Top 10 Musical Memories In North Coast Music Festival History


The 6th annual North Coast Music Festival will be held over Labor Day Weekend this September 4 – 6 in Chicago’s Union Park. The lineup includes Widespread Panic, The Chemical Brothers, D’Angelo and The Vanguard, The Roots, The Disco Biscuits, Galactic with Macy Gray, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Turbo Suit featuring Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee, and many more.

We reached out to NCMF promoter Michael Berg (who also performs in Van Ghost) to have him share his favorite moments from the past five years of the fest. Here’s what Berg had to say:

After sifting through my memory bank and looking back on the posters from the past five years heading into the 6th annual North Coast Music Fest over Labor Day Weekend, I somehow managed to narrow down my favorite two musical moments from each year, creating my Top 10 Musical Memories of North Coast Music Fest. Much like this year’s lineup which is far and away our most diverse, this list spans nearly every genre you can think of and sums up what Coasties stand for musically, which is something for everybody! On to the list…

Benny Benassi – 2010

Although I am not as much of an EDM guy as some of our other partners and fans, I have grown to truly appreciate what is special about the culture and experience of a killer dance set. Italy’s Benny Benassi in our first year had the jam-packed crowd going absolutely ballistic. I stood there with one of our founding partners Lucas, and looked out over a crowd of thousands with their hands pumping high in the sky and said, “Man, we’ve got a festy on our hands!” It was a defining moment for a first year accomplishment of a bunch of indie promoters coming together to form something that blended genres and fans – which at that point had never been done in the market. We’ll never forget it.

Pretty Lights – 2010

In between when Pretty Lights was booked and the fest this first year, Derek Vincent Smith went from being an on-the-rise artist gaining traction daily, to the monster juggernaut of an act who now blends live EDM with funk instruments alongside his full ensemble, The Analog Future Band. Although this was one of his DJ sets, he had grown to near-headliner status and had the crowd fully engaged, setting the tone perfectly for The Chemical Brothers to headline and close the night.

Van Ghost – 2011

Although things have changed for the Ghost Unit in recent years, where our touring schedule has gone from full court press to a special occasion performance band, this was a moment that the band nor I will ever forget. At this juncture, and still possibly to this day, it was the biggest hometown crowd we have played to and it was monumental at the time. As well, wearing both hats at a festival you are helping produce and performing at can have it’s pros and con, but at this particular moment it was cathartic of the stress surrounding me to get to sing our songs to a hometown crowd of nearly 10,000 people! What an honor that will be with me forever.

of Montreal – 2011

In the vain of The Flaming Lips, there are few bands out there that step up to have theatrics and costumes be part of their performance each time as well as of Montreal does. They pulled out all the stops when they played North Coast with multiple dancers and costume changes throughout their set. It was spectacular and had the crowd wide-eyed in response. As well, they blend indie rock with dance beats which was perfect late afternoon music for the Coastie crowd.

Umphrey’s McGee – 2012

Even though few of them are based here currently, UM are hometown heroes in Chicago, and watching them blast off to the next level, time and time again over their career has been rewarding and entertaining for the home team. They are arguably the tightest band musically in the scene and have earned their stripes over the course of their career. They also were among the first two acts to confirm with us the inaugural year, which, as you can imagine, helped us securing the rest of the artists and leading to a successful first festival. Their set in 2012 was over in the more tree- lined stage area and created a perfect setting for them to get vibey and shred like they do. Bottom line, it seriously killed. Umphrey’s will most certainly make a triumphant return to NCMF one of these days and are NCMF fam for life!

The Rapture – 2012

May they rest in peace, The Rapture are no longer a going act but their style of alternative rock band songs with dancey four-on-the floor disco beats made them the perfect sunset act for this installation of NCMF. Their album from that year, In The Grace Of Your Love had them drawing huge crowds and very well deserved critical acclaim across genre platforms. A few of the producers made it a point to go out into the crowd and smell the roses for this set and we’re rewarded with a very special one at that!

Big Gigantic – 2013

Continually working with certain acts over a series of years and growing together as a partnership and as friends is one of the rewards of working in this industry. Big G and their team are some of the hardest working, coolest and kindest people we know. This set was the jump from year two, where they played earlier in the day, to legit headliner and good god was their set magnificent. It might still be their biggest crowd to have performed in front of in Chicago (or at least comes close) and they brought it sky high to prove it was not a fluke.

Gary Clark Jr. – 2013

If we are going to go strictly on a musical performance and artist doing exactly what you dreamed they would do when you booked them, Gary Clark Jr. is that act from the North Coast past. A living legend in his own right for being not only a shredding guitarist and immaculate singer, but also songwriting skills that leave a lasting impression beyond just a good live performance. You know, the kind of songs that get stuck in your head for a week at a time. Gary Clark Jr. exudes confidence and the crowd, which was giant, bought up all of what he and his band were selling. We’re all looking forward to his new record The Story of Sonny Boy Slim dropping a week after the fest this year as well!

Kid Cudi – 2014

Kid Cudi hails from Chicago by way of Cleveland and now resides in Sunny Los Angeles and is a mega star who seamlessly has his hands in music and film at this point. After failing at our first attempt to bring him on board, my close friend, Kunal who works on his management team persuaded him that NCMF was a great look for him, and one thing led to another, and it worked out to have him as a headliner last year. Although he has a hip-hop background, Kid Cudi is a real musician who has a foot in the door of electronic music, pop, R&B and various other genres, plus he can sing! He is a true artist in my opinion. Peeking out from the side stage watching his over- sized crowd swing their arms in the air and singing each song word for word along with him was special. Also, the owner of Cloud 9 Adventures Mark Brown, after four years of me begging him to come finally made his pilgrimage to NCMF from South Florida with his son who was a huge Cudi fan. It meant so much to me to have him and his son there to experience it with someone who I love and respect so much, I’ll never forget it!

Chet Faker – 2014

Chet Faker is the quintessential Coastie act. He blends genres with ease, is a world- class lyricist and had the most beautiful, forward-thinking record of 2014, Built on Glass. Not only did he play the official pre-party at Concord Music Hall the night before the fest, moving from instrument to instrument, and singing like an angel, he got up the next day and did it all again at the fest proper. This was another set we had to venture out from the depths of production world to enjoy for a little bit with all the fans. He did not disappoint and although NYC’s living legend funk stars, Lettuce, had a monster set that year which deserves honorable mention, Chet stole the show with his three-piece band, world-class material and flawless live performance.

Head here to pick up tickets for this year’s North Coast Music Festival. Check out the North Coast Music Festival entry in the newly redesigned JamBase Festival Guide.