I will be the first to admit that I was very skeptical after Spring Awakening moved away from Soldier Field, an iconic venue in Chicago with amazing cityscape views, last year. However as our writer found in 2016, the new location did not deter React from producing one of the biggest EDM festivals in the Midwest. I had skipped last year’s affair but was eager to check out what 2017 had in store. I had already seen that the lineup looked diverse across genres and the schedule looked deep with interesting acts throughout the day, but I was highly impressed with the production value that went into the experience to boot.
Location, Accessibility, and Layout
Addams/Meddil park looks to be the home of Spring Awakening for some time to come. Located on the southwest side of the city of Chicago, the park actually provides convenient access for a variety of transit options. Parking is available for pay in many of the neighborhoods around the area and at parking garages, while an Uber ride to or from downtown was averaging around $20 each way with surge pricing. One thing I always think important is the access to public transit as well, and here the park was accessible via three different El stops within a mile. Truly, if you were in Chicago, there was a reasonable way for you to get to this show. Entry was a bit stopped up come the heart of the weekend, but overall not bad.
The layout benefitted greatly from the extra space, and relative to the Soldier Field iteration getting between stages was a relative breeze with the stages well situated in different pockets of the park with the center area reserved for vending as well as quite a few carnival rides. I think the carnival ride theme can be a little played out at times these days, but with major rides such as a tilt-a-whirl that elevated what appeared to be 50 feet off the ground this was not your garden level kiddy ride carnival here!
My only critique on the setup was that beverages of both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety took some time to acquire. I found myself waiting 10 minutes or more for bar lines on average, but the line for water looked like it could have taken an hour at least.
The après piece that React always excels at due to their heavy nightlife resources is after parties. This year was no exception as each night boasted five or more across the city each night, with all genres getting some sort of opportunity for individual showcasing.
This weekend was a hot one in Chicago, with temperatures hitting the high 80s and low 90s during the day. I definitely sought some shelter in the shade during the day, but at night it felt perfect to be outside in the city.
Crowd and Atmosphere
Going to 18+ was a big upgrade for the Spring Awakening experience, and it’s a change I’m very glad they made over recent years. This is still a major EDM festival, so you’re still going to see all the staples that you’d expect there – glow sticks, hoopers, booty shorts, shirtless bros with camelbacks, and a lot of skin – but it felt like a crowd that could handle itself. Except for a few exceptions I didn’t see too many people completely out of control, and where I did the medical staff was quick to help in a preventative, non-punishing way.
As such, the atmosphere was exactly what you’d expect from that kind of crowd. Not to sound too cliché, but the vibes were good and everyone seemed to be having a good time while being respectful of their fellow music fans.
Due to work obligations I wasn’t able to get to the fest until a little after 6 pm, but headed straight over to see Louis the Child at the Equinox stage. I really enjoyed the upbeat style of his set, which showcased his sound of uplifting hip hop. Having been a little overdosed on Afrojack and Marshmello over recent years I opted to hit up Bingo Players at the branded stage, that day playing a Dancing Astronaut showcase, followed by Sander Van Doorn, who may have played my favorite set of the weekend.
I haven’t seen a traditional trance set go off like that at 140+ BPM for a full hour in quite some time, and it was a treat to see. I stuck around to see a bit of Benny Benassi, the venerable veteran who never disappoints, and finished the night with Armin Van Buuren, who ventured a bit between his “old school” Armin and “new” Armin sounds but ultimately impressed me more than in other recent sets of his that I’ve seen.
After our amazing experience listening to more of the underground at Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit, I had to check out Jody Wisternoff to get a bit of house into my life. After that I ventured back into the main stream with an upbeat set by Robin Shulz, but I just had to check out Zhu at the Equinox stage after being blown away by his set at Mamby in 2015 and he did not disappoint. Paul Oakenfold dropped a crazy psy trance set in the Electric Beach dome before his full set at the trance arena, and Armin Van Buuren threw down a legit ASOT set at the same stage as both artists gave the audience multiple sets and sound styles to hear over the weekend. Unfortunately Axwell^Ingrosso didn’t make the festival due to a passport theft at a previous show, but set times were increased for the main stage artists throughout the day. Closing the night was Diplo, the festival mainstay who I expected to play a banger set of trap-meets-dubstep on the most crowded night of the festival, but disappointed me a bit and bordered more on pop due to recent Justin Bieber collaborations than I would prefer from his earlier sound.
I kicked off Sunday Funday with What So Not over at the Equinox stage, who played a fun daytime set which included his hits “High You Are” and “Jaguar.” From there we stuck around for half of a Duke Dumont’s set that I can only describe as a very dancy deep house sound, which may sound contradictory but it most definitely felt right. I had to check out Jauz for a bit and liked how melodic his dubstep-meets-trap sound was on this day, whereas I’ve found he could be too far on the dub side of the spectrum for my tastes in the past. My favorite set of the day though had to be Die Antwoord. These crazy South Africans are as weird as ever, sporting bizarrely dressed dancers, NSFW screen animations, and more costume changes by Yolandi than I have in a week, and I loved every second of it. I caught a bit of Eats Everything into Gorgon City over at the Sunday School stage before closing the night with GRiZ. I really enjoyed this GRiZ set, which fell on the funkier side of his sound rather than the glitchier. As GRiZ rocked his sax throughout the set, he had Muzzy Bearr shredding on guitar, and it made for a great way to end the weekend.
Music – 4.6 out of 5
With a diverse lineup showcasing a variety of sounds, I thought the musical selections were on point throughout the weekend and I never felt like there were gaps where I was bored with the artists playing at that time. There was something for everyone throughout the weekend.
Experience – 4.5 out of 5
It was easy to get to and from, and all in all I had a great time during the festival. If taking it in as general admission I definitely would have not enjoyed the lines for water and drinks, but otherwise the experience was more enjoyable than I had recalled in previous Spring Awakenings.
Value – 4.0 out of 5
The price tag was definitely steep come later in the year, with single day tickets going for over $100 day of the festival. If you think you want to go to this festival I definitely suggest jumping on the early bird opportunities. But with that steeper price tag comes a well produced, diverse electronic festival, so the price tag is worth it.
Overall – 4.4 out of 5
This festival isn’t going anywhere, and will be around in a big ways for years to come. React has not been skimping on artists or production, and the final product definitely shows.