Josh: For several years, the surprisingly simple equation of ‘beach + music = quality festival’ has proven to be anything but in Chicago. After the gradual decline of WaveFront and a variety of off-shoots that never came to full fruition, we’re happy to report that React has mostly solved it with some relatively simple math.
With day one house vibes brought in full force by Farley Jackmaster Funk and Felix Da Housecat leading a Chicago-tinged dance tent and the likes of Classixx, Cashmere Cat, Cherub, Royksopp, and Empire Of The Sun all offering solid entries on the main stage, Mamby On The Beach quickly established itself as a festival that put the musical experience first and above all other distractions.
Caroline: I found myself observing that the scheduling of the band and DJ sets were interspersed well throughout the duration of Mamby. The first day of the fest included some very memorable performances by Goldroom, Robert Delong, Classixx, and Cashmere Cat. To cap off the day, Empire of the Sun and Zhu threw down to an excited crowd. I was personally impressed with both Goldroom and Robert Delong, as they both gave very entertaining performances and were happy to meet fans after their sets.
Josh: With just enough decoration to take you out of the city setting as you entered the festival, React did a great job of setting ambience into a perfect motion to work with the music it accompanied, without going overboard. It was no hyper-immersive Electric Forest-level work — but it was enough to make you forget you took the red line to a school bus on the south side of Chicago. The first impressions of the festival held up to the experience throughout, which is to say that it was well designed and conceived, but not ornate to a point of full-on awe.
Caroline: Unlike some other festivals, Mamby had many attractions within it that created an open, creative, friendly, and fun vibe throughout. When entering, Mamby’s guests were greeted with many artistic structures and decorations leading the path to the stages. There were also attractions such as face and body paint by Leekovision, henna in the “Bohenna Village,” and Yoga on the Grass.
The stages on the beach were interspersed with attractions as well; these included a mechanical shark, beach umbrellas, beach volleyball, and of course, the scenic view of both the water and skyline. The only complaint about the layout of this festival was that the stages were not very far apart, and therefore did not have good acoustics to separate the music coming from each stage. This was especially apparent when on the beach- when in between stages, all of the noise was mixed and somewhat disorienting.
Highlights from Sunday included Louis the Child, whose aesthetically pleasing visuals and high-energy set kept the crowd enthusiastically dancing, and Tei-Shi, a singer-songwriter who gave a beautiful performance at the main stage. I felt that Route 94’s set at the Tent was repetitive and certain songs played for too long, which let the energy in the audience fade during these lulls. Nashville duo Cherub performed at the mainstage during Route 94’s set, where the electro-rock group played some of their fan favorites along with some unique musical interludes between songs that amped up the energy of the crowd. Finally, Passion Pit ended the festival with an intense, exuberant performance.
Josh: Day two held the vibes steady as three of the female-led acts (Tei-Shi, J. Phlip, and Phantogram) on the male-dominated lineup provided the most memorable sets of the festival. Soundcloud break-out star Tei-Shi seemed to relish what must have been one of her first crowds of such immense size, while J. Phlip threw down a set full of exclusive tech house belters that kept the heads locked in the whole time. Phantogram frontwoman Sarah Barthel teamed up with a fill-in drummer and guitarist for a set that ended up stealing the show of the entire festival, in my eyes — thrashing wildly and hitting every high note as they played an emotional sunset selection of their very best, closing with melancholy jams “When I’m Small” and “Celebrating Nothing.”
Other highlights included Moon Boots’ undeniably groovy set, James Murphy playing exclusively vinyl, and a super-secret Cherub afterparty on a private yacht (the magic of React festivals is that opportunities like this are everywhere if you keep looking). Downsides included lackluster selection of vendors (forget eating anything not fried or frozen), surprisingly tame festival closing sets from Passion Pit and Art Department, and bleed-heavy sound arrangement that left anyone in between stages hearing all of them at once.
All that said, I haven’t had a complaint list that short from any festival in the last two years, which really says something. For the first time in a few years, someone threw a great music festival on a beach in Chicago — here’s hoping React can keep the streak alive.
Photos by: Caroline Sharples