Summer is now full in full swing, but on June 14, many of us took to Soldier Field for a weekend of electronic music called Spring Awakening. A professional football stadium, the venue itself radiated an epic vibe as free spirits outfitted in bright colors adorned with flowers, glitter, and sequins streamed into the festival. “Da Main Stage” was housed on the north endzone and could be viewed from the seats and colonnades surrounding the field, which was about halfway full by Friday afternoon, already flowing and moving like an ocean current with people of many ages and styles breaking in their dancing shoes with big smiles.
There was a dance floor laid out in front of the stage extending out to cover about two-thirds of the field. This made it easy to dance, but also gave people the option to step back and relax in the grass if they wanted to. The other three stages wrapped around the outside of Soldier Field, with vendors serving up food, promoting their brands, or selling rage clothing and supplies.
The sun was shining and the weekend had officially begun as PANTyRAID impressed the crowd with their sexy downtempo bass. Zomboy threw down a hype electro dubstep hybrid set. As dusk approached, Dirty South provided a bouncy show characterized by his international house sound. Nero played Da Main Stage next. Up close, the sound was awesome and the light and laser setup had taken shape as the sky grew darker. The bass was heavy and danceable and there were a few gems, like their remix of Drake ft. Kanye West’s "Forever," but many of the songs were played out (crowd-pleasers, nonetheless). At the same time, R3hab was putting on a rowdy good time at the “Da Equinox Stage,” vibrating the ground with dirty dance beats.
The headliner each night played 9:30 to 11:00 with no overlapping sets. Friday was a Moby DJ set. This turned out to be a really great way to end the first day of the festival - he played much heavier and glitchier than I was anticipating as laser beams shot out across the crowd. He had fun takes on some of his well-known tracks and his vibrant enthusiasm was mirrored back by the audience. Every now and then he would burst up to the platform on which his equipment was set up, stretching his arms out and feeling the energy of the ecstatic crowd.
As the final show of the night came to a close, thousands of us streamed out in search of a cab to our next destination. Mine? The House of Blues for more PANTyRAID. I will denote some bias since I’m a fan of both Ooah and MartyParty, but they had the House of Blues, one of the best venues in Chicago, absolutely poppin off. Four beautiful go-go dancers in Daisy Duke cut-offs danced in front of them, bumping and grinding in a contagious way that made the whole venue move. They put on a unique show that was the perfect combination of ultra sexy and silly fun. For example, the girls on stage brought out about 20 giant inflatable dice and threw them all into the crowd. As the people on dancefloor kept them bouncing in the air, many of us watched down from the balcony as the dice rippled in pulsating waves over the top of their heads. There were six official after parties for Friday night alone. Chicago nightclubs were lively with other SAMF artists such as Moby, Dirty South, R3hab, and Robbie Riveria.
Beach plans were ruined for Saturday morning, as gray clouds filled the sky. Raindrops trickled down the window as I prepared for another music-filled day, sending out good vibes for sunshine. Apparently that is what everyone else did too, because when we ascended on Soldier Field early Saturday afternoon, the sun was shining and it had turned into a warm, beautiful day. Auto Body and Savoy provided some great afternoon tunes, warming everyone up. Gramatik played Da Equinox Stage and I was surrounded by people laughing, blowing bubbles, dancing, relaxing, some even lounging in the grass furiously first pumping to the crisp, crushing bass. A rowdy yet laid-back atmosphere. Many made their way back onto the field for Flosstradamus, passing through the tunnels that take you through the stadium to the field. Those tunnels were spots of high energy as everyone’s “Wooo!” and “Go Team!” shouts echoed off the concrete walls while everyone high-fived those going the opposite way. When your feet finally reach the grass - it’s game time. Flosstradamus showed the field a booty shaking good time with upbeat tempos, boisterous hip hop samples, and a grindy edge.
Switching things up, I ventured to see Green Velvet on “Da Drive Stage” (one of the smaller stages on the outside of the field). He put out some techno-housey dance beats infused with a little funk, while performers wearing pasties who looked like they were from outer space danced onstage. Electro dubstep duo Zeds Dead played next with heavy bass and impressive visuals. On another spectrum, Wolfgang Gartner was also playing at Da Main Stage, dishing out rapid, intense house beats.
