Last weekend I had the outstanding opportunity to experience one of Chicago's premiere music gatherings, North Coast. Held in Union Park, a short distance from Downtown Chicago, the festival took place over three amazing days. With mind-blowing headliners and fantastic food, this was definitely a festival that everyone in the Great Lakes area should experience at least once!
The Location: Union Park is a very cool venue, capable of harboring 5 stages, each of which is labeled based on area codes of the Chicago area. The two main stages were 312 and 773, while the other stages were 630, 847 and 708. The two main stages are angled slightly toward each other, with 847 and 708 flanking the former two. The 630 stage was situated in it's own little corner and featured enough chilling area to harbor many of the flow enthusiasts that attended and wished to practice in the shade. Despite the rather large grounds, the sound pollution in between stages was very significant if you weren't somewhat close to the act you were seeing. On top of this, I found myself dealing with crowding that was comparable to Bonnaroo and that made navigating the crowd a bit frustrating at times. Despite this, I still had a great time wandering around.
Vending/Food Let me start by saying that the Windy City has always been a haven for foodies such as myself. And North Coast came through like none other! Upon entering the festival through the Odgen St entrance, I was immediately tempted with over 20+ food vendors including selections ranging from organic Italian ice to slow roasted baby back ribs that fell off the bone, and everything in between. Besides the food, I found an awesome presence of merchandise vendors that I love seeing at festivals. Of particular interest was the good vibes around the Jumbi Art Tent, where Jumbi himself was hanging out and talking about art and music to those who swung by.
Art Installations In the center of one of the primary walkways near the main stages, I was as excited as I always am to see the awesome art develop over the weekend. Below, check out a few pictures of the art in it's various stages of completion because words would never do them justice.
Music For this section, I am gonna separate each act by the day that they occurred. Below each section, I will include a picture of the act if there is one available, but obviously photographers can't be everywhere at once. I experienceed a LOT of music, so I'll include my top two sets and anything else worth mentioning.
1. Bassnectar – If you happen to be a bass head like myself, then you probably have already heard of the special treat that those in attendance were treated to during this magical set. Bassnectar, aka Lorin Ashton, caused the squealing of fans all over the venue when he dropped “Underwater”, which is a personal favorite of mine that I hadn't seen live until this show. Coupled with the ocean-themed visuals, this track and set found a special place in my heart. Much to my surprise as well, there was a “Purple Haze” teaser that transitioned into “Ready Or Not” by the Fugees that absolutely blew my mind. With tunes both new and old sprinkled throughout the set, Bassnectar‘s set was amazing with the exception of a seemingly lower than usual bass levels. Whether this was because of sound ordinances from the city of Chicago, or some mishap with sound engineering, I can only speculate.
2. Lettuce – Performing the set prior to Nectar on the same stage, these funky cats threw down some serious jams that more than amply warmed the crowd up. The brass segments of the performance, as provided by Eric Bloom on the trumpet had me going absolutely outta control. And with Adam Deitch on the drums and Eric Krasno on the guitar, this talent packed performance is never one to miss.I can confirm that the entirety of the crowd around myself was exceedingly busy getting the funk down and will be sure to check out Lettuce again. The ineffable energy and synergy with which this group performs makes them a must see at any show.
Honorable Mention: Chet Faker – While I had not seen or heard of Chet Faker until walking up to his set at North Coast, I quickly became a fan with his melodically hypnotizing remix of Blackstreet's “No Diggity”. On top of the soothing sounds produced through his computer, Chet Faker had an amazing voice that left me impressed, which is no easy feat. I would recommend checking him out by clicking the link above.
1. STS9 – Bringing amazing vibes and a fantastic light show courtesy of ROYGBIV, Sound Tribe Sector 9 absolutely destroyed quite a few faces. I must say that of all the sets of the weekend, this one probably had the best sound mixing. For example,the bass from Alanna Rocklin's groove was succinct and fresh, which is something I really appreciate in instrumental musical arrangements. I very specifically recall their excellent performance of “What Is Love” and was jumping in the air among some of my closest friends and complete strangers. The amazing performance was topped only by the 2 night performance at Red Rocks this past weekend. Nevertheless, it's more clear than ever that this jam supergroup has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.
2. Cashmere Cat – Cashmere Cat ran through his arsenal of deceptively sweet, R&B flavored beats for an overflowing crowd at the 630 stage on Saturday. If you aren't familiar with Cashmere Cat, he and his musical companions in the FoFoFadi family make a blend of club beats ripe with joyous, cartoony samples. The end result are tunes that could fit easily in the background of a kid’s TV show if they weren't so sexed up; think James Brown meets JPop at a strip club. Cat’s set floated around his Jersey Club sound, passing through a remix of Migo’s “Hannah Montana”, his sonically skyrocketing version of Miguel’s “Do You” and tracks from his latest EP, Wedding Bells. The crowd was easily one of the weekend’s most fun – we spent as much time in the air as we did on the ground.
HM: Talib Kweli – While I am typically not a big fan of live hip hop, Talib Kweli surprised me. His performance was very strong, with the lyrics being clear and understandable, while also having an immense confidence and style. On top of all this, he waxed his intelligence by talking to the crowd about the prison industrial complex, and giving some very astute words of wisdom in between his actual songs.
1. Zeds Dead – This dastardly duo absolutely slayed their stage, and never fail to bring a surprised smile or a laugh to those in attendance. One of the more memorable moments of the weekend belongs to their use of the “F*** her right in the pussy” as a drop that made myself and my friends laugh till our faces hurt. Their rendition of Dead Prez's “It's Bigger Than Hip Hop” absolutely blew my mind and brought the night to an entirely different level. Of the 10 times I've seen Zeds Dead, this was definitely in my top 3.
2. Wick-it The Instigator – Wick-it is outta the Dirty South, and his set forces me to put an emphasis on DIRTY. While most artists that play trap music at festivals tend to bore me a bit, Wick-it began his set with a sizzling electric guitar riff that had my tongue hanging out and my ears craving more. His unique brand of beats combined with ineffable wobbles and awesome pop culture references made his set phenomenal as always!
HM: Slightly Stoopid – Being from Florida, I was spoiled with relatively frequent stops from this rock/reggae group straight outta San Diego that also has influences from punk to folk. I was initially hesitant to stay at the stage while the band set up, but did not regret that decision once the music got started. If I had to choose any artist that would be perfect for a performance on an actual coast from the whole weekend, it would be Slightly Stoopid. Their brassy, bongo filled rendition of “Express Yourself” was exactly what my night needed to get to the next level. I would highly recommend seeing this act for a switch up next time you have the opportunity.
Bringing It All Together All in all, I considered North Coast to be a great success from the music perspective since the weather threatened to end the party early but never delivered. A big reason of why this festival was a success was the ability to walk to most everywhere needed downtown, including the House of Blues for an after party or two. That being said, festivals in the middle of cities can sometimes attract those who harbor ill-will toward concert goers, so make sure to always be aware of where you are. Despite having no problems myself, I heard one or two stories that made me think twice. Taking into account how much music there was in such a short amount of time, as well as all the amenities provided like gourmet food and drink, awesome vendors and great art, I do not hesitate to call North Coast one of my favorite ways to end the summer festival season.
Special Thanks I would like to extend a special thanks to Hanna Denecker and the team Bass Feeds The Soul for being gracious enough to contribute the Bassnectar and STS9 photos to this post. Also, additional credit to Ben Elkind for remaining photos and writing contribution