Location, Accessibility, and Set-Up
Over the previous 4 years, “Spring Awakening Music Festival” has been widely recognized as the premiere Midwest festival to kick off the beginning of summer in the heart of downtown Chicago. Usually taking place at the iconic Soldier Field, home and stadium of the Chicago Bears, this year’s 2016 edition proved to be a challenge for React Presents, the promoter giants behind the three-day festival. This summer the International soccer tournament known as Copa America decided to hold its Centennial year in the United States for the first time in history, with Soldier Field being used as one of the many stadiums to hold the event during dates which unfortunately coincided with Spring Awakenings’s usual schedule. Reportedly, React Presents had been looking at moving the festival as a response to increasing attendance and resultant capacity issues. Originally, it was announced that Jackson Park on the city’s South Side would be the new home of Spring Awakening, but React were forced to find a last-minute replacement due to permit issues with the City of Chicago.
Enter Addams/Medill Park, the new location for Spring Awakening Music Festival 2016 located right in the heart of Little Italy. Parking garages and street parking (although not free) were plentiful all across the neighborhood, with many festival goers opting to walk in and out of the festival to their respected parking spots. It made traffic much more scarce when compared to having all the parking gathered in one spot as was the case at Soldier Field and Toyota Park (Freaky Deaky), making entering and exiting the festival grounds a much faster experience. The location was also fairly centrally located and easily reachable via taxi or public transportation by either bus or the CTA “L” Pink and Blue lines.
Due to the venue changes, the festival layout was of primary concern to the thousands who were unsure of what they would find at the festival’s new home. It turns out that React Presents decided to use a similar set-up layout as seen during the inaugural Freaky Deaky back in October. Without a stadium available to house one epic Main Stage, this year’s Spring Awakening featured 2 equally massive Main Stages that sat firmly on opposite ends of the park. The set-up included two medium-sized tents that held the various Showcases of the weekend, and kept sound bleed to a minimum inside each of the individual tent spaces.
Unfortunately, sound bleed remained a problem once exiting the tents – as they were situated so close to one another, hanging out in the grass anywhere in between the two tents meant having to listen to music from both stages which was a little uncomfortable. There was also a Silent Disco set up in its own area for some intimate summer grooves. Personally, I was a big fan of this set up as it provided a decisively smoother transition going from stage to stage without ever feeling too crammed in one location. Every single stage felt a bit more intimate and enjoyable with the smaller sizes rather than the previous focus on one big mega-stage.
As anyone who lives in the city can attest to, dealing with Chicago’s weather is a true love/hate relationship. While some may think otherwise, my philosophy is that I’d rather be too hot than cold at a music festival, and this year’s Spring Awakening gave me just that. Attendees were welcomed with two days of beautiful sunny weather, with no rain or clouds to dampen the ongoing party. While some may have found discomfort with the high humidity and 95 degree weather, it still proved far better than rain or cold. Temperatures dropped approximately 20 degrees on the third day, but still remained comfortable enough even in the evening with a light sweater.
Crowd and Atmosphere
The last time I attended Spring Awakening was back in 2014. Since then the festival has changed from an all-ages model to 18+ and the difference is clearly noticeable. I found the maturity of the crowd to be leaps and bounds higher than in my experiences in the past. The age-restriction and more mature lineup bookings have both contributed to a decisively better crowd and all-around great atmosphere.
Towards the beginning of Friday, Borgore set the tone for the day with a heavy dubstep set that reminded me of his “gorestep” days. The rest of the day carried quality sets you would expect from artists such as Flux Pavilion and Dillon Francis, however it wasn’t until Jamie XX manned the decks that anyone truly took control of the stage. He truly stole Day 1 by playing tracks that included releases on his new album and work by Eric Prydz. Closing out the day was none other than deadmau5, who opted for a more relaxing progressive house set than his previous more intense set at Reaction NYE in Chicago.
