Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, Ravinia, Jazzfest, Countryfest, Bluesfest, Taste of (Your Microclimate Here) -- Chicago summers offer music fans the opportunity to see live bands from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with some spillage over either side, without ever setting foot indoors. This year, the festival calendar adds another three-day, four-stage event: the new North Coast Music Festival.
NORTH COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL
• 4:30-10 p.m. today; noon-10 p.m. Saturday and 1-10 p.m. Sunday
• Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph
• Tickets: $40, single-day tickets (three-day passes sold out), northcoastfestival.com
Billing itself as "Summer's Last Stand," the North Coast fest sets up camp this weekend in the West Loop's Union Park, in the footprint of July's Pitchfork Music Festival. The lineup is a wide array of 62 bands, drawing mostly from hip-hop, electronica and jam bands.
There are two reasons for that. First, those are genres many of the other annual festivals don't focus on or give short shrift to. Secondly, the organizers behind North Coast specialize in just these types of music -- which they claim have more in common than you might think.
"We're all independent promoters here in Chicago, coming from different backgrounds, but we've all been finding ourselves working together more and more on 3,000- to 5,000-person events, many of them at the Congress Theater, which is kind of our home base," says Michael Raspatello, one of the partners and the media director for the new festival. He's also involved in the annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival.
"We've all been noticing this convergence of electronic, hip-hop and jam-band cultures, and we've been working together a lot," Raspatello says. "We started realizing our business was less about competing with each other and could really gain from collaboration, which would then allow us to compete with the bigger guys."
(See the full schedule and some picks here!)
So with what Raspatello admits was "blind ambition," he (of Kingtello Presents) and his partners -- Michael Berg of Silver Wrapper, Jeff Callahan of Exact Events, Pat Grumley of Cold Grums, Lucas King of React Presents, Leif Moravy of Future Rock, Max Wagner of Metronome Chicago, and some guidance from Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza -- started toying with the idea of their own summer festival.
"We were standing around at one of the festivals, which I'll leave nameless, and we said, 'Why can't we do this ourselves?'" Moravy says.
Raspatello isn't so coy. "Last year, we were casing Pitchfork like we were Ocean's 11," he says.
"The goal was to fill in the gaps [left by other festivals]," Moravy says. "Us all being independent promoters, with some degree of success, the amount of music we have available to produce and promote is a little different, not as poppy."
Indeed, these are promoters who zero in on cult faves. Kingtello recently put up the Dead Weather at the Congress and had a great Jamie Lidell show last summer. Cold Grums has brought in Mos Def, Cut Chemist, DJ Spooky, Peanut Butter Wolf and the Cool Kids. Silver Wrapper is all jam bands, and React's upcoming local calendar includes Will.i.am, Primus, Paul Oakenfold and Deadmau5.
"These kinds of acts haven't had a festival home here in Chicago," Raspatello says. "Many of the festivals here weren't created for the heady crowds. I can never think of a better word to describe it than that. The heady crowds. They go down to the Ultra [electronic music] festival in Miami, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Rothbury [jam-band fest in Michigan] and Bonnaroo. But none of that has been in our city limits."
As to whether Labor Day scheduling will help or hurt the event, Moravy is optimistic.
"It's great to put a festival like this on a holiday weekend, because this way people can stay through all of Sunday," he says. "They don't have to work on Monday. ... And we're hoping it gives people enough reason to stay in town."
Three-day passes have sold out for the North Coast festival, but single-day tickets remain available. As of last week, Raspatello says attendance over all three days looks to be above 30,000.
A portion of North Coast ticket sales supports Urban Initiatives, a nonprofit sponsoring health and education soccer programs in 14 Chicago Public Schools.