High-Octane Motorsports Meet High-Energy Music at GRIDLIFE Festival
“High. Speed. Energy.”
When asked to describe his brand in a nutshell, GRIDLIFE founder and creative mastermind Chris Stewart offered these three words—as applicable to a racetrack as an electronic dance track.
That is the brilliance behind GRIDLIFE, a racing brand and festival series built on a dynamic amalgamation of music, motorsports, and automotive passion.
Although GRIDLIFE’s Twitter bio cheekily downplays itself as simply “a music festival with Car stuff,” the high-speed, high-powered brand—founded in 2013—is so much more. At GRIDLIFE, you’ll find tire-to-tire racing competitions, full-throttle drifting exhibitions, round-the-clock campground kickbacks (with surprise pop-ins from the artists), and some of the biggest names in music—from Kaskade to Kavinsky—all rolled into one high-octane weekend.
In 2022, GRIDLIFE will host 14 events nationwide as part of its motorsports series, bookended by its flagship three-day festivals held in South Haven, Michigan, and Fountain, Colorado, and in previous years, Atlanta.
The spark behind this prolific automotive and auditory experience began as early as 2004, says Stewart, when he and friends were diving headfirst into track racing and motorsports culture.
“GRIDLIFE is a mashup of all the things that I’m into—both my personal passions and my profession,” he says. “I had my little Honda CRX and a clique of car buddies. I was in college, getting into fast and furious car culture at that time.”
At the same time, Stewart, a self-described Phish-head, was following the iconic band around on its tour, hitting up music festivals like Bonnaroo, frequenting car shows, and becoming deeply entrenched in Chicago’s music scene.
“I had friends in all these different cliques, basically. The idea behind GRIDLIFE was, ‘How do I get all these people together and start to cross-pollenate these groups with something centered around motorsports and cars in motion?’”
In 2013, the GRIDLIFE brand was born. In 2014, it kicked into overdrive with its inaugural GRIDLIFE Midwest Festival at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, MI. That first festival was “as bootstrap as it possibly could be,” admits Stewart, “I look back and think, ‘Man, how did we even pull that off?’ The whole festival was built on favors, high-fives, and friendships.”
But the brand’s nationwide acceleration and success in the decade since was no fluke. The GRIDLIFE team has been hyper-intentional about developing a communal, participatory, and inclusive atmosphere at all its events—one that cohesively knits together various music and motorsports subcultures.
While the GRIDLIFE’s tongue-in-cheek code of conduct includes rules like “Don’t be that guy” and “Yes, hats (fedoras questionable),” underneath the “GRIDLIFE Code” lies a more serious ethos. To be part of the family, respect and look out for your neighbors, and work together to create a festival experience that everyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a trap kid or track racer, everyone is welcome at GRIDLIFE.
“We’re super vibe focused, which isn’t different than the promise of other festivals. When you’re mixing these cultures together, it becomes super important for the culture to take care of itself,” he says. “Sometime when you put oil and water together, it doesn’t mix. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who looks at the other side of the house and says, ‘That’s dumb.’”
One of the festival’s premier features? Drivers of any experience level can apply to get on track. No experience? Then consider GRIDLIFE’s Track Day and immersive driver’s education program, which features classroom sessions and guided track time with instructor oversight.
For more experienced drivers? GRIDLIFE has plenty of options. GRIDLIFE Track Battle Time Attack is a high-power race to post the fastest lap time possible. GRIDLIFE Drift is an exhibition that brings drifting culture out of the parking lots and onto the big tracks. The GRIDLIFE Touring Cup (GTLC) is a season-long, wheel-to-wheel racing competition series spanning multiple cities across the U.S.
And for festivalgoers who don’t want to get behind the wheel themselves, there is a deluge of activities to keep them busy – from car shows to brand activations to the GRIDLIFE arcade. And, of course, a lineup of seriously high-powered EDM and hip-hop artists throughout the weekend.
“We try to cut the corny out of cars,” says Stewart. “I think there are some stigmas people have when you say it’s a ‘racing’ festival. NASCAR is probably the first thing that pops into people’s head. But it’s as far as you can be from that. We try to elevate the coolest parts of car culture — the things that are culturally impactful, exciting, and digestible — and bring those to the forefront… All of this is intended to highlight the hobby of grassroots motorsports, which is a participatory hobby.”
Case in point: Many of the headlining artists arrive early to ingrain themselves in the automotive festivities. Stewart recalls previous headliners like Wocka Flocka Flame and Yung Gravy hopping in a car for a pre-show ride along, or Ghastly, finishing his live show and jumping into an impromptu silent disco set.
“Those are the really validating moments. These artists see a lot of different festivals with huge productions and scale. But nowhere else can get in a 1000-horsepower car with one of the best drivers in the world before their set. So, it’s a unique pre-show and greenroom experience we’re able to offer.”
Some of the most contagious energy at GRIDLIFE emanates from the “Back 40,” a campground where it’s common to find anything from a cornhole competition to a headlining artist shooting the shit with festivalgoers.
“The Back 40 has its own energy,” says Stewart. “Our music goes until midnight, then we have a silent disco that goes until 2am, but the campground keeps rocking even after that.”
Among the accommodation options available at GRIDLIFE Midwest are trackside camping (where attendees can wake up to the sounds of cars hitting the grid first thing in the morning); corral camping (larger lots for larger groups); family camping (with the new addition of #KIDLIFE programming this year); and general admission and VIP options are available.
GRIDLIFE Midwest is looking toward its return to glory this year, with more events, more vendors, faster cars, and an all-around bigger and splashier experience. Even with these additions, Stewart says, the GRIDLIFE team is keeping affordably in mind, with a range of ticket packages available.
“Our big goal is to build something that people feel like they’re a part of, not just attending.” Says Stewart. “Whether it’s raging at the show or racing on the track, every moment is high excitement, high energy at every moment.”
As their website says, “It’s impossible to be bored at GRIDLIFE.”
Visit their website for more information on GRIDLIFE’s full schedule of events and ticket info.