The stardust has settled down so let’s recap the first-ever Sacred Rose Festival. Opening up a new bracket for Chicago by seasoned festival producers, Sacred Rose certainly had some highs and some lows but one thing is for sure Sacred Rose was one for the ages and one we hope will return. Hosted at Seat Geek Stadium, formerly known and loved by Phish fans as Toyota Park, there were 3 stages of music and the fabulously unique Laser Dome for chilling and taking in more chill tunes from DJ acts. Do not be confused, these DJs were very fitting with the vibe of the festival. They were not EDM acts. The Canopy stage was amazing with a shaded area and real, living houseplants along with ivy climbing vines dripping atop the Canopy. Plenty of photo ops as you walked from that end through the Fire Dome or Rainbow Lounge over to the Dreamfield next to the Vega stage. They even had a boat! On top of it all, I'm on a boat! Everybody look at me cause I'm sailing on a boat. I'm on a boat (I'm on a boat) I'm on a boat!
One of the sharp critiques was the sound bleed that occurred from the stages. Adjacent to the Canopy Stage was both the Dreamfield and the Vega stages situated right next to each other. When the Gone Gone Beyond took the Dreamfield stage first, there was no way to tell but by the evening, it was glaringly obvious. The entire festival was situated outside Seat Geek Stadium so the grounds were not as big as you may imagine. There were acts on at the same time so while standing at the Rainbow Longue you could catch the breezes of the different artists depending on which way the wind was blowing.
Personally, that was not a problem for me. It was magical to hear the artists from every direction. I can understand how a sound purist would be irritated but this is the inaugural Sacred Rose. When is the last time you did something for the first time? Let’s cut them some slack. The artists of Friday afternoon did not have huge crowds so if you wanted pure sound, just go closer to the stage. Viola. The space and the comfort of the small crowds were indulgent.
Gone Gone Beyond is a band you want to be proximal to anyway. The energy they radiate is good. You want to be close to them. They opened up the fest as expected with some deep cleansing breaths, talking to the crowd as if we were in a yoga studio more than announcing their grandiose presences from a massive festival PA. It was the kind of show you draw near and dear to as they played their staples from the album 2030, "Canyons," and a personal favorite "Coast." The Bhagvad Gita says “Be in the world but not of it.” Throwing out their energy to the wind and ears of willing listeners, the Gone Gone Beyond did the work for the greatest good of the festival community and the divine in us recognized the divine in GGB.
Previewing 2 members of the supergroup headliner Philco, up next was Midnight North. The blend of Americana and Roots music is the combination of Elliott Peck, Grahame Lesh, Connor O’Sullivan, and drummer Nathan Graham. It was a difficult decision to walk away from the vibe Gone Gone Beyond had going on but this being the first few hours of the festival, wanderlust stuck hard. The sounds of Midnight North rewarded the itchy feet. As to be expected, the roots sound was prevalent but leave it to Phil Lesh’s son to get it thumping. Tunes from their latest album There’s Always A Story gave way to pure rock n roll.
Artist at Large Margo Price made her debut with Sierra Hull from the Canopy Stage. It was truly a grand beginning and everything was going well at this point. "Out of My Blues" awakened the crowds and it seemed like the festival was operating at full steam from a sluggish opening. The crowd sweetly swayed to Margo & Sierra covering Loretta Lynn’s You Want to Give Me a Lift. Shortly after Sierra Hull’s set, the Laser Dome would open and the crowds would have a chance to see and do everything the inaugural Sacred Rose had to offer.
Couches were laid out, the astroturf was like a cushy carpet for bare feet, tons of garbage receptacles to keep the place clean, and the art was in full focus with colors swirling through the air. The taps flowed with Citra Ass Down, there was a cool breeze, and the whole place permeated with whiffs of good weed. Soon enough it was time for the funkateers, Lettuce. Firing on all cylinders, Lettuce took the stage at 6 pm to a sunny sky and a swarming crowd ready to get their groove on.
Late July ‘22 had brought an epic collaboration between Lettuce, Tower of Power, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks, and the confidence still exuded from the Dreamfield stage at Sacred Rose. Opening with Nigel Hall rallying the crowd, they launched into "Mount Crushmore" and the crowd responded in spades. Adam Deitch and Jesus took the reigns for "Vamanose" and Lettuce really got the party started until the Punch Brothers beckoned from the Canopy stage.
