Spring Awakening Festival Shocks and Awes
The hype behind Chicago’s first all electronic dance music festival had been building all throughout the springtime. React Presents spearheaded the attempt in bringing music’s fastest growing genre to one of Chicago’s most historic monuments, Soldier Field. Skeptics questioned whether React Presents could pull off such a production without being overwhelmed by the major problems that C3 Presents, Madison House Productions, and Insomniac Events face every year. After a shaky start, React delivered in a big way.
I arrived on-site shortly before 11 am on day 1. Vendors were setting up and security/volunteers were going through the rundown while fans started seating themselves in the shade outside the south gate of Soldier Field. It was almost 90 degrees but that didn’t stop the furry boots and spirit hoods from coming out. It didn’t even stop the disconium onezies (my winner for best outfit). “Ragers” take a lot of flak for their choices in outfits, they’ve taken tie dye and completely morphed into a “gangsta/neon/fairy/hipster” combination that will forever be their own. I also think I saw the entire starting line up of the Chicago Bulls 98′ championship team dancing in the main stage area during Ferry Corsten, although they were much younger, and wearing bandanas and sunglasses.
I was told that React was being ripped for disorganization, uncleanliness, and poor security. I was on the grounds for 24 hours over the two day stretch and I have to completely disagree with two of the three. After a little bit of a shaky start with the ticket situations at the main gate, the management really pulled it together. They had it tough with fans approaching that had clearly been doing a little bit of “pre-gaming” before they arrived at the main gate. My hat goes off to Amy and the rest of her crew that dealt with the crowds for two straight days in that heat. Props. The organization got better as each hour passed. The cleanliness was also not an issue, the bathrooms were fine and the grounds were no dirtier than any other festival would be. The cleaning crews were visible as well, I saw volunteers and employees sweeping on several occasions. The security in terms of the gates was a little loose, but I believe it was due to a lack of communication at the beginning, and that also got better as the time passed. To all the volunteers, employees, and security on site I give a big thanks and good job, you all did well.
As a vendor I was only able to get out to the stages after about 6 pm each day, but that was more than enough for me. Several of the acts I wanted to see were after that time anyway. I started day 1 off at Morgan Page at Da Drive Stage. I couldn’t have started my day any better. He delivered what may have been the best performance of the festival second only to Skrillex. He played his crowd pleaser “Longest Road To Nowhere”, and a great remix De Barge’s “Rhythm of the Night.” The crowd was amazing and everyone was getting involved in the high energy set. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival for me, and that was just the beginning.
After Morgan Page we headed over the Ferry Corsten at Da Main Stage. The main stage area was massive. The inside of Soldier field was completely covered by tiles to keep the crowd from doing any damage to the grass. The stage itself was a massive structure towering over the crowd and spanning probably over 50 yards across (roughly the entire width of the football field). Lights and speakers were hanging off of various locations and the sprinkler system over the stands were even turned on to cool off a rowdy, heated crowd. Ferry Corsten’s set combined with the Benny Benassi was the perfect combination to set up for Skrillex’s set, which was a completely different experience. Although I didn’t make it out to Claude VonStroke I was told he put on a great set as well.
As the sun finished setting and darkness set in, a rain storm started to make its way over Soldier Field from the west. Eerie similarities to Deadmau5’s set from last year Lollapalooza, when it started pouring as soon as he began. Benny Benassi was shut down a half hour early so Skrillex’s elaborate stage could be set up. There was no doubt the crowd was ready to see the Grammy Award winning artist take over and show them why he is the genres biggest superstar. His sound manipulation is an uncanny, flawless mixture of hip-hop, dubstep, and raggae. To listen to him on the radio or at home against seeing him live is a completely different experience. He weaves together noise and sound to make a song structure that works. During the set right around the time that “Reptile” came on, the rainstorm started. It added an indescribable pixelization through the lazers, spotlights, and strobes that displayed mesmerizing colors and lights. About halfway though the set “mothership” took off into the sky, something Skrillex fans won’t soon forget I’m sure.
Sunday was a bit less crowded, most likely due to Father’s Day, but there were still a good amount of people who attended anyway. It seemed hotter on Sunday than the day before, although it was pretty much the same temperature. People were in good spirits and the wardrobe selections were just as loud as the day before. You had to be a seasoned festival vet to not be one of the many people passed out under a tree, laying down on one of the hills, or sleeping in a seat in the sections of Soldier Field. The heat was intense. The day started off the same as before, energetic crowds wandering the grounds in search for the perfect dancing area.
I started my night at Carl Cox, a house music legend from way back when. He’s been around over 20 years and still brings it hard. He started his set with Joe Brunning’s “Let Me See You Work” and kept the energy flowing throughout. Near the end of his set I ran over to see Diplo which was a huge party. Beastie Boys, Swedish House Mafia, Major Lazer, Kanye West & Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg, were just a few of the artists remixed while he had girls pulled up onto the stage to dance while he crowd surfed. Super fun set.
After Diplo finished he introduced Laidback Luke so the “Super, You, and Me” set could start. This is a set where he dresses and a super hero and asks the crowd to dress as well. It was a good set, I was expecting a bit more as he was hyped up by a lot of people, but it was overall solid. After about 45 minutes of his set we went to get a decent spot for Afrojack who is one of progressive house music’s biggest names. He delivered one of the loudest sets I’ve ever been to, playing all of his hits including “Take Over Control” which was transitioned from Tiesto’s “Can’t Stop Me.” Very high energy, very colorful, very fun.
Overall the festival was a huge success and it was nice to see all the different types of people EDM pulls in from all over the world. Over the past few years EDM has captivated the teen crowd because of the massive exposure it has been getting from the development of music sharing, music blogs, computer advancement, and new experimentation by brave artists that push the boundaries of sound. It is a genre that belongs to everyone, but is trying to be redefined by the youth. In the end, these types of events whether EDM oriented, jam band heavy, or a mixture of both, it is all about being with your friends and dancing away the reality of our everyday lives. It is an escape, just like any other festival.