North Coast Music Festival 2011
September 2nd – 4th
Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)
I woke on September 2nd, my birthday, feeling like seven dollars. Some would say things got out of hand the night before. Wondering how anything could top the previous evening’s excellence, I gathered my mind and gear. The drive to Chicago was a breeze made easy by my traveling companion Kendal as we shared jokes and stories along the 3.5 hour drive from Lansing. Thoughts were filled with curiosity when we hit the Chicago city limits. This was to be the first non-camping music festival I’d attended, and wonder was abound regarding how the events would unfold. We arrived to Union Park around 7:30 PM, received our credentials with no hassle, and headed between the gates for the first night.
On our way into the festival grounds, I could hear Wolfgang Gartner cutting up Justice’s “DNVO”. Ahhhhh!!! Now that’s what I’m talking about!!! As tired as I should’ve felt from Thursday’s shenanigans, dragging ass simply wasn’t an option at this point. Kendal and I grooved our way towards Lotus who could also be heard in the near distance. My first impression of the festival layout was a lasting one. There were tons of vending booths, opportunities to buy beer, and positive amendments to the park overall, but as more and more people arrived each night, the venue became WAY too crowded for the amount of folks the promoters packed in. We weaved our way through the masses, eventually arriving for Lotus’s set.
Performing a number of newer tunes that’ve just been released on their latest self-titled album, Lotus brought the heat. It had been quite some time since I’d been wowed by anything they’d put out live, but I was definitely feeling what they were layin’ down. Previous complaints aside, Lotus was firing on all cylinders, reminding me of what I had fallen in love with years ago. Aided by a stunning light show which would become a theme of the weekend, the band busted big during numerous old-school jams as well, especially in “Great the Mind” which contained one of the best jams of the weekend.
After an hour of watching Lotus, we decided to walk the grounds to absorb Union Park. There was diversity present at the festival that made North Coast different than any I had attended previously. While I’m usually surrounded by hippies galore, it was obvious from the younger, more electronically energized crowd that I signed up for a different type of party this weekend. It builds confidence and character to put oneself in unfamiliar situations, and there was no reason not to walk in stride with the flow. People were living it up at a million miles a minute everywhere I looked, and as soon as I saw multiple LED hula-hoops along the initial journey, I felt right at home.
We eventually found ourselves at the Magic Hat Local Stage near the back of the park. Performing onstage was Bandit, a French DJ based out of London whose classical meets hip-hop meets dubstep style had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. The set was disjointed with many sudden stops and subsequent song starts, but no one seemed to care as arms flailed and bodies leaned and swayed to the mechanical beats. After a few songs, we headed back towards the meat of the festival for a double dip of the evening’s headliners, Wiz Khalifa and David Guetta.
Walking past David Guetta’s set was enough for me. What a joke. The North Coast Stage area overflowed with people and I for the life of me couldn’t figure out why. This guy is one of the biggest DJs in the world? How? Why? Perhaps it wasn’t for me to understand, but his music came across as the most stereotypical, same-beat-over-and-over-and-over-again house music I’d ever heard. Some music can go nowhere fast, but this set went nowhere to begin with. “Top-of-the-line” house music…? It’s no wonder why dubstep continues to take over in the States. So much for that attempt… time for some Wiz Khalifa.
Whatever music Kendal and I saw following David Guetta was guaranteed to be better, and Wiz Khalifa was indeed much more enjoyable. Rap isn’t a particular draw of mine, but Khalifa’s accompanying music was produced well and surprisingly more enjoyable than I expected. I now understand why he’s been all over the festival circuit this summer. After battling for space in the overcrowded photo pit (another theme of the weekend), we took in a few songs and eventually called it an evening. We had STS9 late night on our minds, and since the show had already sold-out, some legwork and negotiations were required. Friday at the festival was a short-lived experience, but in the back of our minds, we knew that Saturday was the day we’d been waiting for.
Kendal and I were fortunate enough to slip into The Congress Theater for a solid portion of STS9 early Saturday morning. From what we saw, STS9 tore the venue down. We got up and around after a much needed shuteye session to a beautiful view of downtown Chicago at her cousin’s apartment. The sun was shining during our travels back towards the festival grounds, but before hitting the festival for what was to be a marathon day of music, we enjoyed a round of Mimosas and Bloody Marys with lunch to start the afternoon properly. Sufficiently stuffed from the delicious meal, we entered Union Park to the sounds of Rubblebucket finishing their set with a powerful version of “Came Out of a Lady”. At this moment I thought to myself, “Yep, today’s gonna be a good one.”
Rubblebucket thanked their crowd while we approached the main stage (North Coast Stage) for some spicy Brit-funk from The New Mastersounds. Per usual, the band came out charging with some serious grooves as rain began to fall on the masses. Storms rolled through off-and-on until early evening, but from all indications from the day before, there was little to nothing that would slow the North Coast party down. For being one of the most talent groups in the entire lineup, The New Mastersounds had a relatively small crowd. Hmmm? It became apparent as the weekend progressed that most attendees favored DJ sets over live bands and some ubertalented acts wouldn’t get the attention they deserved. Oh well… more dancing room for the fans!
