How I Survived Three Festivals in Three Days
Courtesy of ARC Music Festival / Kursza | Alive Coverage for North Coast Music Festival | Alive Coverage for Electric Zoo
It's fair to say this was the first full festival season back from the pandemic, and I'm sure I'm not the only dance music fan who went on a binge. Many are probably all too familiar with the cycle of ending a festival exhausted and thinking it's your last one for a while, only to realize you're not yet satisfied and seeking out the next one. And by the time you know it, it's the end of summer and festival season.
Though I felt accomplished with the number of festivals I did this year – a couple of annual staples like Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, plus more than a half dozen new ones on my bucket list – I knew I wanted to end this season with a real bang.
My go-to for Labor Day weekend has typically been two or three days of Electric Zoo in New York City. But this year, I decided to challenge myself to do three festivals in three days in two cities. I decided to go to Chicago for North Coast Music Festival on Friday and ARC Music Festival on Saturday and fly back to New York on Sunday morning for EZoo.
I'm the only one who thought I wasn't crazy (aside from my editor). Besides the physical struggle and logistical hurdles, there was the risk of spreading myself too thin. Now having survived the challenge, though, I can say that I got the best of three worlds.
Here's a recap of my journey and why you might consider trying it.
Day 1: North Coast
I took a 6 a.m. flight from LaGuardia Airport to Chicago Midway International Airport to give myself a buffer just in case of delays. I was in Chicago by 7:15 a.m., enough time for a much-needed power nap. I met up with a group of friends and van pooled to SeatGeek Stadium, only 12 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. The drive took about 45 minutes due to traffic from rush hour and, of course, Coasties, as attendees are affectionately nicknamed.
Once inside the festival gates, I was taken by the size of the venue. North Coast took place at Union Park near the West Side until 2018 and outgrew another venue before moving to the soccer stadium. I explored the four principal stages, starting with The Vega, which featured multiple LED panels and bass music. Nothing embodies summertime in Chicago like a boat that acts as the perfect platform to watch the stage hosted by Subtronics and his Cyclops Recordings label.
In the middle of the grounds was the Fire Pit, a caged playground-style structure spewing flames, where I expanded my musical horizons. There was an open-air silent disco and a massive, air-conditioned Chill Dome offering pillows to rest on, lasers, and relaxing beats.
Poppin' all day long was the Canopy, hosted by Fisher's Catch & Release record label. House favorites including Solardo, Eli & Fur, CID, Martin Ikin, and headliner Fisher who kept the crowd grooving for hours.
The Stadium was the name of the main stage, the only one inside the stadium itself. It brought a beautiful set by Madeon, feels and sing-a-longs with Gryffin, and an explosive closing set by trance legend Armin van Buuren. Armin played many of his new tracks, including "Superman," leading into a grand finale with his famous "Blah Blah Blah." Fireworks went off around midnight to wrap a spectacular first day at North Coast.
If there was a day for me to go to an after-party, it was Friday and not Saturday when I'd have to travel the next morning, so I hit Tao Chicago, where Two Friends was playing fresh off their North Coast set. "Life's Too Short" to waste a night, as one of their tracks goes.
Courtesy of ARC Music Festival / Kursza
Day 2: ARC
On Saturday, I switched it up by going to ARC, which held its second edition after a highly lauded inaugural year in 2021. The house and techno festival unfolded at North Coast's old home of Union Park, which is conveniently close to downtown. Two open-air stages, a tented stage, and the ARC car art car filled the space.
Attendees are greeted with an impressively wide main stage, the Grid. Enrico Sangiuliano and Joseph Capriati drew a large crowd for some mid-afternoon techno.
Courtesy of ARC Music Festival / Kursza
The Expansions stage, which had an in-the-woods feel, was packed with people reveling in Ricardo Villalobos' minimal techno and microhouse sounds.
The tented Elrow stage was not one to miss – it was decked out with colorful decorations spanning the entire lengthy roof. Inflatables and frequent confetti blasts completed the signature carnival-esque party the brand is known for worldwide. The crowd had an electrifying energy dancing to sets by Gene Farris b2b Mike Dunn, Paco Osuna, and Get Real, aka Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet.
Interactive art programming expanded tenfold this year, with larger-than-life installations littering the grounds. They included a 20-foot steel figure sprouting fire and a 26-foot Mariposita installation originally created for Burning Man.
Courtesy of ARC Music Festival / Kursza
There were several types of VIP and guest wristbands with access to large viewing sections with cushioned couches and open bars – the ideal hospitality for those seeking an elite yet laid-back experience.
I ended the night back at the Grid for the icon Carl Cox's two-hour set and techno queen Charlotte de Witte's closing 1.5-hour set. Pyro cannons lit the stage at the darkest moments. ARC, in its second year, proved its deserving place in Chicago, the mothership of house music.
The festival started at 2 p.m. and ended on the earlier side, at 10 p.m., which was friendly for the night before my travels back to New York. Veteran ravers pick their battles, and I skipped after parties and opted to get as much sleep as possible before my 8 a.m. flight.
Day 3: Electric Zoo
I landed back at LaGuardia Airport around 11 a.m., headed straight home to drop off my bags, and got ready to close out my b3b challenge at Electric Zoo 3.0, the thirteenth edition of New York City's premiere electronic dance music festival.
Getting to Randall's Island is always fast, fun, and scenic, with the ferry from midtown. EZoo was bought by Brooklyn's Avant Gardner earlier this year and underwent a concept makeover. Instead of animal-themed stage designs of the past, 3.0 aimed for a futuristic look with AI-assisted innovative production. Two of the stages, including the main stage, Antheon, donned large boulders.
Sunday featured house on the Morphosis stage, including CID, Sidepiece, and AC Slater. The Levitron stage became an ethereal bass heaven with CloZee and her Odyzey label dropping heavy beats. Meanwhile, The Landing hosted the Carl Cox Invites takeover with the man himself as well as Loco Dice, Andrea Olivia b2b Ilario Alicante, and others providing the soundtrack in a fully engulfed, visual-audio experience. The Antheon was stacked with heavy hitters, including psytrance masters Vini Vici, emotive bass duo ARMNHMR, house, and techno-focused Gordo, a Subtronics sunset set, and fan favorite Seven Lions.
EZoo closed with Martin Garrix, who pulled out all the stops as lasers and fireworks lit up the night. The feels ran through tens of thousands of attendees as his set ended with recent emotionally charged banger, "Starlight."
EZoo has always been an animal of its own in terms of uniqueness and evolution. I initially planned to spend the whole weekend in Chicago between North Coast and ARC, but am glad I made it back to experience EZoo 3.0 in all its glory. It's never the same year to year, which makes attending annually all the more appealing.
Many festivals only offer three-day passes, but North Coast, ARC, and EZoo all offer single-day tickets. It's an opportunity to do more as much as it is to do less. Completing my three festivals in three days challenge, my heart is full of memories and the universal bonding power of dance music, no matter the genre and crowd. It's a mission possible – and one for the books.