How do you cover an event like North Coast Music Festival?
That's the question that we asked ourselves as we collected our thoughts and sorted through the hundreds of Zach Stone photos that captured every part of the grounds, some sweet crowd shots and a great majority of the on-stage action.
Let me assure you... it takes some time. Maybe not as much time as we gave ourselves in this recap, but once it became clear that this wouldn't be timely, we wanted to be sure it was comprehensive.
So we're publishing our coverage as a sort of "Halfway to North Coast" celebration. North Coast proudly boasts that it is "Summer's Last Stand", and its Labor Day weekend timing certainly positions it as a last gasp of summertime that may linger through the fall and cold winter.
Now we're approaching the other side. As days grow longer and the thaw begins, let's revisit a place where All Are Welcome to see why many are already snapping up early bird tickets for an event that's still another six months away.
First, let's jump into the festival's identity. Amidst a festival landscape that primarily offers either pastoral camping atmosphere or urban mega-festival, North Coast has carved its own path. It embraces its urban location, celebrating the energy and diversity of Chicago in its bookings and its art, and most importantly, it's attendees.
Mixing hip-hop, EDM, jambands, rock, reggae and the simply unclassifiable means there is no typical Coastie, but a youth-oriented sense of anything goes seems to bond them together.
So just is there is no single right way to Coast, we're gonna jump around a bit in the recap, and hopefully, touch enough bases to give you a feel for what it's all about.
But I have to start with my favorite act. As unlikely as a Grateful Dead cover band might seem at this event, this particular band -- Joe Russo's Almost Dead -- is exactly what the fest is all about.
Most of my readers will surely have heard of them, though I might not say the same about the fest-goers. With an early evening slot on Saturday and only an hour to do the thing that the hardcore fans would like 3+ hours of, they had to make the best of it.
This is what the stage looked like when the set began.
But as the sun set and the quintet dashed into one improvisational passage after another, the skies opened up unexpectedly. Now the Chicago crowd had been waiting two years since the last JRAD show, so the rain just intensified our interest and the band responded accordingly, seemingly jamming harder as the rain pelted down.
Check out the second video below for the real fireworks.
Sunday was drier, but the jam fans still showed up for a band that has seemed to be adopted by that scene's weirder side, and yet fits right in with the North Coast feel.
While many bands stray away from inaccessible or provocative material when headlining festivals, Ween are, and always will be, an exception.
Though their set during the final night of North Coast Music Festival may not have been as brown as their recent St. Patrick’s Day Aragon shows, it offered more than enough surprises and deep cuts to satisfy fans.
While an opening sequence of “Exactly Where I’m At,” “Flutes of Chi” and “Take Me Away” may have been a safe starting point, the band quickly hit “The Stallion, Part 1,” initiating a run of classic weird Ween tracks.
The energetic “Gabrielle” was followed by the gritty God Ween Satan b-side “Seconds,” “Big Jilm,” and the shredding rarity “Final Alarm.”
If a run of deep cuts like that isn’t enough, then wait two songs until the Boognish called Les Claypool to stage for an extra weird take on “The Mollusk.”
Later, the band busted out “Sweet Texas Fire,” a song initially only released as the b-side to the “Piss Up A Rope” single.
The 19-song main set ended with more accessible fan favorites, including “Mutilated Lips,” “Roses Are Free,” “Your Party” and “Transdermal Celebration,” but the band wouldn’t disappoint in the encore.
After a short break, Ween returned with “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony,” a celebrated number for fans of any caliber, and ended with a bombastic “You Fucked Up,” giving North Coast the brownest possible closing notes.
One could make a whole itinerary out of the strange rock stuff before even dipping into other genres.
On Sunday, Primus, of course, allowed the distinctive bass stylings of Les Claypool to wash over the assembled.
Saturday saw up-and-comers Spafford try out the act that's been burning up the nightclubs, on a big stage with huge sound.
And yes, it translates very well.
While occupying the stage in between Spafford and JRAD, the most unexpected and delightful surprise of the festival held court: Tank & The Bangas.
North Coast through and through, this band combines rap, soul, weirdo jazz into a bright and colorful anything goes show with just about the most appealing front woman I've ever seen.
I learned later that she leant some vocals to Mickey Hart's latest album, so there's an element of ties-everything-together their, too.
The absolutely perfect "caught-em-at-a-festival-and-blew-my-mind" set.
This is probably a headline in other publications, but certainly worth mentioning in this piece. Hometown guy Chance The Rapper had a sit in with The Cool Kids.
Lettuce typically works their magic in clubs (and increasingly theaters), but they had some heavy funk to lay down in the daylight on a North Coast friday.
So we touched on the rock and rap, the funk and the jam... why not jump into the reggae?
Damian Marley's name recognition alone is enough to match the vibe at this festival, but when he lays into some of dad's music -- like in the videos below -- the people were really feeling it.
What's crazy is all of this is just a small portion of what transpired. With multiple stages and the ambition to craft a unique experience, everybody's North Coast experience is not just a little different... it can be world's different.
Zach got hundreds of amazing shots of this diversity. Have a looks at just some of them (click the thumbnails for even more).
Tickets are already moving for the 2018 festival, even with no announcements of lineup. Check out the availability here.