At the edge of a grey industrial wasteland of overgrown vacant lots, dingy slots and video poker rooms and medium-sized factories shone the colours of the Sacred Rose Festival. The inaugural year of this blend of Americana, jam bands, indie, psych and soul brought partners and festivalers from all over the US and at least one Canadian.
Announced back in mid-March 2022 by collectiv, the team behind the EDM-focused North Coast Music Festival and jam-oriented Suwanee Hulaween, the festival promised a mix of artists likely never paired in the past. Following the 2021 NCMF, Sacred Rose used a template of what-works by setting up on the grounds of the SeatGeek Stadium, a soccer-specific campus with multiple fields of artificial turf. While the 20,000-seat stadium itself wasn’t used for music, it found a purpose on the final day – more on that further down. Regarding the lineup, for anyone paying attention to groove-oriented bands, it was hard to ignore. With a starting lineup of night closers with Phil Lesh & Friends, Khruangbin, The War On Drugs, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Black Pumas, Umphrey’s McGee, Goose, STS9, Greensky Bluegrass, Kamasi Washington and Animal Collective, attentions were grabbed. Added were sweeteners in White Denim, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Punch Brothers, Dawes, Animal Collective, Hiatus Kaiyote, The Wood Brothers, City and Colour, Yves Tumor, Lettuce, Moon Taxi, Cory Wong, Lotus, The Infamous Stringdusters Feat. Molly Tuttle, Andy Frasco and the U.N., Blu DeTiger, Circles Around The Sun, Danielle Ponder, Gone Gone Beyond, Holly Bowling, Karina Rykman, Kitchen Dwellers, lespecial, Liz Cooper, Luke Mitrani, Maggie Rose, Midnight North, Nicole Atkins, Sierra Hull, SunSquabi Feat. Kanika Moore, Syzygal and The Dip. Whew! Plus Margo Price as a roaming artist at large who popped up with various bands. Unfortunately, on August 15, Black Pumas announced that they were taking a necessary break from 2022 touring and cancelled their appearance at Sacred Rose.
ADDICTED decided after the announcement that it would be one of the summer fests we would cover. A short hop downtown Toronto flight to nearby Chicago Midway, made the decision easier. Eventually onsite, it was obvious that this was a well-thought-out event. This was evidenced by a quick moving security line to ample water stations and portolets, even the food, drink and vendors were fairly tuned to the crowd. After some Friday night social media complaints of only a single free water location and sound bleed from one of the three stages to another, the festival team responded overnight to stagger the set times a bit and add another water station. That was a very impressive bit of customer service that proved organizers were listening. The festival grounds were spread out so you were never in the crush of a crowd unless intended. As a veteran of multiday festivals, it was a relief to find that the portable toilets had been pumped and cleaned each night. Food and drink pricing was as would be expected. $5 plastic bottles being a norm, this was revised for the better as Liquid Death, an independent water company was sold in half-litre cans as opposed to plastic bottles. It was a small step to green the festival but it didn’t go unnoticed. The most egregious festival grift was the $12 ChocoTacos being sold by an ice cream truck, the only purveyor of sweets. Given the cannabis-friendly nature of the event in a recreationally-legalized state, you’d think more munchies would’ve been available.
Make a note for next year, collectiv.
With a gold star in the environment and atmosphere box, it’s onto the performances. Racing from hotel to festival and getting the first-day jitters and figures settled, it was off to catch Austin’s explorative rockers, White Denim. They played a tight set in the bright daylight. At The Canopy stage, which sounds as it was, a respite from the hot sun, the crowd was treated to songs by our hometown boys, City and Colour. Playing to a moderate-sized crowd, the numbers proved that there were more fans than curious watchers of this fine set. Back at the Vega stage, Yves Tumor opened the show with their hit, Jackie. Modern funkers, Lettuce pounded out songs including Mt. Crushmore and Phyllis. Many people escaped the sun and heat by heading into the air-conditioned and roomy Laser Dome, which featured DJs of all varieties. As the sun finally fell, the nighttime entertainment began. Sadly, we were notified that Animal Collective wouldn’t not be appearing as singer Avey Tare had lost his voice. But we cheered back up with sets from the high-energy St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the immobile The War on Drugs and the festival set that drew many, Phil Lesh and Friends welcoming up-and-coming local musician Jeff Tweedy and avant-guitar whiz, Nels Cline. Tweedy started the show with the stellar selection, Dire Wolf. Artist at large, Margo Price joined the Friends a couple of songs. Tweedy closed the second set and SR Day One with Ripple.