Here is where the sound bleed was obvious to me. Packed into the areas where you could hear well, the crowd climbed on top of one another to get a better sight and sound. With the end of Lettuce’s set raging from the other side of the field, there was no chance to get a good view of the stringed bluegrass brothers gathered around a single mic as the Punch Brothers do.
Chris Thile’s spirit is loud but when he announced from the stage, “That’s as loud as we’re going to get” then the crowd confirmed their suspicions. Their tune "Three Dots and a Dash" has nuances from Noam on banjo and admittedly, it was not coming thru as intended. Thankfully Lettuce’s set finished up and the Punch Brothers' always rousing encore of "Rye Whiskey" was heard loud and clear from the back of the Canopy. Oh Boy! It was a strong finish albeit a soft beginning.
As the night progressed, trouble finding a restroom became apparent. If you were VIP, you were entitled to half the field for better viewing. Perhaps there were more port-a-potties there? I’m used to a good chunk of the viewing area for VIP status but this seemed odd. Half of my homies were in VIP and did not use it. They reported no more bathrooms or shorter lines from inside the golden shores of VIP. The water stations and restrooms were situated well outside the stage areas. Plentiful once found the real question is, will there ever be a festival that can trust us with 2-ply toilet paper? I’m just grateful that there was toilet paper at all but a girl can dream.
Friday night was the main enchilada. In retrospect, this was what the festival was truly all about and I am glad they did it Friday night. Philco or as it was advertised, Phil Lesh and Friends, the supergroup of its own making consisted of Jeff Chimenti on keys, John Molo on drums, Stu Allen on guitar, Karl Denson on sax, Nels Cline sometimes on dobro, sometimes on guitar, Elliott Peck on vocals, Grahame Lesh on guitar, Jeff Tweedy on guitar and vocals and the ringmaster legend Phil Lesh on bass.
“The Wolf came in, I got my cards, we sat down for a game
I cut my deck to the Queen of Spades, but the cards were all the same
Don't murder me, I beg of you, don't murder me”
Jeff Tweedy sounded absolutely geeked to be singing "Dire Wolf." In an almost shy tone, he beamed from the stage as the gang was all there and the show was really happening right here in Chicago. What songs would they play? We had all dreamed of what would be the opener and "Dire Wolf" was not on that list. We thought for sure something off American Beauty or perhaps Phil Lesh staples, "Box of Rain," or "Althea. Ooooh, Althea!
When Jeff Tweedy entered from stage right you could palpably feel his sheepish grin of “Gee I learned this song for tonight” morph into “Hey guys I KNOW this song!” Four songs into the supergroup and they did Wilco’s song "Airline to Heaven." That song could have easily fit into any Phil & Friends show. The cross mojonation was in full glory as they ushered into "US Blues" and found their footing as one cohesive unit altogether in their splendid unique glory.
Wilco’s latest album Cruel Country is an unexpected turn from the art pop style they are known for. From art pop to country to… Shakedown Street? Some speculated that the sound bleed issues caused the group to cut their 1st set short but from the setlist displayed on stage, that doesn’t appear to be true. They finished when they wanted to finish. Roaring back to the stage unencumbered, they opened the second set with the fiercest "Shakedown Street" ever. 82-year-old Phil Lesh was in fine form and this unexpected jam rocked the fields of Seek Geek Stadium. Nearing the end of the set, a funky fresh vibrant "Franklin’s Tower" had Phil Lesh’s smile wide and strong. Watching Jeff Tweedy own the vocals made that smile infectious to the entire crowd and performers on stage. We were even treated to Margo Price joining in on tambourine to ensure shaking them bones was prevalent everywhere. Pitter Patter, let's get at er.
If the theme of Sacred Rose was that community of the Grateful Dead, Philco did not disappoint. Only 2 Wilco selections were played, one per set and the second set selection of "Via Chicago" was choice. They closed out the second set with Wilco’s homage to the tortured artist, arguably the best Wilco song ever written back in 1999. Players happy to be playing together always translates well to the audience. Let it not go unsaid that the shining jewel of this crowned Friday night performance was Mr. Karl Denson. Without a Net "Eyes of the World" would have been diminished without Branford Marsalis and this performance of Philco at Friday Night of Sacred Rose was damn near perfection, thanks to Karl Denson.