All of a sudden, it was Nectar time. But first, fireworks began shooting off over the stage illuminating the stadium in shades of red, each one building the eagerness of the festivalgoers. Bassnectar taking the stage probably produced more enthusiasm from the crowd than any other artist of the weekend. As usual, his music and sound system combined to create deep ear-crushing, floor-shaking bass that works its way from the ground up your legs all the way out the top of your head. You couldn’t ignore the vibration produced by each track and the entire crowd went hard. Just when everyone thought it couldn’t get any better, the rain that had stayed away the entire day came, and it showered down furiously for the last 15 minutes or so of the set. Naturally, everyone began to cheer and dance even harder as the raindrops invigorated us and the lasers sliced through the downpour. A perfect ending to the second day of the festival.
The rain was surprisingly polite and faded away as everyone flooded out of the stadium in search of cabs. Not wanting to spend another hour of my life trying to get a taxi, which is inevitable with over 50,000 people leaving the same place at the same time, my group and I were thrilled to stumble across a school bus turned party bus providing shuttle rides to the House of Blues. This was not affiliated with Spring Awakening or the House of Blues, just a couple guys who bought a school bus, replaced the seats with couches, and proceeded to tour the country. Called “Bussnectar,” this bus was blasting some great tunes and was a fun and convenient way to get to our destination. One of the things I love most about festivals - you never know what you’re going to come across. We didn’t quite make it to the venue in time to get Zeds Dead tickets, so it was on to the next idea. My friends worked some magic and we got into the also sold out Nicky Romero after party at The Mid. Having missed his performance at Spring Awakening, it was nice to get to see him in a more intimate club environment. Bottle service abound and confetti showered down on this electro-house party filled with wild hippies and Chicagoans dressed to the nines - a unique but fun combination. Also doing official after parties that evening were Savoy & Auto Body, NERVO, and Topher Jones.
The final day of the festival was kicked off by standout artists and producers including LoBounce, Carnage, and Break Science. Sunday was the warmest day of the festival, reaching nearly 90 degrees, but was still comfortable. Krewella, Chicago natives and up-and-comers in the EDM industry, were introduced by Jimmy Butler, forward for the Chicago Bulls. The group connected with the people towards the front of Da Main Stage, but from further back it seemed a little lackluster. I found myself wishing there was more volume or emphasis on the music and less on the vocals and shouting out to the crowd. Minnesota was playing at the same time on Da Equinox Stage dishing out his provocative bass music filled with both gangster hip hop and wistful female vocals. His visuals were artsy and colorful and could be seen easily even though it was sunny. Young but accomplished Porter Robinson played Da Main Stage, followed by Excision, one of the standout shows of the day. Dirty grimy dubstep blasted our eardrums as the whole crowd went bonkers. Boys Noize and Tommy Trash also played sets at the same time. Calvin Harris rounded out the evening with the stadium appearing as full as it had all weekend overflowing into the stands and glowing in the face of the incredible light display. He united the crowd with songs like “Feel So Close,” “I Need Your Heart,” and “Sweet Nothing,” in addition to impressive renditions of Justice, Tommy Trash, and Knife Party tracks. Fireworks illuminated the sky once again in a perfect way to end such a great EDM festival. Even though everyone was exhausted from dancing all weekend, the energy was elevated as we all slowly flowed out of the venue. Calvin Harris, Excision, Minnesota, Boys Noize, and 12th Planet played official after parties.
My qualms regarding the festival were few and far between. My biggest one - beer! There were two choices - $8.50 tall cans of Miller Lite or Heineken/Heineken Lite. Where was the good beer? North Coast Music Festival has had Magic Hat on draft, while Lollapalooza has had Leinenkugels and Goose Island selections. The silver lining - there were employees walking through even the most crowded areas of the festival with tubs of beer so you at least never had to wait in a long line. Everything else - security, facilities, stage setups, vendors, attendees - was highly regarded
There were ravers, hippies, dubsteppers, youngsters, headies, sports fans wearing their favorite team’s jersey, moms and dads, people from many different circles, all congregating and celebrating. Soldier Field in Chicago was a great place to house such a festival and the diverse crowd was the overarching characteristic that made all the other aspects shine.