Editorials Reviews

The Rebellious Act Of Unapologetic Joy: Mamby on the Beach 2018

A full month has passed since Mamby on the Beach, and here I am just now writing about it. Given the delay, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I caught some acts I had seen before (Grizzly Bear, Duke Dumont, Gorgon City), and some I had not (Spoon, Common, Oh Wonder). Everyone played a good set and it was great hanging out on the beach with my friends, listening to people far more talented than I put on a show. Perhaps it’s because I enjoyed it all that I felt like I had nothing to say about it. So often, it feels like the Internet disallows space for simplicity, like there’s no reason or incentive for just saying, “I had a nice time.”

I’ve covered Mamby for Saint Audio several years now, and each iteration of the festival has been an improvement upon the last. 2018 was the first year Mamby on the Beach allowed festival-goers of all ages, and I noticed it in both the space and atmosphere this year. While I was happy to revisit mainstays of the festival like yoga and hair-braiding, I found joy in watching young people experiencing these special, intrinsic aspects of Mamby for the first time.

It seemed a little more crowded this year, but I think that might be down to my own perception too. I’ve gone from rail-riding and head-banging EDM fan to casual observer sipping a cider in the back, taking it all in. I think that’s what adulthood is, right? The further out from the crowd you get, the older you become, and vice versa. The energy of the festivalgoers still radiated enough to reach me at my “more mature” location, and it felt good to see other people around me having fun. It felt good to be around happy people.

Mamby is unique in its ability to strike a balance among the cool industry types, young music fans, festival attendees just along for the ride, and seasoned concertgoers. I’ve been all the above at Mamby on the Beach, and this year, I tried to capture all those roles into one weekend. Despite the big-name acts and the Mixmag tent, where I usually park myself, I found myself drawn to a small blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stage by the food trucks stationed near the entrance. The Community Center stage shone a light on talent from Chicago’s local scene, with showcases curated by Jamila Woods and Young Chicago Authors. On this stage, one surprise performance in particular left an indelible mark on my Mamby memory.

Wolfing down what was probably my third order of street fries from Pink Taco, my friend called me over to join him at the stage nearby. There, a woman named Krystal Metcalfe had just begun her set. The crowd was thin at first, with what appeared to be friends and family cheering her on. That was no issue for Ms. Metcalfe though. She and her band put on a performance that could’ve been a sold-out show at the United Center, channeling Prince and Chaka Khan and Janelle Monae and Lenny Kravitz and a whole slew of other icons that we all namedrop when we’re trying to elevate a phenomenal new talent. The energy was infectious, from Metcalfe’s skyscraper of a voice to her band’s funky soulfulness, and it pulled people over like a magnet. There were very few phones out during the set—Krystal looked you in the eye as she sang to you, and you couldn’t help but move your feet and stay engaged with the performance. What struck me most though, was the smiles I saw on everyone’s faces during Krystal Metcalfe’s show. Each person that walked over and watched for a while was grinning and clapping and dancing with each other. There was a haze of real, genuine happiness there.

All summer long, I haven’t stopped thinking about that set, and how I felt during it. The entire experience of Krystal Metcalfe’s performance was intimate and personal and remarkable. It was remarkable to delight in the gift that she was sharing with her music. It was remarkable to be unapologetically happy.

When I left Mamby on the Beach for the weekend, I was worried I couldn’t add something more to the conversation. I had no hot takes, no clickbait headlines, no petty gripes that would get people buzzing. With time though, I realized that perhaps the most interesting thing I could talk about was the simple, and rebellious, act of feeling pure joy. Joy was in Krystal Metcalfe’s voice, in the glee of teenagers dashing around the festival grounds, in the sunshine, and in me. Mamby on the Beach is a joyful festival, and it has been each year I’ve attended. Finding a few moments of active happiness in 2018 is hard, and finding it in for an entire weekend is borderline impossible. But at Mamby, I felt that. I had a good time.  And that, in and of itself, is important news to put out into the world.

I hope you can attend Mamby on the Beach next year to feel that warm glow of happiness for yourself. Make the time for it. Joy matters.

All photos by Mamby on the Beach.

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