Jeff Chimenti also really tied the room together.
With all this love and family joy abounding, I ran into a saxman friend who gave me the great news that he is now cancer free! Friday night could not have been better. Until Saturday! The four winds blew us all safely home all weekend but I would dare to say that in hindsight, Friday night was a pinnacle for the inaugural Sacred Rose festival. They did not bid us good night, they encored with "Ripple" and again, unexpectedly brought out all the best emotions.
Philco - Set #1
Doin That Rag - Hipsters, tripsters, Real cool chicks, sir, Everyone's doin' that rag!
Airline to Heaven
Not Fade Away
Viola Lee Blues
Pride of Cucamonga
New Speedway Boogie
Watching the master at work, Nels Cline go from dobro to guitar, watching Phil beam as his son Grahame ripped it up, the incredible patience and compatibility of all musicians on stage… The dawning of the age of Aquarius was in action all around us. It was pure magic. Aquarius is known for technology and Saturday morning was evidence of that. We were greeted with online communications that they heard the critiques of the sound bleed and worked to fix that. They increased the number of VIP port-a-potties and they had given VIPs more shade as well. What a time to be alive! Just that fast, the inaugural Sacred Rose had heard, received, and worked to correct the issues.
This is the future of festivals.
Time to wake up and rage as Andy Frasco & the UN took to the Dreamfield stage mid-afternoon. To avoid sound bleed issues, they had moved up the set times which is rough for a Frasco fan. Sleepy-eyed, we all made it to the field at a relaxed but hurried pace. Chilling on the astroturf field, I quickly found out that plastic grass gets hot! Perhaps I will keep my shoes on. If you haven’t caught Andy Frasco live, you just have to go. If you have, then you know what this set was like. In true AFUN fashion, the crowd was pumped and Andy was the ringleader of the daytime circus. One part Jerry Springer, one part Oprah, you cannot get enough of this band! At one point you saw parents lifting their children up on their shoulders to get a better view. Andy is so dang positive. Then Andy pronounces to the crowd, “Fuck yeah I’ll hit that blunt. Let’s fuggin go!” Suddenly the parents with children were moving to the outskirts of the crowd. Then he brought them all back to doing the "Haba Nagila." They played their amazing optimist anthem "Keep On Keeping On," then covered NIN "Closer." It’s a paradox that keeps you rolling with laughter. AFUN is never to be missed. Even if you have seen it 1000 times, it’s different every time and it’s always welcoming, depending on your levels of humor and sarcasm. Maybe don’t bring the kids if you’re offended by crass humor.
Moon Taxi was up next. AFUN’s Ernie Chang joined them on sax to rip into the stellar version of "Careless Whisper" that is always fun. It’s surprising that AFUN didn’t write that tune themselves. With a flair for pop tunes, Moon Taxi launched into a high-energy performance that parted the clouds. Their top 40 hit, "Two High" is indicative of their light tango sunny style. "All Day All Night" got the crowd bouncing and I was so glad to get a taste of the Taxi. They blended beautifully to keep the crowd youthful and vivacious in what could be a repetitive predictable lineup.
In that same vein was Cory Wong. These are the artists that are keeping the torch alive. They are doing things their own way with a solid nod to those that came before but with a keenly sharp deviation from the past. They are bright and alive, taking advantage of all the ways available to get the message out. They are visual artists while striking harmonies that keep the crowd engaged. Cory Wong invited all the guests up with him on stage as well as his 8-piece band backing him.
All the intensity had me heat stroking so it was time to experience the Laser Dome. Now THIS, this is truly something to marvel at in the world of festivals. It was a massive dome that the soccer team Chicago Fire practices at turned into a lounge for festival goers. It had AC! It had a tiny dome within the dome for a DJ and lots and lots of lasers. There was, of course, a bar to purchase refreshments, and just outside was a long line of port-a-potties to ensure you wouldn’t have to wait long. The Sacred Rose team brought in another free water station just outside the Laser Dome to ensure that the dome was a place for total reinvigoration. As if the fairy pond from Legend of Zelda was really a thing, in 3D reality, the Laser Dome had it all.
It was mid-festival, Saturday afternoon. I needed to consider the massive Sunday ahead and so I relaxed entirely. There were massive padded blocks that were lightweight to move as you please. I curled up into the pyramid of soft blocks and had a snack. The AC felt so good and just as I floated into a dream field of my own making, a kiddo pulled out the block my stuff was sitting on and spilled my drink all over me & my camera gear. So much for a perfect moment.
