In just four years, Spring Awakening Music Festival has gone from a small, two-day festival at Soldier Field into an annual event hosting the biggest names in dance music. The festival has five stages; one inside the stadium, three outside on the lawn, and the Silent Disco inside the concourse. New this year was an 18+ age limit and several themed stages at The Hangar.

In its short history, Spring Awakening has earned a reputation as a rather low quality festival. It\’s seen as place full of underage kids whose parents are paying for their tickets and are just there to party. There was no shortage of bros in \”Where\’s Molly?\” and \”Eat Sleep Party Repeat\” tanks walking all around the massive mainstage dance floor and the Soldier Field concourse, which remains open for the entire festival. There\’s plenty of great views all around the stadium and people hanging out in almost every section, minus the upper deck and club level. It adds a nice touch to the festival, especially because it keeps the obnoxious ragers and drunk people on the floor level and out of everyone else\’s way. Main Stage was unbelievably packed all weekend, which makes sense, as this is the exact crowd that Spring Awakening draws. In fact, the last hour of every day of the festival has one performer, and that\’s at the Main Stage. Zedd and Hardwell were extremely impressive in this time slot on Friday and Saturday. However, Tiesto failed to impress in his Sunday headliner position. For someone who has been around so long, I was expecting more. The crowd left rather steadily during his exclusive 90 minute time slot.

On Friday, the Equinox Stage stole the show. After jamming with the Floozies at 5, fans were brought on an awesome tour of modern house music by Shiba San, Thomas Jack, Duke Dumont, and Eric Prydz. French Dirtybird and CUFF artist Shiba San was my favorite of the day. It was ridiculously empty, and few people knew who or what they were seeing. Friday is always a late arriving day, and by Duke Dumont, the crowd was packed with great people. The vibe at Equinox was awesome all day. At the same time, you could walk past one of the several lines of rather clean port-o-potties to see the first themed stage of the weekend, Trance Arena at the Hangar, hosting Paul Van Dyk, Andrew Rayel, and more. Trance is not really my thing, but I caught 10 minutes of Andrew Rayel and loved both the stage and the people. Martin Garrix impressed at Main, while I heard mixed reviews about Seven Lions and Tommy Trash. Overall, the crowd was laid back on the first day, and I saw barely any police officers or security issues.

Saturday was a different story. It was packed, and the lines to get in were massive. The biggest draw was obviously at Main Stage, where Skrillex and Diplo brought their Jack U show to the Midwest region for the first time ever. The set was surprisingly good, and much more Skrillex\’s style than Diplo\’s. Other performers included Flosstradamus and Oliver Heldens, who also were better than expected. I was really disappointed in Main Stage at Ultra, but at a smaller fest with just just as big names as UMF, I feel like artists can be themselves more at SAMF than they can on one of the biggest stages in the world. I was camped out at the Bass Kitchen for a lot of Saturday, seeing Grandtheft, Figure, Brillz, Bro Safari, and Zomboy, in order. With everyone either at Main Stage or at Equinox for Adventure Club, Dada Life, and Diplo, Bass Kitchen was full of bass lovers seeing the absolute best in heavy music. I\’ve been waiting to see Figure and Zomboy for a while, and they were unreal. This genre has a well-earned reputation for drugs and freaky people, but everyone was responsible, and I didn\’t see a single person too out it or in need of help. The Main Stage was a different story, especially Saturday. I heard plenty of stories from friends about people on stretchers and pass-outs in the packed, sweaty crowd. It makes sense, as I can\’t even imagine the effort it would take to get from the middle of that dance floor to one of the hard to reach exits.

Day two of the festival also brought about five times as many cops and much stricter security. While walking from Eats Everything to catch the end of Brillz, I saw several groups of fence hoppers, probably trying to see Jack U occurring at the same time. More than half of these kids were handcuffed and arrested by Chicago Police on the spot. Day two also saw a 19 year old attendee die from unknown causes outside Soldier Field. This is how Spring Awakening has earned its reputation.

I woke up on Sunday at 6:30 AM and couldn\’t fall back asleep because I was so excited for day 3. I\’ve attended every Spring Awakening, and by this time, I already decided this was the best one yet. The forecast had about a 60% chance of rain all day, but that only made me more excited. However, other than a few showers that lasted no more than five minutes, it was sunny and perfect all day. I decided to camp out at the Main Stage for a while, where Eva Shaw surprised with a killer electro set and the bouncy TJR wore a Hawks jersey, played \”Chelsea Dagger,\” and said proudly, \”I\’m a Rangers fan but let\’s go Hawks!!! Original Six all the way!\”

Audien was unexpectedly great at the Equinox Stage, and the Phoenix Stage was a trap fan\’s dream with Aero Chord, Party Favor, Hucci, and Branchez all making rare stops in Chicago. However, the real headliner today was the last themed stage, the Beatport Stage. It took a lot for me not to stay at The Hangar all day, with Justin Martin, Derrick Carter, and Cajmere all playing early slots. Legends Marc Kinchen (MK) and Jamie Jones headlined the stage, and I caught their entire sets. From experience, these underground house shows not only bring the best music, but the best people, best vibes, and are the most satisfying. Jamie Jones\’ set at Spring Awakening was actually better than what I saw at Ultra. I was planning on leaving a bit early to see the end of Zeds Dead and get a good seat for Tiesto, but the set was so mesmerizing that wasn\’t an option. Several of my friends told me Zeds Dead threw down one of the best sets of the weekend as well.

Not only was this a phenomenal festival, but the aftershows were great as well. They were full of surprise appearances, as Martin Garrix brought out Zedd to play a back-to-back set at the Concord, Skrillex, Diplo, and Hardwell played together at The MID, Skream and Eats Everything played together at Smart Bar, and Skrillex made an appearance with Zeds Dead at the Concord to finish up the weekend.

If you\’re one of the several electronic music fans that think Spring Awakening is an awful festival full of bad people and bad vibes, I actually feel bad for you. Not only is there great music for everybody, but it gave me a refreshing look on mainstage and mainstream EDM as well. This is a great Chicago festival that\’s only getting better, and I can\’t wait for the fifth anniversary next summer.

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Photos by: RPerg Photo