North Coast Music Festival, now in its eighth year since premiering in 2010, does unfortunately always mean that summer in Chicago is coming to an end. It does however usually deliver with a solid lineup at an affordable price, and this year was no exception.
Location, Accessibility, and Layout
Since its inception North Coast has called Union Park in the West Loop home, which is an accessible location for a variety of transit options. Cabs were still available outside of the festival, while the Green and Pink line drop off right at the park, so from a convenience factor North Coast always delivers. Cost wise it was also affordable, with single days going for $45 the week of and even more discount on a three day pass. The layout is a little small, with the two main stages centered on the open air north side and trading timeslots, and the secondary area with the Coast Stage to the south in a tree-covered area of the park. There was definitely some sound bleed between the stages and during the main sets in particular, but if you were close enough to the Coast Stage it wasn’t a problem. All in all, you could generally bounce between areas, vending, and bathrooms pretty easily, although lines at the bar were long all weekend.
For the most part North Coast lucked out with good weather for Labor Day weekend in Chicago. Friday was a little chilly, as was Saturday which also had a bit of rain in the late afternoon, but Sunday was gorgeous and there were only a couple hours of precipitation all weekend.
Crowd and Atmosphere
While I’ve really enjoyed the crowd at the other Chicago festivals this year, I wasn’t a big fan of North Coast’s, which I partially blame on the fact that this festival is all ages. Friday in particular felt unruly, perhaps brought on by the weekend’s strongest daily lineup, but the situation seemed to improve as the weekend wore on. Overall the atmosphere was pretty rowdy but without major incident.
Friday had by far the deepest lineup, and I even had some pleasant surprises relative to my expectations. I got in and pretty much stayed planted at the main stages, catching the second half of Autograf’s set to start off the night with their dreamy, live music blended electronic sound. Lettuce is always a band I love to see live, as they shredded their way through an hour long set of their funky jam music. Far exceeding my expectations, Lil Dicky proved to be a fun performance that showcased actual rap talent from a guy largely considered to be a comedy rapper. He had a great DJ who knew how to work the crowd, and his antics seemed as natural as can be considering he eventually stripped down to his underwear and, when called upon to actually rap, it seemed Lil Dicky had the skills to do so.
The headliners for the evening were who everyone definitely came to see: Deadmau5 b2b Eric Prydz. When it comes to Deadmau5 I always wonder which Mau5 I’m going to get to see that evening, but the set had a banger vibe more on the Pryda side of things and that was definitely what I was hoping to see. I closed out the night with a little bit of Gucci Mane who, despite a solid DJ and playing most of his hits, did not impress me as a live rapper at all. I love his work in the studio but he rapped maybe 20% of his words on stage.
Admittedly I got a slow start on Saturday, and only made it to the festival in time to catch STS9 at 7:45. This is one of my favorite live bands and they did not disappoint, but I would not call it my favorite Sound Tribe set either. I did enjoy Big Boi on the Coast Stage, Lucious Left Foot always puts on a good show including his and Outkast’s hits. I am personally not a fan of Carnage, so we ended our night chilling with a smoke filled crowd over at Damien Marley.
I was introduced to my first experience with Electric Guest early in the day, which I definitely enjoyed. They had just driven 20 hours direct from Boulder to play their upbeat electro pop, but even then they had such a happy-to-be-there attitude that you couldn’t help but have fun. Little did I know that up next would be the highlight of the day at just 5 o’clock – Chicago natives The Cool Kids, after dropping thirty minutes of their own hits, brought out fellow Chicago native Chance The Rapper for another thirty minutes of the Lollapalooza headliner’s hits including “No Problems” and “I’m the One.”
I was initially really excited about Hippie Sabotage, whose music always has a fun, chill vibe to it, but that expectation was farther from reality than I expected. The DJ played a solid set that was more hip-hop focused, but for whatever reason the attitude of the Saurer brother that was the designated hype man was far too aggressive. While they weren’t quite as bad as their reported incident from What the Festival in 2016, it was still rather unexpected.
Bob Moses played a great live set of minimalistic electronic rock that had power despite being low key. I will however say that “Grace” is a new staple on my playlist after that show. I was most excited for Primus, a bucket list band for me that opened with “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver” and closed with “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” so they clearly knew exactly what I wanted. We closed our festival with a bit of Tipper, who dropped a bassy set of grimy UK hip-hop.
Music – 4.5 out of 5
I am a huge fan of music diversity, and on that front North Coast is always doing things right. Electronic, rock, jam bands, hip-hop – you name it, there was genre representation all over.
Experience – 3.5 out of 5
I’m probably biased from a year of relatively respectful crowds at festivals like Movement, but I saw a lot more disrespect to fellow patrons happening around me than I cared to witness. I still had fun, but in general I felt like the crowd was hard to be around at times, and especially on Friday which was the most crowded.
Value – 4.7 out of 5
You won’t see a full three-day festival for this close to $100 these days, and for that reason North Coast should always be under consideration for anyone with an eye on value.
Overall – 4.2 out of 5
For the price this festival is almost always worth it, and each day had someone that I would have cost the same as a full day just on their own. North Coast is here to stay, and will always be a great option for Labor Day fun in Chicago and the entire Midwest region.