Festival Report: Spring Awakening Music Festival 2019

Spring Awakening Music Festival, Chicago’s largest EDM festival of the summer, relocated to Hoffman Estates this year. The location is deep in suburban Chicago—it took me an hour to drive there without traffic, and nearly double with it. Public transit options, while available, were similar in travel time, but one could avoid parking at the festival—an idea that in retrospect seems very wise. Parking was, to put it simply, an exercise in frustration. Once the actual parking lots were found, the lack of signage for where to pull in or what lots still had spots available made the experience a tedious one. Then came the walk.

Shuttles were available to and from the parking lots to the festival, but wait times were long and many fans chose to hoof it to the entrance of Spring Awakening Music Festival. At night, this became very unsafe. Festivalgoers, including myself, walked over a mile back to the parking lots on an unlit path with no signage to indicate how far away the lots were, or where their entrances may be.

GTA’s secret set in the Corona Electric Beach dome on Sunday.

On the last night of the festival during my walk back to my car, a man in a yellow security vest came towards me. Thinking he was part of security staff helping to direct eventgoers to their car, I thought nothing of it when he began to talk to me. But then he made a pass at me and asked for my number, following me for a few steps as he continued to ask if I was alone and walking back to my car. It became evidently clear he was waiting for unaccompanied women to cross his path—he was located in an area with a cement wall behind him, and complete tree cover so that drivers on the road would not be able to see him. I was deeply unsettled by this and began to walk back towards the festival to see if I could find a large group of people (with men in the group) to walk back to my car with. Thankfully, I reached my car safely, but it worried me that others may not have been as lucky.

Traffic from cars and pedestrians was also an issue while exiting Spring Awakening Music Festival. On Sunday, multiple groups of festivalgoers were directing traffic as volunteers, as there was no staff to help people exit the festival. Many near-miss accidents were observed as cars tried to exit parking garages and pedestrians walked in front of them in an endless flow of foot traffic, and unclear signage made it so driving became more hazardous than needed.

Illenium’s headlining set on Friday.

Inside the festival, the logistics were not much better. Sound bleed between the two main stages was a noticeable problem, as were hazards to the flow of foot traffic—uneven, dark paths in a large section of the VIP area caused several falls, and large piles of dirt and mud in open corners of the festival were not blocked off by anything. A mix of surfaces on the festivals’ grounds also created some tripping hazards. Asphalt in the main section of the festival (where the two side stages were located) then turned into dirt at one of the main stages, creating a thick cloud of dust that was not helped by high winds during the weekend. At the largest stage, the ground was lined with wood chips, which seemed safe enough from what I observed. Some of these choices were made due to flooding of the grounds from weeks of rain. On Friday, set times were delayed as the organizers worked to reinforce the grounds at the Solstice main stage, resulting in this stage being closed for a large part of the day.

It seemed odd that the festival felt so disjointed in its terrain, as well as its layout. The flow of Spring Awakening Music Festival felt more like what one might expect at Warped Tour—lots of attention and investment was made towards the picturesque main stages, but the tented side stages felt like an afterthought among brand installations, carnival games, two carousels, and food stalls, all nested in what essentially felt like a massive parking lot. Each day I went, I found that most GA bars ran out of Monaco (a canned mixed drink brand that sponsored Spring Awakening Music Festival) well before the headliners played. Lines at the bars were long and disorganized, with many people reaching the front only to learn that the bar had run out of half their advertised stock.

Benny Benassi snaps a photo with fans.

The performers at the festival were varied and all put on exciting sets with eye-popping visuals. I enjoyed watching sets on the smaller stages, especially in the air-conditioned reprieve of the Corona Electric Beach dome. Highlights included a tech-house set from Shiba San that could’ve easily been played in a dark Berlin nightclub, a nostalgic performance from Benny Benassi, Chris Lake’s high energy set on Sunday, and a two-hour secret set from GTA at the Corona Electric Beach dome. I really appreciated the stage design of the main stages, which lent themselves well to some incredible visual work. EDC-style pyrotechnics and fireworks added to the excitement, making Spring Awakening Music Festival feel more like a large-scale fest on par with bigger east and west coast competitors. However, when juxtaposed against the smaller tented stages, the festival seemed like it was suffering from some growing pains. It’s getting closer to being more of an EDC or Ultra Music Festival experience, but it’s not quite there yet.

Chris Lake deep in the mix.

While I certainly enjoyed my time at Spring Awakening Music Festival and was impressed by the amount of high-ranking talent on the lineup, the overall experience was disappointing. This is largely due to the amount of logistical problems I encountered—while I had fun inside the festival, the actual process of getting to and from the event was so bad that it soured my outlook on the weekend. In terms of organization, this year’s Spring Awakening Music Festival was plagued by several logistical missteps, resulting in an experience that was muddied by unnecessarily difficult travel and what felt like an underwhelming amount of detail paid to other sections of the festival outside of the main stages.

Thankfully, all these issues are fixable, and my hope is that next year’s Spring Awakening Music Festival is able to marry their incredible lineup with a more streamlined and matured festival experience.

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