RJD2 with Break Science were next on the list with a 3:30 – 4:30 PM timeslot. Most acts were given an hour to perform. The promoters could’ve given some acts longer, but since the two main stages held no overlapping sets all weekend, an hour was more than sufficient for any concertgoer to see whoever they wanted with no difficult choices to be made. I had high hopes for the RJD2 / Break Science collaboration but the set was a huge disappointment. Not sure who’s at fault, but for some reason or another, RJD2’s sound was unpleasantly distorted and piercing to the ears. The obnoxious tones weren’t present during previous performances so the set became an unfortunate head scratcher.
Lettuce followed from 4:30 – 5:30 and was my most anticipated act of the weekend. The band unleashed off-the-charts energy throughout the entire set as they reached peaks that left me in temporary paralysis on more than one occasion. Straight fire I tell you! Considering the musical training and background behind the funk supergroup, I should have known they’d be so sick. As Berklee bros, how could they not be? Either way, the music floored leaving me speechless and in awe of how these guys could make such technical music seem so easy to perform. I ran into my friend Natasha during the set and she, Kendal, and I raged a dance party throughout its entirety. The funk was so intriguing that their hour flew by. Before I knew it, they were giving a shout out to Detroit’s J Dilla and ending with a heartfelt tribute to the Motor City’s legendary producer.
After Lettuce, we took a walk that eventually led us to Future Rock’s set at the second main stage (Groupon Stage). The Chicago-based electronic trio brought a live house sound that at times was repetitive, but more often than not, inspired me to dance my ass off. These guys were total hams onstage, always making sure the crowd was feeling what they were doing while keeping the mood hype by raising their arms in triumph. A little bit of stage presence goes a long way and Future Rock certainly has it and then some. With huge tones coupled with well-crafted material, I fall in love with this band more each time I see them.
There was some time to kill before STS9 took the main stage at 8:30 PM, so Kendal and I decided it was the perfect time to take a load off, relax, and take in the surroundings. By this point, the festival was getting close to capacity… at least I hoped so. Congratulations to North Coast for selling out its ticket supply, but from an attendee’s perspective, issues were created by having so many people there. Want to use the bathroom? Good luck. How about the free water-filling station? Not a chance. Thirsty for beer? Go ahead and wait in two long lines; the first for beverage tickets, the second for the drink. In its second year, the festival is no doubt still an infant in the game. One would hope, though, that profits made from this year’s success are reinvested into making the festival more comfortable for the average North Coast’r.
We sat through the grimy dubstep of Rusko which I thoroughly enjoyed and made a move towards the second main stage for Common. I approached the photo pit, took one look inside, and turned around. Where did all of these photo passes come from? There had to have been over 100 photogs in the pit, some shooting professionally and some with only camera phones. Unless I felt like attempting an epic photo pit crowd surf, there was no chance for action in front of the stage. Common is a hometown hero in Chicago and after learning that, it made more sense why so many had shown up to document this particular show. I found Kendal and we made our way back towards the edge of the crowd. As for the music, Common and his full live band performed masterfully. Hip-hop with a poignant yet positive message is one powerful tool and Common performed it with a sense of duty towards his fellow Chicagoans. He wasn’t the reason why I came to North Coast, but I’m thrilled that I got a chance to witness what appeared to be quite a historical event for many.
8:30 PM finally arrived. Tribe time. Having had the opportunity to see them own the night before in a late night setting, I carried an excitement for an STS9 show that I hadn’t felt in years. The band went onstage and absolutely crushed “EHM” which featured the best jam of the entire weekend! The rest of the set, unfortunately, was a relative letdown in comparison to their previous night’s efforts at The Congress Theater. STS9’s newer tunes aren’t nearly as strong as their older material but were played with conviction. Classic songs such as “Aimlessly”, “Moonsocket”, and the set closer “Arigato” came across as if the band was reaching but couldn’t quite reach hit the spots they were looking for during the jams. As a jam vet, I realize that’s how it goes… sometimes everything turns into magic and sometimes bands fall flat on their face. It’s a double-edged sword of a game and I’ll keep playing ‘til the day I die. We left after “Arigato” and slipped off into the Chicago night, ready for one last hurrah at the North Coast.
One Set: EHM, Inspire Strikes Back, Lo Swaga > Aimlessly, Interlude, Hidden Hand Hidden Fist, 20-12, Moonsocket, Scheme, When The Dust Settles, Arigato
Sunday was a day I’d like to forget, so I’ll try to make a long story short. After waking up and eating breakfast, we headed towards Union Park for the final day of festivities. I had left my car parked a few blocks from the festival, and when I returned to it, we shared a few kind words with a gentleman who was parking cars across the street. As I was gathering some equipment from my car, I heard a large smashing sound. I looked up to see my sunroof smashed by a large piece of concrete lodged in the glass. What!?!? The man who was parking cars came over and apologized, saying he was throwing rocks for some reason or another. This particular piece of concrete ricocheted off a light pole positioned near my car and wound up through my sunroof. After nearly an hour waiting for police, the situation was handled as I attempted to keep my cool throughout. Kendal and I then headed into the festival to catch a bit of afrobeat from The Budos Band. The music was excellent but my head wasn’t together by that point. I knew it was time to get back on the road towards Michigan, and after a few goodbyes, we made a far-too-intense trek back towards the Mitten.
All things considered, we had a fantastic time at North Coast. Thank you to everyone who helped put the festival together … from the volunteers, to the bands, to my fellow members in the media and especially the promoters… there’s no reason why this festival can’t grow into something even more incredible over the next few years. MusicMarauders will undoubtedly be back to end the summer in style next September! Thanks again!
Greg’s Photo Gallery