Rudely awake, I would be lying if I said I got over it easily. I was ready to see my first Goose show but I fell to the back and left early to save myself for Sunday. Dead Inside was the DJ spinning Grateful Dead vinyl inside the Laser Dome. it was perfectly pleasant until that kiddo ripped me from my bliss. No parents were anywhere to be found. What would I have even done if they were around? Kids got to play. It was an honest mistake, I’m sure. We had some lovely conversations in the dome. Exchanging pleasantries with everyone and recounting where we first heard Pump Up the Volume. The Laser Dome will be something I very much look forward to at the next Sacred Rose.
While Goose is arguably the best live jam band out there right now, I will reserve my first Goose show for a full offering. With Umphrey’s McGee ripping the roof off adjacent to Goose, the adjusted set times had me feeling like it was time to go home early, just for today. How can you pick? The Goose setlist is pretty exceptional. I do regret my choices.
Goose Saturday Night:
Margo Price joined to cover Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It”
Cory Wong joined for Goose’s original Hot Tea
The packed 7 song jam-heavy set had me wondering if that man at the opening gate wearing his “Not 100% Sold on Goose” shirt is now officially sold.
Sunday came like a herd of turtles. The weather was unpredictable. There were warm breezes and a sky full of clouds. It seemed ripe for tornado gusts. While that felt great to me, the Canopy Stage was taking a beating. Soon after opening, Sunday’s festivities experienced delay after delay.
The lineup for Sunday included Holly Bowling kicking it off. Karina Rykman, Maggie Rose, Circles Around the Sun, The Infamous Stringdusters WITH Molly Tuttle!, Hiatus Kaiyote in from Australia, The Wood Brothers, Dawes, Kamasi Washington, Greensky Bluegrass, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and swoon… Khrunganbin.
That lineup never happened.
This is seemingly where it all nose-dived into oblivion. The first few sets went off without a hitch. Holly Bowling pounced out her keyboard in the sun, playing her translated versions of Phish songs. Yes. Kitchen Dwellers came out to a big crowd and gave us that old-school bluegrass jump on the day. The Montana kinfolk delivered mind-blowing bass thumping into the bluegrass stream. How many worlds they must have seen since they first left home? The Kitchen Dwellers had top-notch harmonies with high-speed lick trading, it’s no wonder they were asked to help out Billy Strings with his Deja Vu experience in 2020. All good things in all good time.
The Kitchen Dwellers were on stage, and life was good. The spirit of Jeff Austin was strong in the air, thick with scalding hot mandolin, brotherhood, and unity. It was surreal thinking about this bluegrass band from Montana, here in Chicago, as the planes flew in and out of Midway International Airport right behind them. Later in the day, we would all be treated to Greensky Bluegrass but for now, the breakbeat plus wah-wah pedals of Kitchen Dwellers were sweet to my ears. They just produced an album with Panda from the Infamous Stringdusters. New music was flowing. The Dwellers kept it going even though they cleared out the VIP area and in front of the stage crowds. The texts from Sacred Rose started around noon, informing us of a revised schedule for the day to eliminate the sound bleed.
Still wondering if any of these beloved bluegrass buddies would break me off a piece of Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. It’s ironic. At the beginning where he says “Drums Please.” I would get a massive kick out of a grassed-up version of Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Kitchen Dwellers kicked out a Phish tease when they threw out a “Whew!” (I’m gonna twist around… twist around… twist around) Surely the Kitchen Dwellers would have fun with my request. The fun they were having on stage was blowing that distant storm on by. They played "Broken Cage" and right on into Jeff Austin’s "New Horizons." Oh man, anyone who was at 2018’s Blue Ox felt the chill in the air and soon, the storm started heading right for us.
The smoke-filled bubble machine indicated that the wind had changed. This real-time information from a festival was awesome on Saturday morning but at this point on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what was happening. There was no rain although I could see how it may quickly start moving towards us. The text at 4:20 was a total buzzkill. It said the show would be paused for the oncoming storm. We decided to camp out for the Infamous Stringdusters with Molly Tuttle in case schedule changes started messing with us. Blu DeTigre was on at the Vega stage but there was no use risking our comfy spots at the Dreamfield stage. After a pause and a delay and another pause, Molly Tuttle and the Infamous Stringdusters appeared on stage.
