The festival grounds were located adjacent to the SeatGeek stadium, the former home of the Chicago Fire. There was lots of room to walk around, as well as sitting and standing areas were plentiful in and around the stages. The festival grounds featured some cool spaces, such as the rainbow of giant hammocks, a mirror maze, and a mock up of a pirate ship that offers scenic views of the festival grounds. The three music stages were The Canopy, as name implies, a giant canopy covered the middle section of the audience. On the other side of the grounds were Vega, the larger stage and Dreamland, located on the artificial turf of the soccer practice fields. In the middle were art installations and other funky areas to hang out. Food and merchandise vendors were located at the entrance, and the back of the festival area, where the porta-potties for the spectators were located. They weren’t close to the music spaces, but they were plentiful in number.
Day One (Doin’ that Rag)
The word of the day was funk. Every act we saw was stepping up the funkiness and really engaging in the mood of the festival, which centered on jam bands.
The first act we caught was White Denim, a five-piece psych-rock band from Austin, Texas. They coaxed some really good sounds from the keyboard, and entertained the crowd with a lot of extended solos. This is a band whose live show is a turbo-charged upgrade of their studio compositions. They improvised their setlist on the spot to make it a very spontaneous and in-the-moment experience.
We only caught the tail end of the by The Dip. This Seattle soul-funk ensemble were totally groovy. It was a silky smooth set featuring a killer horn section of just a trumpet and sax player, but they came ready to play. A highlight was a funky cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
Lettuce was loud, with a booming bass and crafty keyboards. Another funk band, from Boston, their horn section used guitar-style aftereffects augment their sound to perfection. They had some pretty tight grooves. The music never stopped, segueing from song to song, with an introduction as the opening riff was being played. The sun was setting as their performance was winging down, creating a cool moment in time.
We were able to watch the first half hour of St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Again horns ruled the day, but this is their specialty, featuring trombone, trumpet, and sax. During the second song, their lead singer, Paul Janeway ventured into the crowd singer in the middle of the audience as the band jammed on.
We took a quick dinner break. There was a food court with pizza, noodles, sandwiches, and smoothies. However, the better food was tucked away in the back corner where a variety of food trucks offered even more choices, such as chicken, bar-b-que, and the mac and cheese egg roll, which made for a tasty treat.
The final show of the evening was a performance of Phil Lesh and Friends joined by Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline of Chicago-based Wilco. The pairing was billed as “Philco” and did not disappoint. The show was mainly classic Grateful Dead gems played with gusto, while maintaining a spirit of the original songs. Tweedy set the tone on the second song, with a version of “Doin’ That Rag,” a Hungter/Garcia, played in the late sixties, and mostly by Phil and his Dead spinoffs since 1999, Highlights included Shakedown Street with three consecutive solos, Viola Lee Blues, a deadhead favorite, and a super jamming version of New Speedway Boogie.
Here’s a link to Philco’s set list.
Day Two (Music Never Stopped)
W arrived in time to see Lotus, a Philly-based-band that got it’s start in Indiana. Very much dance, and electronica driven by guitars and synth. Lotus had a two-drummer setup, with lots of percussion. It felt a bit like a rave, but kept the vibe of a jam.
Disco Biscuits, also from Philadelphia, bring a similar sound to Lotus, very much dance and jam. Their music never stopped. Their set was a continuous play of music with not stops from beginning to end.
The dinner search yielded a very generous helping of brisket and fries in the food truck area. It was perhaps more fries, with some beef. Still very tasty.
Back to the Vega for Umphrey’s McGee’s first set. They made create use of the lights and the digital screen to great effect.
Next came the first tough choice of the day. Goose, — and Sound Tribe Sector 9 (better known as STS9) played at the same time. So we started with Goose. Lots of jams, good use of the lights. They began with true to form renditions of the studio versions of their songs, which morphed and grew into elaborate jams as the band played. We stayed through “Don’t Do It”, sung with Margo Price, the artist at large, who joined several of the festival acts for songs. We heard the Cory Wong also sat in with Goose, but we had bolted for the second half of STS9 by that point.
STS9 was one of the best performances of the night. In many respects, their music appears to be set to the light displays, Whereas most other bands enhance their music with lights. Some of their songs drifted into what might be classified as “trip-hop”
The second set of UM started off with a serious funk groove, and went into spacey jams, tinged with some reggae vibes. The crowd was great. Everyone was dancing in and around the viewing area. People were super friendly, and many wonderful costumes.
Day Three (Lazy Lightning)
Kitchen Dwellers got moved up a bit, and we arrived just as their set began. For once, an act was not trying to blow the audience away with big sound. The crowd was as calm as the atmosphere, before the storm clouds that rolled in later. The four piece bluegrass ensemble was comprised of upright bass, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Their best song played was a most appropriate cover of Jerry Garcia’s “Run for the Roses”. They still brought the jams in keeping with the overall theme of the festival. Sadly, this was the only full performance we saw on Sunday.
Next we moved to the Canopy to set up to watch Circles Around the Sun. The intended plan was to grab a tasty spot under the Canopy and stay for the next three bands. The threat of rain, wind, and lightning forced the organizers to clear the Canopy area. We relocated to the space with the tables and food trucks, and waited for the signal return. There wasn’t much to do except while grab some food and chat with attendees. During the weekend we meet people from Indiana, Alabama, North Carolina, and New York, as well as all over Chicagoland.
After a long lull, we could hear music coming from the Vega. Not knowing how much more music would be played before the storms hit, we zipped over and ware able to catch the shortened set from Hiatus Kaiyote, a female fronted fusion and R&B band from Melbourne, Australia. It would hard to pin them to a single genre, but trip-hop would be the closest format.
Back to the Canopy where Dawes played three songs before the authorities cleared the Canopy for the second time. Lightning forced another stoppage, in which the soccer stadium was opened to allow fans a safe place to ride out the supposed incoming weather. That storm didn’t materialize, so a couple of audacious fans provided childish entertainment by running out onto the pitch. They all seemed to dodge the security guards and received an ovation from the audience.
When no storms came, attendees trickled out of the stadium and back to the festival grounds for the conclusion of the weekend’s music. We migrated back to the Canopy to stake a spot close to the stage for the Joe Russo’s Almost Dead show. While waiting, we were told that the concert was pushed back to 8:45pm. A red sunset graced the sky behind dark clouds, and we believed the bad weather had come and gone.
However, flashes of lighting appeared to our east, the first visible lightning of the day. More sparks flashed across the sky, to the south, and north. The lazy lightning had procrastinated all afternoon and finally arrived at sundown, just as the festival was set to resume. Staff and security directed all attendees to leave the grounds and seek shelter. The remainder of the event was canceled outright. The attendees may not have been happy, but I can see where the powers that be decided to err on the side of caution.
In summary, the quality of the music was terrific. The food and vendor choices were pretty good, especially if one ventured over to the food truck area. There were also several activities to chill and socialize that had nothing to do with music.
The negatives were really only twofold. First, the stage location and timing were such that sound bled into the other stages. Secondly, the bathroom amenities were second class. Water and toilet paper supplies were not adequately restocked as needed. The good news, is that those are fixable. Here ‘s to hoping there’s a Sacred Rose 2023!