Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 2, 2013

Tranny Nuns & Wu-Tang Toddlers: Raving About North Coast Music Fest, Chicago

CAUTION: Here there be giants... on five stages.

CAUTION: Here there be giants… on five stages.

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Random highlights, photos and observations from yesterday’s “Summer’s Last Stand” outing with my friends to the North Coast Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago. I only went on day two, so I’ll only comment upon what I saw and heard with my own face.

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Overall, the schedule featured a great eclectic mix of musical genres cutting across racial, regional, age and other cultural boundaries, all within a fairly mellow atmosphere. There were decent fringe-y open spaces for those who wanted to get away from the crush of a crowd, more than a few non-musical visual arts, creative or consumer activities, a large variety of food choices, plenty of booths to either spend money on swag or just browse, and a fairly safe all-ages vibe (despite plenty of hemp showing up as the day moved on toward dusk… or perhaps peaking at 4:20…)

Tix were about $40 for the one-day pass. Seems reasonable in today’s concert/festival market, for the wide range of options that $40 gets you.

Though despite what I said above about age, clearly this was like a one-year-college-reunion crowd, in numbers and in spirit. Seemed like early-twenties outnumbered mid-forties (like me and my friends) or families by about a 7:1 ratio. Maybe this is true of any large outdoor music fest nowadays. But this particular one felt a bit more rave-y or young and alternative than something like Lollapalooza. Yet not so political or rock-heavy as Pitchfork (its two biggest Chicago competitors, from what I’ve heard… never been to either one, myself).

Lots of DJs and DJ-assisted soloists, and a fair amount of big-lightshow, trance/dance/electronica, especially over the late afternoon/dinner hour. (Not my cup of tea, as I prefer live on-site instruments with fewer bells and whistles. But I get why it works for some people.) Thus, unbeknownst to me until I went, apparently North Coast = Raver-Friendly, so temporarily blissed-out twenty-two year olds are gonna abound in such a setting. And they brought all their toys with them (angel wings, funny hats, tall “standards” based on floral themes, or signs), light-up accessories and spikes (spiky hairdos, spiky machinelike tiara, spiky ear/nose/other-wear).

A decent range of rap acts, including local femme fatale K. Flay, who I kind of liked. (Maybe this generation’s Julianna Hatfield? Or that type, anyway….) . The great local soul band that I had to miss in order to hear Wu-Tang Clan was J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, but I figured I can go out to a club later sometime and do right by J.C., give him my undivided attention.

.

*  *  *

A few random notes and pics:

Dirty Dozen Brass Band... clearly the "elder statesmen" of the festival, doing their New Orleans Meets George Clinton's Mothership thing.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band… clearly the “elder statesmen” of the festival, doing their New Orleans jazz-funk Meets George Clinton’s Mothership thing.

  • A member of the New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band mumbling briefly, seemingly forgetting the name of the festival that he was playing at. That’s okay bro. I’m an older American, too. My memory ain’t what it used to be, either, drunk or sober. You still put on a good show, including the uber-hip onstage dance party with the female-variety youngsters on the song “Dirty Old Man”. Not twerkin’, just workin’.
  • Rebelution, from Santa Barbara, CA — a great surprise  and an awesome sound. Sort of a dubby, two-tone/reggae thang, with other rock and world-music influences, plus a great horn section. Click on thru to YouTube (on their name above), if you’re curious.
  • Superman, Bat Girl, and a number of other creatively-dressed superheroes… just fans out to attract attention
  • Enough face and body glitter (on girls AND guys) to make the lit-up, bouncing, end-of-the-night Wu-Tang  crowd look like a bunch of stardust in the middle of the Big Bang
  • White-gloved hand dancers who roamed about with their colored-light-tipped gloves by night, treating children (and probably trippy grownups) to a personal laser-light show
  • Nearly naked full body paint girl (my buddy Charley said upon closer inspection, her nipples were taped. I took his word for it.)
  • Gary Clark Jr. — an utter revelation to see and hear the man play live. Crosses over into so many guitar and song styles (Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Chet Atkins!!! style fingerpicking, jam bands, Jimi, plus the best rock imitators like Clapton and Vaughan and the metal guys), but then he drops back to a powerful blues foundation on a regular basis. Good voice, good songwriter, too. But that axe, oh that AXE-WORK!!!

