Spring Awakening Music Festival (SAMF) wrapped up its first year in Hoffman Estates, IL on Sunday.
It was a raucous three days filled with great music, good food, (mostly) positive vibes, and a ton of fun. Headliners included Illenium, Zedd, Rezz, DJ Snake, Kaskade, and Griz.
Previously held in the actual city of Chicago, Spring Awakening has seen a few venue changes over the years. This year’s event was held in the suburb of Hoffman Estates, about 50 minutes out of the city.
Day one was featured a bit of the typical growing pains that come with moving to a new venue. Getting in and out of the parking garages became an hours-long ordeal for some. Thankfully, SAMF resolved the issue after the first day. Some hiccups are to be expected as the festival continues to grow and settles into the new venue.
Having a VIP wristband was a godsend and made for extra speedy entry through the festival gates. The same could not be said for General Admission entry, which was a mish-mosh of sweating attendees anxiously awaiting entry all three days.
Choosing to Uber there for the remaining days was a better option. There was still a tremendously long walk to the gates, but drop off was swift and efficient – I highly recommend utilizing rideshare if the event remains in Hoffman Estates next year.
Inside the Venue
Once inside, the grounds opened up to present two massive main stages, multiple tents, two massive Ferris wheels, a bus stage, and a silent disco. There were also rows and rows of food trucks and stands, clothing vendors, and Monaco sponsored bars.
I made a beeline for the skyline-inspired Solstice stage, knowing I was already running a little behind.
To say the level of production at the Solstice stage was top notch would be an understatement. The entire stage, reminiscent of the faraway Chicago skyline, was lined with huge screens and more lights than I could count.
Equinox, the other main stage, had equally impressive screens. Each side of the stage was flanked by enormous Spring Awakening “SA” logos, lighting up to the beat. Even the smaller tents sported large screens and high-quality sound systems. The festival did not feature many lasers, but the lights and high-resolution screens absolutely made up for it.
It was a warm weekend and shade was hard to come by, save for the tent stages. However, when packed with hundreds of people these turned into saunas. My hand fan became my absolute best friend over the course of the weekend.
Once the sun went down, temperatures cooled down and the real party started. Ending at 10 pm, only two sets per night were in darkness. These sets definitely stood out because it really showcased the exceptional light and production quality of each stage.
Both main stages featured fireworks and pyrotechnics, giving the headlining acts that extra wow factor. With such an early end time compared to other festivals, it was clear how hesitant attendees were to leave the grounds each night. Everyone clearly wanted to keep the party going!
The new location was spacious and accommodating, despite the few entrance hiccups. But what attendees really came for was the incredible line up of electronic artists.
I was on a mission to get to the main stages to catch the higher billed acts as quickly as I could.
I was greeted by some slamming dubstep shaking the Equinox stage. Virtual Riot was breaking necks one song at a time. His vibrant purple hair matched the colorful production perfectly. As I walked past, making my way to the Solstice stage, I couldn’t help but bounce on each step to the rumbling beat.
Passing a fast turning, pink Ferris wheel, the Solstice stage was finally in sight. I was able to catch the tail end of Ghastly, whose growing popularity garnered him a significant crowd fairly early in the day. I was glad to hear his prominent track, “LSD,” which had all the bassheads practically headbanging their pashminas right off.
He was followed by the 24-year-old house producer Oliver Heldens. Heldens played out some vibrant dance tunes, like his newly released “This Groove,” as well as some heavier stuff — including my personal favorite, “You Know,” his collaboration with Zeds Dead. Spring Awakening must have had a strict timeline because he was seemingly cut off before finishing “Gecko (Overdrive),” a song that has garnered over 148 million plays on Spotify.
Next up was Galantis, a Swedish electro-house duo known for hits “Runaway (U & I),” “No Money,” and “Peanut Butter Jelly.” The crowd quickly packed in to see the group deliver an energetic, drum-filled performance. Yelling out their iconic catchphrase over the bouncing crowd — “We Are Galantis!” — left everyone around me erupting in cheers.
While Galantis’ music is incredibly fun and catchy, I didn’t find myself enjoying it as much as the people around me. The set was repetitive, lacking a stand-out moment or song.
Zedd was due up, but having seen him in Minneapolis just last year, I hopped over to the Equinox stage to check out Illenium. Looking back at the Solstice stage it was clear that Zedd was about to show SAMF an awesome time. His brightly colored visuals glowed against the darkening sky. I almost regretted my decision, but the ultimate “sad boi,” Illenium, was calling.
Illenium made the #1 spot on my must-see artists at SAMF. If you’ve never seen the Denver-based producer before, take the time to give him a listen. Illenium’s production is top-notch and his music hits you right in the feels.
Unfortunately, his SAMF set was practically identical to the set he performed at EDC Las Vegas. Even so, this didn’t seem to bother the crowd whatsoever. The sound of attendees screaming along to every song was deafening. Fellow producer Dabin joined Illenium on stage to play backing guitar on a multitude of tracks.
