Written by Megan Caruso
Photos Taken From Mamby’s Facebook Page
You stand gazing through stylish shades at the glistening, blue horizon of Lake Michigan as your feet melt into warm, grainy sand under a long-overdue hot sun. The breeze coming off the lake is keeping you cool, and to your left is a first-class view of the skyscrapers erupting down the coast, forming one of the most notable skylines in the world.
A day like this would draw even the most recluse homebody out to enjoy something that we have zero time to take for granted in Chicago – good beach weather. But June 23-24 was only a matter of good timing, because if you were at Oakwood Beach on Chicago’s Southside, you were graced with an ethereal experience encased between five stages, dozens of musicians, great food and thousands of new friends: Mamby on the Beach.
Mamby’s beachy, oasis vibes can instantly appeal to anyone who comes across a promotional flier or post. Tiki drink huts and boho tents nest both on the park lawn and on the beach, offering all the feelings of traveling to a tropical getaway when in reality, you’re just about five miles down the Lakeshore Path from Millennium Park. Mamby took advantage of two of the longest days of the summer to create a post-solstice paradise; after an erupting sunset of red and orange, the party raged on under the pool of glowing colors from a flashing Ferris wheel.
Inside the gates and after passing through an arch of color that spiked out like a cartoon rendition of the sun, attendees filtered through a triangular tunnel of wooden beams twisting past the Ferris wheel that spilled them into the park. The Park Stage and the Beach Stage sat opposite each other in the grass and the sand where the headliners emerged both nights. Between them, the MixMag x Beatports tent sponsored a full lineup of electronic music all weekend long, from house (Nora en Pure, Jax Jones) to future bass and trap (Vanic). The Monaco Secret Garden silent disco tent was shielded from the sun’s rays inside decorative walls of vines and tropical flowers. The fifth and last was the Community Stage, reserved for a showcase of local Chicago talent, and not just music. M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a local rhythm tap academy, performed here on Sunday with sassy grins and furious feet, tapping and dragging toes along to instrumentals, Drake and some local house music.
After a successful four installations (including this year’s), the Mamby lineup has proven itself increasingly harder to predict each year. While genres are relatively balanced between electronic, indie-alternative and hip-hop, each year has always strayed in a stronger direction towards the unexpected. The 2018 lineup was dominated by EDM (the genre took over an entire tent for two days and still found its way onto other stages as well), and then indie-alternative, and then hip-hop. Some might find it a little strange that hip-hop fell lowest on the list, especially when the genres guest of honor was Chicago-native and hip-hop legend, Common.
Saturday was led by some inspiring acts, like AJR, a band of three brothers who put the Energizer Bunny to shame. Vocalist Jack Met and his brothers Adam and Ryan (whose initials all make up AJR) flew through the air as they leaped, spun and wigged-out to their own indie-electro-fusion jams, including the popular single “Sober Up.”
Common’s set Saturday night came with a surprise that Chicagoans almost come to expect at any local hip-hop event of this caliber; Chance the Rapper joined him on stage during the last half of his set to sing “The Food,” a song off Common’s 2006 album Be. This set occurred in the same time slot as Duke Dumont, only yards away on the beach at the MixMag x Beatports tent. The sound bleed was painfully apparent in the spaces of the crowds nearest each other, but there’s an easy fix for that – rage closer to the stage.
Whethan emerged on the Beach Stage on Sunday in a massive explosion of sound from the skinny, Chicago-local 19-year-old. A mix of his own original tracks, a few dubstep drops and his 2016 single with Oliver Tree, “When I’m Down,” made him one of the hottest sets of the day. Later, on the Park Stage, St. Lucia kicked out some synth-pop reminiscent of the ‘80s, complete with flashing strobes and a hyperactive fog machine. Cold War Kids closed opposite of Russ to a dwindling crowd as the fog rolled in off the lake and the temperature plummeted to a humid chill. Still, Nathan Willet’s raw voice cut through the mist as he and the rest of Cold War Kids played tracks off releases spanning their entire portfolio, including everyone’s favorite 2006 track, “Hang Me Up to Dry.”
The music is the reason that fellow artists, vendors and fans had assembled, but the insurmountable surprises at Mamby were found in the little things. Carefully curated events and experiences drew in lines the length of half a headlining crowd, especially at the hairdresser’s, where all braiding and styling was offered free for everyone.
The bohemian, free-loving atmosphere of Mamby was most present in these small exchanges with those who made up the curated experiences. Yoga classes were offered on the lawn with instruction and music played through silent-disco style headphones for a calm, grounding experience amidst a chaotic scene. Each day’s yoga classes were prefaced with different talks and speeches on healthy eating practices and wellness tips (but let’s be real, majority of us got up and ran to the nearest food truck for shawarma and fries after our last downward dog). There were meditation classes, tarot card readers, spiritual healing sessions via gongs and vibrations, henna tattoo artists, beach volleyball and water balloon fights.
Rather than something to do while you kill time for the next set, these places were often where you caught yourself late for the next artist because you couldn’t tear away. The arguably most interesting place to linger was at a table that read “Advice.” A local Chicago comedy theatre gathered a group of improv actors and enlisted them to provide improv advice to the masses while accepting donations. Some confused the table with an information booth and asked for directions to the bathroom or where they could fill their water, but others came to spill their sob stories of exes, exciting stories of their newfound festy-love, and the hard-hitting deep cuts, like, “I just finished the Office for the first time. What do I watch now?!”
As for the next round of artists that will be called to play in the sand on a beautiful summer day in Chicago: your guess is as good as mine. Mamby never ceases to surprise in musicality and experience. Be prepared to not just witness the magic around, but to participate in it full on. Try the healing meditation guided by interactive vibrating tools and sounds. Sit for a moment to find what a deck of Tarot cards has to say about your journey. Embrace the quirks that Mamby has to offer because when else will you be in an environment of such love and acceptance?
Until next year, I’m on the edge of my seat next to you and yours.