The set was reduced by maybe 30 minutes but they managed to make us happy just to see some music. What felt like 4 short songs included "Flatland Girl." Molly’s grandparents live in the Chicagoland area on a farm much like mine nearby. She wrote that song from childhood memories and any new tune from Molly and Golden Highway is always a welcome treat.
“Driving through the Land of Lincoln
Always gets me thinkin'
Of the flatlands where I come from
And the life I left behind”
She was magnetic with a cool confidence that kept the crowd swooning. The Grammy-winning Infamous Stringdusters are always tight and to see them alongside Molly was a fantastic treat. They closed with a grassed-up "Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright" and the hope hung heavy in the air.
It was at this time that I felt what might have been one singular drop of rain from the sky. Some Rise. Some Fall. To get to Terrapin. The Black Pumas had already canceled their Sunday slot weeks ago. No fault of Sacred Rose at all but that hole seemed to rip open the entire day’s plan. The Wood Brothers came out after a delay and while their act is first class, the sound can be melancholy. Those were the last sounds heard from the Dreamfield at Sacred Rose Fest 2022.
At 5 pm Sacred Rose sent out messages via text announcing that the Canopy had endured structural damage and the music will go on as the updated schedule allowed. At 6:10, the text sent said the artists had assisted to create a new schedule. At 6:37, “Sorry for all the text y’all.” This text informed us that there is an active weather situation but JRAD would take the stage at 8:45. Twenty-three minutes later, we received texts to EVACUATE NOW.
7:29 pm YOU CAN COME BACK NOW.
At 9:40 pm a curated message in fancy font went out sincerely apologizing for canceling the rest of the show. Sacred Rose assured us that our safety was their number one priority.
Thank Gawd for Molly Tuttle and Infamous Stringdusters coming out hot. I was enamored with the performance and just stuck around so I didn’t miss anything else. Everything was so good. I didn’t want it to end. Dawes was canceled mid-set. Kamasi Washington would not play his full set. Everything unraveled.
Kitchen Dwellers lyrics were lodged in my head, “I can still hear your voice in my head saying keep on going - gotta keep going…” I could stand to go backward. What was the Age before the Age of Aquarius? It was the Age of Pisces. I could handle a lil good old-fashioned talking to one another. Did that happen in the Age of Pisces? How we ever managed to find all our friends at massive shows without cell phones is beyond me. The constant updates were nice but it was messing with me. It wasn’t raining. My friends were all here, the artists are all on board, let’s do the damn thing!
On Tuesday, August 30th, another text came in. We had all long gone home, the show was canceled. It got worse. This text said, “NOTICE TO CHECK YOUR CREDIT CARD STATEMENT.” Oh, geese! Cash is king. That was an Age of Pisces thing of the past though too. Apparently, Seat Geek Stadium had “configuration issues” with their point-of-sale systems. If you used a credit card at a vendor, people were reporting $5000 charges, $1990 charges, ridiculous overcharges that could potentially overdraw some of the festival goers.
The happy ending is that 5 days after that, show-goers were offered refunds - partial refunds for anyone who had purchased a 3-day pass. By this time, most, if not all, charges from Seat Geek had been refunded and rectified. The last text gave detailed steps to obtain a refund. The internet was on fire for the whole weekend and the week after the festival. That’s one way to make a splash for your inaugural year!
So many attendees took to the internet to decline their refunds, publicly stating that they just want to see Sacred Rose year #2. On one hand, the Laser Dome is so wildly unique and interesting. On the other hand, is Seat Geek the place to have it? As always, cash is king my dear readers. All these questions and more will be answered soon enough.
Coming in hot, Sacred Rose sure did throw a great party while it lasted. The communication was direct and efficient. The grounds were so much fun, and colorful with plenty of food options for all and a lineup that could not be beat. These post-COVID days seem to boast stellar lineups everywhere that are more like wish lists. They never happen for one reason or another. Never miss a Sunday show, they say. Who is this “they” and where were they on this stormy but dry Sunday? Perhaps what is better remembered is the homage to Sacred Rose’s founder, Michael Harrison Berg’s grandfather Bert Rose. Maybe ol Grandpa Bert thought we should all get some rest and take it easy before the oncoming holiday weekend.
Check out more PHOTOS from the show!