For the first time ever, this year Freaky Deaky expanded to a full-blown three-day festival in the parking lot of Toyota Park. What started as a one-night affair that was recently hosted at Chicago venues such as the Congress Theater and the Aragon Ballroom, has now transformed into a fully interactive spooktacular experience, with 75+ artists, 3 stages, and plenty of genre options from which to choose from.
Location, Accessibility, Set-up
Freaky Deaky’s new home, Toyota Park, is technically not in Chicago but located around a 30 minute drive outside of the city in the neighboring suburb of Bridgeview. The drive was pretty comfortable and $15 parking fee not exorbitant considering most attendees car pooled to the grounds. Public transportation options included taking the CTA Orange “L” line to Midway Airport (25 mins trip from the Loop downtown) and a shuttle to the fest. Every person who took this latter option seemed to have been happy with their trip – the general consensus was that the trip was definitely worth it for the experience and line-up provided although I admit that the hassle of traveling up to one and half hours to and from a festival for three days in a row seemed somewhat off-putting.
Entry was pretty fast during the day although it did get busier in the early evening. VIP lines were fast however, and security seemed to do their job well while keeping attendees happy.
Admittedly, when Toyota Park was first announced as the new venue I didn’t know what to expect. Rather than hosting a stage inside the actual stadium as they do with Spring Awakening, festival promoters React Presents instead opted to keep the three stages within the large parking lot area outside. It worked extremely well, with no sound bleed between stages and a relatively short walk to everything within festival grounds. Bathrooms were plentiful and the entire set-up was decorated in true Halloween fashion.
In my opinion festival organizers did very well in adding to the experience by providing a carnival feel with rides and games for people to enjoy in between sets. Overall there is great room for expansion within the grounds and I am sure React will use it wisely as the festival expands to larger line-ups and crowd.
The only headache I experienced came from sound issues at the Crypt Stage on Sunday. Bass was turned too high and despite wearing DownBeats ear plugs, my ears were hurting to the point that I, along with others, had to leave halfway through Dubfire’s set to protect my hearing. I since noticed tweets and Instagram mentions by other festival attendees who experienced the same problem of overly loud crackling bass during that set.
Luckily Chicago has been experiencing good weather for this time of year which made for an enjoyable weekend despite the fact that it rained on Saturday. Sunday gifted festival attendees with blue skies and comfortable 70s weather to close out the festivities with. As each stage consisted of fairly open tents there was a small fear that it could become cold and wet but this did not seem to be a problem. Perhaps in future editions if expected conditions include cold and plenty of rain, heated tents could provide a solution to ensure the quality of experience isn’t damaged by weather.
Crowd & Atmosphere
As diverse as the line-up was, so was the crowd. Generally very respectful and looking to enjoy the festival grounds and artists featured, it was the mix you would expect from a festival with top billings in trance, techno, trap and EDM.
Overall atmosphere was great, helped by the good job done to decorate festival grounds for a proper freaky Halloween festival. This bodes very well for future editions as I expect things to get bigger and better in the years to come.
Day 1 – Friday
The first day provided plenty of diverse options with an entire Trance Arena dedicated to the genre with the likes of Simon Patterson and Orjan Nilsen setting the stage for Markus Schulz‘s closing set of the night. The Coldharbour boss rounded things off with powerful driven Trance that kept the pace set by those before him that day.
At other stages day highlights came from trap artists Borgeous and Grandtheft and a brilliant energetic set by Flying Lotus, with crowds divided for closing performances by 2 Chainz at The Big Top stage and Bassnectar at The Shrine. The latter was a big hit as always, with legions of bassheads going crazy throughout the entire set.
Day 2 – Saturday
The general musical direction of day two was similar to that of Friday. This time Beatport took over the Crypt Stage to host a diverse line-up of bass-heavy house music including the likes of Dirtybird’s Shiba San and Hannah Wants before a closing DJ performance by French EMB/techno producer GESAFFELSTEIN.
Elsewhere, Big Gigantic closed out The Big Top stage in true Big G fashion with a performance that had us screaming for more saxophone in dance music performances. Meantime Armin van Buuren took to The Shrine stage for his first Chicago festival performance in years with a set that was more EDM than Trance but still delivered to the packed crowd that chose to close out Saturday night with him.
Day 3 – Sunday
I started Day 3 early to catch the full line-up of local house favorites such as The Pool House collective, Dustin Sheridan and Gene Farris. The Crypt stage was pumping the entire day with phenomenal sets by Dirtybird’s Justin Martin, Joris Voorn and Pete Tong. Although I felt that Dubfire‘s set was uninspired and poor in execution, Enter. maestro Richie Hawtin closed out the stage and weekend with a brilliant live performance that blurred the lines between minimal and straight techno.
While it was hard to leave The Crypt throughout the last day, when I did I witnessed a great full live band set by The Emancipator ensemble at The Shrine stage and brilliant turntablism by the always-impressive A-Trak.
Music – 4.5 out of 5
Despite my niche music taste, I sincerely feel that Freaky Deaky provided the perfect balance of music genres for almost any dance music aficionado to enjoy. Personally, I enjoyed it more than other festival line-ups put together by React Presents this year. The only hiccup was the troubling sound issues on Day 3 at the Crypt stage that marred the experience a bit but overall music was great!
Experience – 4.5 out of 5
Almost perfect and honestly exceeded my expectations on all fronts. Layout was well-planned and made it easy for everyone to get to every corner of the grounds with speed. Decorations, performers and added carnival rides were a perfect addition that truly highlighted the Halloween spirit of the entire weekend. Most of the people I talked to traveled to Toyota Park by car as distance from and to downtown with public transportation seemed far too daunting to face three days in a row but that did not seem to lower attendance at all.
Value – 4.5 out of 5
As with most first-time festivals, presale 3 Day wristband prices were relatively well priced when juxtaposed against an eclectic line-up full of top-billing names across several genres. Last tier 3 Day GA prices, however, were $199 plus fees of around $40-50 which seemed a little too expensive considering the size of production and line-up of other festivals in the States. Single day prices of $99 plus fees were also slightly higher than expected and all of this with the festival charging $15 for parking on top of it.
Truthfully, however, the entire experience was great, welcoming Freaky Deaky as a mainstay Midwest festival that is bound to grow and stay for years to come.
Overall – 4.5 out of 5
I went to Freaky Deaky with no real expectations, willing to let the experience do the talking. And it talked loud and clear: Freaky Deaky has the potential of becoming the size of Spring Awakening in the next couple of years, cementing itself as the biggest Midwest dance music festival in the entire fall calendar.
On a personal level, I enjoyed it more than the other three React Presents festivals I attended over the year including mainstays such as SAMF and North Coast. The line-up played a huge role in that but something has to definitely be said about the great work put in by the entire React team to provide the perfect grounds and atmosphere of a true Halloween weekend.
I look forward to see where React takes this idea in 2016 with the hope of similar line-up formats that cater to different facets of dance music!