The atmosphere was a bit lighter on Saturday, in no small part thanks to a lineup devoid of the hard-hitting bass that characterized the first day of the festival. Instead, it was the Trance Arena that ruled the day starting off with a great performance by Ben Nicky. His no-holds-barred Psytrance energized the crowd right from the get-go in what was arguable one of the best sets of the entire weekend. He was soon followed by John O’Callaghan, who picked up where Ben left off and held the Trance Arena in the palm of his hand with his very own flavor of Trance. Shortly after this, I made my way over to the Electronic Stage to catch Gesaffelstein, a DJ with a presence recognizable by all and one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend.Although strangely dubbed the “Dark Prince of Techno” the French producer delivered a fine set of electro, bass and industrial electronics. The night went on, as Nicole Moudaber took over the Dirtybird-curated Birdhouse stage and Cosmic Gate took reigns in the Trance Arena. I ended up closing the day with Zeds Dead and I was not disappointed. They ended the second day of Spring Awakening with a great selection of dubstep and rap-heavy tracks, along with throwbacks such as “White Satin” that went down really well with the Chicago faithful crowd.
Finally we arrived to Sunday, the last day of this year’s Spring Awakening and the day I was personally looking forward to the most. There were artists I was familiar with that I knew I absolutely had to catch so I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and catch artists I’ve either never listened to before or simply caught for the sake of diversity. Starting the day with 3LAU was a blessing in disguise. I say this knowing I was starting off with a disappointing performance that appeared to be a clearly pre-planned and heavy with lazy mixing. The rest of the day was to be much better musically from this point on. I stumbled upon Jai Wolf by pure chance, an act whose name I had heard of but I was completely unfamiliar with until that moment. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by when he took the stage early on with bass-centric tracks and smooth technical skills that were pleasing to hear after 3LAU’s phoned in performance.
Next up, it was the turn of Madeon. Performing with a live set I had never seen before, the French maestro took the stage and commanded everyone’s attention right from the start. The seamless works of art he created the instant a track began ate the crowd up and swallowed them whole as they were getting an experience unlike any other available throughout the weekend. Despite his visuals failing half-way through the set, Madeon took control of the stage in such a way that even seasoned artists could only dream of. I would recommend catching a Madeon live set to anyone, regardless of music preference.
Following up Madeon I made my way over to the All Gone Pete Tong stage, home of the best house music you would find all festival long. I caught Pete Tong’s set, where he once again proved his versatility, diversity and adaptability with a performance that perfectly fit the Spring Awakening crowd.
There is no doubt, however, that RL Grime played the best set of the entire weekend. Blurring the lines as an electronic music artist, the producer dropped tracks off of MLIP by Kanye West, his very own track “Kingpin” with Big Sean and his remix of “Love Sosa” by Chief Keef – clearly his set was the epitome of Chicago, and one quick glance back into the crowd was met by the same look on everyone’s faces: sheer awe. You can dislike trap, perhaps even dislike rap and hip-hop, but after the stunning performance he put on it was impossible to do anything but love RL Grime.
Music – 4.0 out of 5
React Presents have been doing a great job in building up lineups for Spring Awakening year after year. Keeping it diverse, adding specially-curated stages that cater to diverse music taste (House/Techno, Trance, Bass, etc) and featuring highly sought-after acts as headliners, Spring Awakening arguably remains as relevant as ever and one of the most anticipated weekends of the entire calendar year.
Experience – 4.2 out of 5
I felt that the short-notice location change really helped out the festival this year, it was intimate and cozy yet at the same time filled the experience and feeling of a major festival. The overall crowd and atmosphere was nothing short of electric, and the music diverse enough for even the most seasoned and experienced of festival goers.
Value – 3.8 out of 5
Last tier tickets for 3-Day Passes were close to $300, a high fee for a festival that left attendees waiting until a month out before announcing their new home. While not crazy expensive, had prices been closer to $200 – $250 after all fees are included, then the value would be very hard to pass up for the price.
Overall – 4.0 out of 5
Despite early signs of worry, Spring Awakening and the React Present team pulled off a successful move to a new new last-minute home. The festival remains React’s premiere festival for the year, but also the biggest EDM showcase of Chicago, Illinois and the entire Midwest. The diversity among genres brought to the festival over the years has improved greatly and shows that as time passes, the festival has been able to adapt and grow.
Review by: Adrian Andrade