This is my confession: I had never been to a music festival before going to Sasquatch! this past Memorial Day weekend (not counting Summerfest, which I would classify as more of a convention of gleefully unsupervised high school kids getting drunk off two sips of stolen vodka than a music festival).
Maybe “music festival” isn’t the best phrase to describe Sasquatch! and its unreal rock/hip-hop/indie/EDM lineup, either. Let’s go with “auricular haven,” because the 25-hour drive to Squatch, with stops at several cities, roadside fruit stands, antique malls and state parks along the way, felt like a pilgrimage to a holy land.
Camping inside the grounds for six days felt like Coachella boot camp, in that everyone looked like they showered at least once every three days and put a few thoughts into what they were wearing, but with a lot more cows, a lot more Canadians and a lot less pretentiousness (I think those last two are related). It was like living in a cult formed on the basis of loving music, the Pacific Northwest and Straw-Ber-Ritas.
Speaking of cults: Lana Del Rey. The demure singer/seductress drew one of the largest and most aggressively obsessive crowds of the weekend. She sprinkled a few unexpected melodies into her set, like “Off to the Races” and a cover of “Chelsea Hotel,” and flower crown-bedecked fans sang along to them just as loudly as they did when del Rey crooned popular singles like “Summertime Sadness” and “West Coast.”
The punk-rock queens of Sleater-Kinney deserved just as much hype as Del Rey, if not more. However, a flash thunderstorm and a conflicting set time with Flume resulted in a smaller audience for the riot grrrls when they headlined the main stage on opening night. Not that Sleater-Kinney seemed to care, though, because they played as if they were in front of a sold-out stadium crowd. Bassist/singer/”Portlandia” creator and star Carrie Brownstein was a firecracker of high kicks and red lipstick as they cut through songs like “No Cities to Love,” “New Wave” and “Price Tag.” All hail.
Chromeo, an electro-funk duo whose set was basically a massive dance party that stretched to the top of the Gorge’s hill, had an energy rivaled by few, save for Golgol Bordello, a maniacal, leather-clad gypsy punk group from New York; Father John Misty, the “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man” whose lust-worthy set and beard had many troubled hearts beating; and St. Vincent, a commanding, otherworldly goddess of art/indie pop rock.
Other Squatch highlights included the Districts, a humble alt/indie rock band from Pennsylvania on the cusp of their big break; and Tame Impala’s ethereal psychedelic rock set just before sunset on the festival’s last day.
The only major disappointment? Surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar. After hearing “m.A.A.d city” four times in a row and only one song (“Alright”) from the stellar “To Pimp a Butterfly,” many-a-festivalgoer walked back to their tent longing for more.
You have a chance to redeem yourself, though, Kendrick—I’m already making plans for Sasquatch! 2016.
In June, over 80,000 music fans made the pilgrimage to Manchester, Tennessee for the 14th Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival. Affectionately known as The Farm by its patrons, Bonnaroo’s festival grounds are massive, and the sheer amount of music packed into four days is incredible. I probably spent about 15 hours each day attending shows and still felt like I’d barely scratched the surface of what The Farm had to offer.
The best thing about an enormous festival like Bonnaroo with no particular musical niche is that there truly was something for everybody. The lineup was like a cross-section of every conceivable style of music, each style represented with amazing talent.
Against Me! brought the energy of punk music to The Farm and put on one of my favorite shows of the weekend. And whether you want to call them punk or not, Twenty One Pilots put on an incredible show on Sunday, the hottest day of the festival. On the slower side of the rock spectrum, Belle & Sebastian blew me away, along with a beautiful set by Florence + The Machine.
This was also a great year for hip-hop and electronic music. Flume was my favorite DJ set by far, but Deadmau5 delivered a main-stage spectacle of a show that was a sight to behold, with Gramatik and ODESZA not far behind. Ambient electro-post-rock-band Tycho also delivered one of my favorite performances.
As far as hip-hop goes, Kendrick Lamar’s main stage headline set was incredible, and Atmosphere was great as always. Chance The Rapper, who led the SuperJam alongside Pretty Lights, did not have a set of his own but spent the weekend making appearances onstage during other artists’ shows.
Bonnaroo has spent fourteen years under its slogan, “radiate positivity.” Both the festival and its attendees seemed to live up to those words. The ubiquitous atmosphere of positivity is what made the weekend unique. Culminating with a Sunday night headline set by Billy Joel and a “Piano Man” sing-along with over 80,000 people, Bonnaroo was alive with a strong sense of community rooted in everyone’s love for music, and I can’t wait to go back.
What makes festivals so enticing for electronic dance music fans is the options one has in choosing what genre, environment and setting would best suit their needs: Electric Forest for the lumbersexual electronic fan and Ultra for the beachgoing raver.
Spring Awakening Music Festival, held in downtown Chicago in mid-June, provided the perfect backdrop for my first step into the EDM circuit. Having attended only three festivals before, and one EDM show, many of my fellow attendees were shocked that I was throwing myself into the festival life for my first EDM experience. I shrugged it off; I’ve had the most fun in life by throwing myself into something new, so this would be no different and a cake walk to undertake.
A cloudy, foggy Chicago day accompanied the first day of SAMF. While the rain held off until near the end of the night, the fog allowed for the shows with massive light performances to dance across the low clouds. Progressive house pioneer Eric Prydz rocked the Equinox Stage near sunset, drawing a massive crowd for the final set of the night. Borgore thumped his way through a decent set on the Main Stage, while headliner Zedd’s lightshow and impressive live set catapulted him near the top of the weekend’s best.
Once you got through the claustrophobic mass at the entry gates, it was clear that Saturday would be much busier than Friday. Instead of camping inside the floor of the Main Stage to wait for Saturday’s main headliner, Hardwell, or for the Equinox Stage for Diplo, I wandered around the grounds to get a better feel of the festival—the four stages were placed well enough apart that even ear-shattering bass from two separate stages wouldn’t overlap. I did end up seeing Diplo and most of Hardwell, two amazing, but very different, sets. Sidenote: I heard at least six different covers of Dillon Frances’ “Get Low,” and he wasn’t even performing that weekend. That’s great free promo for him.
The main focus of my Sunday experience was the sternum-vibrating set of Excision. His biography on the SAMF app described an experience where “bass will rain down from above,” so it seemed obvious that I should go. Excision didn’t disappoint, with a massive crowd constantly moving during the 45-minute set of heavy bass. I stopped by The Hanger’s “Beatport Stage,” and caught the end of MK and beginning of Jamie Jones’ sets. Unfortunately, neither could keep up my adrenaline after Excision.
The weekend was an interesting look into the culture of EDM. According to Michele D’Amaro, React Presents’ Public Relations Coordinator, approximately 120,000 attendees came through the festival over the three days. Watching this massive number of festivalgoers in various attire mingle and trade kandi with a secret handshake-hug combination was heartwarming. Most people interacting don’t know each other, and they’re immersing into the culture of the festival. Its a uniquely shared experience, one that lingers with you long after you’ve left Soldier Field.
Though I was unable to make it to any of the Marcus Amphitheater shows at this year’s Summerfest, the side stages had a lot to offer.
What impressed and surprised me the most this year was what local artists added to the big festival. WebsterX opened for Lupe Fiasco and the group held the attention of the eager crowd with their animated performance. Also notable was The Living Statues, a rock band who often plays in Madison. Other highlights included New Politics, Brett Eldredge, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Walk the Moon.
And as far as Paris Hilton is concerned, while not much talent was displayed, it was a dance party that seemed to bring enjoyment for those involved.
Summerfest had a lineup with a little something for everyone this year if you knew what to look for.