    Gary Clark, Jr. was as good as advertised. There may be hope for American Blues Music yet.

    Gary Clark, Jr. was as good as advertised. There may be hope for American Blues Music yet.

  • Stilt-walker/clowns with yellow Caution tape walk the crowd– and a few dumb guys who are not in on the joke are left  “holding the bag”. (see above photo) How long they kept holding the tape, waiting for another non-existant clown/volunteer to come along with a stake or something to attach the tape to, that’s anyone’s guess?!).

    Sister Blister gives spiritual advice to a fellow hipster. At North Coast Music Festival, Chicago.

    Sister Blister gives spiritual advice to a fellow hipster. At North Coast Music Festival, Chicago.

  • Two hard-drinking, pregnant, moshing, bearded, tranny nuns
  • The Wu-Tang Toddler (see photo below) — from a four-person Wu-Wear and/or Pot-leaf-attired Latino family voted “best group costume” by someone or other of importance at the fest… The girl’s big brother (about four) showed me his trophy ribbon and everything. The other twenty-somethings who kept walking by all wanted to high-five Wu Baby, take her picture as she put up the “W” with both hands, or else hug her. After about the sixth time, it was clear the girl was getting bored with all these strangers wanting her to “perform”. A few odd moments, but still relatively safe and fun, and not the kind of thing one sees everyday. (Not me, anyway!) I threw an Instagram post out there last night saying the parents could’ve charged money for the Wu-Tang Toddler’s photo-ops, but they weren’t the type…. As for the band’s set itself, that was cut a bit short by the rainstorm that blew in late, but we still got most of the best material. I’ve never been a Wu-Tang fan, but I still wanted to experience what their live show was like, and I’m glad I did.

    The soon-to-be-famous Wu-Tang Toddler. "Wu-Tang ain't nothin' to be f*&^%*#^ with ", as a kiddie sing-along. Who knew?

    The soon-to-be-famous Wu-Tang Toddler. “Wu-Tang ain’t nothin’ to be f*&^%*#d with “, as a kiddie sing-along. Who knew?

  • The Wu songs themselves: featuring more m-f’s than five Sam Jackson movies combined, and plenty of other foul-mouthed “representin’ ” lyrics, shouted by thousands of faux-rebel fans who will nevertheless return to their conventional middle-class lives tomorrow morning, confident they can still “rock out with their c%*& out” (to quote Raekwon) when it’s time to party

Meanwhile halfway across the contintent in Zoo York:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/01/us/new-york-music-festival-canceled/index.html?hpt=hp_inthenews

Above story covers a couple of drug-related deaths Saturday (traced to MDMA/ecstasy or else “molly”) , which forced the cancellation of the second day of Electric Zoo, a similar dance/electronica-heavy fest in the NYC area.

As for the X itself… it was probably happening plenty in Chicago, as well. Was it just good luck that it didn’t get serious here, or just bad luck (or a chemically-toxic bad batch?) for the New York crew?

I’m looking in from the outside on much of this cultural phenomena. I fully admit it. I was a “tourist”, slumming for a day among a somewhat alien people. And on that level, it was a great experience.

To show the differerence, here’s a true Raver’s instagram post, from a girl who gave my Wu Baby shot above a digital heart:

No comment... which as you know is HARD for me...

No comment… which as you know is HARD for me…

Overall, it was a great day of music, people-watching, and bonding with friends.

So, …thumbs up for NCMF, and we’ll see who’s playing next year.

Maybe I’ll bust out my alter ego, Buster Mixmaster the MC of Disaster, and then I’ll see if I can get a slot on the smallest stage. Who’s with me, people? Then stick your “M” up in the air! Turn that Wu upside down, and I’ll SHOW y’all how to clown around!


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