups with full band set-up, like Gorgon City, played during the day.
The Hangar was the secondary stage, tucked into the back of the lawn section next to drink sponsor lounges, and fields of grass to relax in during the day. The Hangar was set up to be a semi-enclosed tent, and had DJ powerhouse names like Flux Pavilion and Jauz. Clearly created for the venue, the Hangar had some inconsistency with sound production. There were times throughout the event, during the daytime sets and headliners alike, that the sound power left fans feeling wanting. Taking a walk through the back of the Hangar during Flux Pavilion, for example, I could overhear groups having a conversation next to me, to the point where it was more clear than the music of the headlining act. Some artists seemed to have a little more oomf than others, but for future years of the event, a more consistent production rate would make this stage as strong as it’s lineup would suggest.
Not to separate itself from the always supportive attitude towards Chicago locals, North Coast this year featured The Good Bus, a rouge stage, right in the middle of the lawn. Almost half the artists on this stage got their start in the Chicago area, and were displaying their talents on the decks of a double-decker set up. Open air, and always jamming, this was the place to be in between sets on the main stages, or on the way from one stage to another.
The lineup at North Coast has historically been curated for diversity and variety. The artists are energetic and colorful, and it is easy to discover new music from artists unfamiliar before event weekend. This year, the big band feel took the main stage by storm and produced shows that hit right in the heart with the feels of summer. Big Wild, accompanied by local Chicago vocalist Ida Hawk provided a smooth transition from the daytime sets to the big names of Friday evening. Including multiple synths, drum machines, and live vocals, the sound here was larger than life. The strong woman singers belted out lyrics with strong and exciting voices to set the tone for the energy of this stage. Colorful in fashion, dance, and performance they gave big band funk feel to create a light hearted and easy listening groove to get the night and the party started right. To follow, Jai Wolf, originally from Bangladesh, showcased a set full of ambient spacey james providing seamless transitions from throwbacks to sing alongs, and heartfelt moments to banger remixes. In 2014, Jai Wolf gained popularity from a bootleg Skrillex track made into an official remix, and it is clear his understanding of the interweavings of music add to the production value and musicality of his live performances.
Saturday, not to be outdone, saw a packed day time performance by Kyle Walker. A DJ/producer all about house music and turtlenecks, the beats could be heard from all across the field, and smiles could be seen across the crowd. In a place like Chicago, house music is taken seriously, and Kyle Walker brought attitude to keep up with any major name. On the Pavilion stage, Gorgon City and their featured singer Chenai kept up the hit parade. A great set to twirl with your arms open and hug your neighbor, the vibe of the crowd was full of love and the welcoming connection from music that brings people together. To close, Major Lazer brought out a full color explosion of sound with dancers, costumes, and an inflatable face looming over the dance floor, encouraging party goers to keep the energy high.
After 10 years, the producers of North Coast clearly have a successful formula. So, what’s next for the event? With the change in venue, many previous attendees, myself included, were unsure about the potential success of the event for this year. But, after attending, the venue can clearly handle what North Coast has to offer, and the festival could easily make a home here. As Summer’s Last Stand stands down, and fall comes around the corner, hopefully Coasties from far and wide will be able to reunite next year. Same place, same time.
Written By: Laura Sowers