The future bass producer also dropped some harder songs, including “Don’t Give Up on Me” and “Gold (Stupid Love)” that really got the headbangers going again. The best song of the performance was definitely his newly released single, “Good Things Fall Apart” featuring Jon Bellion, which had girls in tears all around me. The entire performance was topped off with an explosion of fireworks to send everyone on their way for the night.
Day two kicked off on a much smoother note. Saturday was jam-packed with acts spanning a huge variety of genres at each stage.
While What So Not was laying down his unique sound at the Solstice stage, Dion Timmer was bringing the heat to the already sweaty Hangar stage.
The 19-year-old Excision prodigy sported a huge grin as he played his hard-hitting tracks. Dion’s stage presence is impressive for a kid just barely out of high school.
There was an hour to kill before the highly anticipated Swedish producer, Liquid Stranger, took over at the Hangar, so I headed to the Equinox stage to check out Flosstradamus b2b 4B.
Both known as tremendous trap talents, this set definitely reflected that reputation. It was every frat boy’s dream: the perfect combination of hip hop and EDM. The pair even sported matching basketball jerseys – a nice nod to frat boys everywhere.
Finally, it was time for a dose of weirdness back at the Hangar. Martin Staaf, better known by his stage name, Liquid Stranger, did not disappoint. Making the list of top acts to see as well, he laid down an hour and fifteen minutes of trippy, drippy space bass.
Hot off the tails of his 30-song Infinity LP, there was plenty of material for him to work with. One song melted into another. My body shook with the bass to songs like “Kevlar” and “Burn Like the Sun.”
Lastly, I made the trek across the pavement and woodchips back to Solstice. DJ Snake was slated to play in a few minutes and I had been dying to see him for years.
As incredible as the stage set up looked against the dark night sky, the set played by DJ Snake was anything but incredible. I found myself waiting and waiting to hear “Middle” and “Lean On” so I could finally get out of there.
Once I escaped the mess that was DJ Snake’s set, I scrambled over to Equinox to hear the last half of Rezz’s set. While the young female producer is immensely popular, I personally am not too keen on her repetitive sound.
However, I was greeted by Rezz’s recent remix to Porter Robinson’s “Divinity.” A great original tune, the remix does do it justice too. Her downtempo style was a perfect contrast from DJ Snake’s messy jumble of dance tracks and made for a relaxing way to end the second night.
Even with two days already in the bag, the crowd at SAMF was still rocking by Sunday. Perhaps it was due to the constant barrage of fun-filled, bass thumping artists on the final day.
TroyBoi delivered an exceptional set at the Solstice stage. I couldn’t help but jam out to hard-hitting tunes like “Hey Bo!” The crowd sang and shook their bodies along to the notable “Afterhours.” TroyBoi’s distinctive London accent shouted over the mic “T-R-O-Y-B-O-I,” delighting dancers as the sun set behind him. By the looks of him, you can just tell that this guy is truly cool.
Then came the moombahton king himself, Dillon Francis. Looking as goofy as always, Francis lit up the stage with bright lights and visuals, themed after his latest album, WUT WUT. He mixed new and old songs, accompanied often by shooting pyrotechnics. This was debatably the most fun I had at a set all weekend.
Quite unexpectedly, headliner Martin Garrix had to drop off of the festival due to an ankle injury requiring surgery. After much speculation, the closing spot was filled by none other than Chicago’s father of dance music: Kaskade. After playing a string of old and new fan favorites, he closed out the Solstice stage with a flash of fireworks and a memorable “Something Something Champs.”
On the other side of the festival, Griz was shutting down the Equinox stage. Sporting his saxophone and infectious grin, the Michigan-born producer gave a great performance to end the festival. His album, Ride Waves, was released in April, and the set was mostly tracks from the album.
The sky filled with fireworks and the final notes of each artist’s set slowly faded out. Festival-goers begrudgingly exited the grounds, counting down the days until they could come back for more fantastic music.
The Wrap Up
Spring Awakening was terrific fun. The production was incredible and the line up was chock-full of stellar acts. Stand out artists included Liquid Stranger, Dillon Francis, Troyboi, Illenium, and Chicago native, Kaskade.
Attendees were fun and welcoming – a stark contrast from the “bro-y” crowd that was fully expected at a city fest. Food and drink were affordable and accessible and there was plenty to do beyond dancing (ride the ferris wheel during a set – it’s awesome!).
This year’s new venue was spacious, offering great views of each stage no matter where you stood and minimizing sound bleed. It was unfortunate that the distance didn’t allow most to travel to the exceptional range of after parties. It will be interesting to see how the festival deals with this in the future. It’s uncertain if there’s a possibility of after shows being held closer to or within the festival grounds.
However, it was clear that the venue change threw a few wrenches into the works. If the festival continues to be held in Hoffman Estates, I expect that these kinks will be worked out for next year. However, the arrival and departure setbacks didn’t dampen my impression of the fantastic festival put on by React Presents, it’s a given when changing venues.
It can only be assumed that next year’s festival will bring even bigger artists and all the issues will be smoothed over — I’m looking forward to seeing what SAMF has in store for 2020.