Arc Music Festival successfully celebrated its third anniversary in Chicago — the birthplace of house music — this Labor Day Weekend.
The 2023 lineup remained lazer-focused on house and techno, including Eric Prydz (Holo show), Black Coffee, Tale of Us, Peggy Gou, Fatboy Slim, Fisher, John Summit, Adam Beyer, Boris Brejcha, Nina Kraviz, Anfisa Letyago, Vintage Culture, Derrick Carter, Dombresky, Carl Craig, Hot Since 82, Gene Farris, Kyle Walker, Lee Foss, Loco Dice, Nic Fanciulli, The Blessed Madonna, Tinlicker, Patrick Topping, Wade, Walker & Royce, and many more.
While other gatherings around the country made headlines for doing everything wrong this weekend, Arc organizers Auris Presents demonstrated how a proper city festival could and should operate.
- Most city-based festivals are accessible by public transportation in one way or another, but Arc’s location at Union Park makes it particularly easy to access with an L (train/subway) stop on the same block.
- While there’s no onsite or official parking available, there are a number of nearby garages that offer plenty of parking at reasonable rates. Using an app like SpotHero or Parkwhiz makes this an even easier process.
- There were separate entrances for GA and VIP pass holders. General admission entry was quick and painless through ID checks, security, and ticket scanning. I did arrive later in the day than most of the crowd, but I experienced no wait at all in the general admission lines each day.
- Union Park may be a relatively compact space in festival terms, but the layout still manages to include four unique stages and plenty of food and drink options.
- I’ve been to several festivals recently that felt grossly oversold, but this was not one of them. It was easy to roam from stage to stage, and there was enough breathing room to navigate through crowds without ever feeling crushed or concerned for ones safety.
- The water refill station was difficult to find unless you studied the festival map in advance. Many folks (myself included) assumed the only available refill spot was the park’s permanent water fountain on the walkway near the GA entrance/exit, but there was a full refill station with at least 10 automated faucets just to the left of the nearby bathroom complex. Better signage would be helpful here.
- Food options were plentiful, but there were long lines at peak times. Options included Indian, Greek, BBQ, and of course Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs.
- Plenty of full bars were sprinkled throughout the venue. Prices ranged from $12 for a 16-ounce beer to $14-16 for 12-ounce traditional mixed drinks (not including energy drink mixers).
- There was a fair amount of dust, but this is unavoidable for an outdoor festival held on grass and dirt.
- ‘The Grid’ main stage was larger than ever and featured more lighting and special effects. Built out of stacks of shipping containers, the industrial design is a clear homage to house and techno’s warehouse beginnings. This stage was host to some of the most unique moment’s in Midwest music history, including Prydz’s Holo performance on Friday, a two-hour closing set by Chicago’s own John Summit on Saturday, and a visually surreal show by Tale of Us on Sunday.
- Decor at the outer space-themed Elrow tent felt slightly tamer than past years, but there were still plenty of shenanigans all weekend long and it remains one of the best parts of this festival. Roaming performers in outlandish outfits, giant totem characters, Elrow’s dancing chicken mascot, and endless confetti canons were all part of the show.
- The Expansions stage continues to be a more intimate, nature-focused stage tucked away amongst a grove of trees. The Tulum-inspired space featured wood structures, greenery, and tribal symbols — you’ll almost forget you’re in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the country.
- The new Area 909 stage was a welcomed pivot from the art car/bus of past years. This stage featured mostly local talent, but it featured a raised viewing platform behind the stage that was accessible to all attendees, not just artists or VIPs like you’d see at most stages. While this stage was located right next to the main stage, the sound bleed was surprisingly minimal.
- There were a few returning art installations, including Rise by Michael Benisty and Mariposita by Chris Carnabuci. Also featured were Elektra by Tom Claassen, Unity by Michael Benisty, Pulse by This is Loop, and a painting by Wolfdog.
- Aside from the large-scale installations, my favorite piece of art was the TV Tower by Michael Allen, which featured videos of dance music culture from days past shown on vintage TV screens — think footage of 90s warehouse parties and throwback interviews with legends like Carl Cox and Derrick Carter.
- While we weren’t able to access or experience the VIP areas, we’ve heard good reviews of the viewing decks, amenities, and all-inclusive food and drink options there.
- Arc continues to attract a mature, experienced, and respectful festival crowd.
- These fans appeared much more casual, with fewer festival-style outfits and more shades of black. Just come as you are!
- Having a festival focused solely on house and techno means everyone attending is into the same style of music. It’s a nice change of pace from events that try to pack every genre into one show. Even if you attend solo, you know you’ll find your people here.
- This lineup featured more women and diversity than most events in this space, and we hope that continues to grow.
Chicago has always deserved a proper festival dedicated to the music that was born here, and Arc now fully fills that void.
Arc Music Festival is set to return on Labor Day Weekend 2024, and past attendees can already purchase tickets for next year with pre-sale codes that were emailed earlier this week. Stay tuned for official public on-sale information in the coming weeks.
Featured photo courtesy Arc Music Festival on Facebook.