Another day with blue skies and that hot sun, SR Day Two started for ADDICTED a handful of jamtronica acts in Sunsquabi. Lotus and originators, The Disco Biscuits. Cory Wong and his crack commando band kept people dancing at the Dreamfield stage. As the night fell, it was a bookend of jam bands from the 25-year vets of 40-somethings, Umphrey’s McGee to the youngins quickly growing a large following twenty-somethings, Goose. In between was a huge crowd catching ‘post-rock dance’ band STS9. Asking for a quick thought on the festival, STS9 drummer Zach Velmer said “We’ve been so stoked to bring our show to Sacred Rose. It’s always special getting to perform in Chicago”. There’s no doubt that the band was the reason many came, given the size and interest of the audience at the Canopy stage.
Day Three came and with it some clouds. Providing a break from the heat, threats of rain were reported. The middle to top billing of the day started with Nashville’s’ rock and soul’ belter, Maggie Rose and her amazing band. Continuing the spotlight on modern bluegrass and Americana, the Dreamfield hosted Kitchen Dwellers and The Infamous Stringdusters featuring Molly Tuttle. Later in the evening The Wood Brothers and Greensky Bluegrass were scheduled to close the stage for 2022. Bass prodigy, Blu Detiger hit the Vega stage. Ironically, at 4:20, a message went out on the festival app (a great addition) and on the screens that concerns regarding strong winds were pausing performances on all stages and closing the gates. They started back up quickly but it was confusing to figure out who was actually going on. Hiatus Kaiyote got to perform making me very happy. Due to proximity, many rushed to the Canopy to catch Dawes. After only 4 songs, another pause occurred, this time everyone was urged to evacuate into the stadium due to the wind. This pause was longer but it felt like the festival would pick back up. Heading back to Vega, hopes that Kamasi Washington would soon take the stage diminished when the crew tarped and then tore down the gear onstage. After lightning was seen in the distance and the PA speakers were lowered to the stage, it was clear the festival was closing prematurely. Sure enough, an announcement came over all the speakers saying that the festival was ending immediately and everyone had to exit. Despite the shared disappointment, the crowd headed for the gates to head home or to whatever home base they were using for the weekend. Like many, I headed to the shuttle bus stand to head back to the airport hotels. Amazingly, I was back in my hotel room 45 minutes after the announcement.
Only Mother Nature could predict the weather for the weekend and despite two beautiful, hot days, it prevented us all from catching Kamasi Washington, Greensky Bluegrass, Khruangbin and two sets of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Taking to social media, there were many who just didn’t accept the cancellation, citing the festival organizers being more concerned with their insurance than pleasing the crowd. Some people who only planned on catching Sunday night’s headliners talked about paying for parking and tickets just to be turned away at the gates. Frustrations were high for everyone but some refused to see the good reasons for clearing tens of thousands of people out of open spaces and artists and crew from metal stages with lightning approaching. No longer will open-air concerts and festivals print ‘Rain or Shine’ on tickets. Blame the unpredictability of weather caused by climate change for this. Just a few days ago, a surprising message went out on social media and through the festival app announcing that partial refunds would be made available for anyone who paid to attend on the final day.
To sum up the first Sacred Rose Festival from the location (despite being well away from anything else, for better or for worse) to the lineup, from the food and trinket vendors to the portolets, from the peaceful crowd to the water stations and shade, it is very hard to pick a point of failure. The response to fix things on the fly showed that they were in it for the music and the attendees more than anything else. Luckily this wasn’t the organizing team’s first rodeo and they were able to take previous lessons into account. The generosity of dipping into profits, if this first-year festival even turned any, was unexpected, to say the least. Giving Sacred Rose an A feels like an easy grade to make. Here’s hoping that the second iteration takes off where the first ended. Taking the spirit that collectiv, led by Michael Harrison Berg put forth is pushing a lot of us to place hope on what summer 2023 brings.