• Will Kriss

Gridlife Midwest 2019 - Truly the Best Yet

The sixth annual Gridlife Midwest Music and Motorsports Festival may have just been the best installment yet. Thanks to several continuing improvements, the premier automotive event in the region continues to outperform itself, even in the face of extreme weather conditions. It was yet another wild kick-off to the festival season in Michigan for both racers and music fans alike.

Background for the Unfamiliar -

Several Gridlife events take place in different areas of the country throughout the year, with the Gridlife Midwest installment being the most iconic.

Taking place at the beginning of each summer at Gingerman Speedway in South Haven, MI, some of the best drivers in the country and beyond compete in different categories of drift racing and time attack battles, while a curated selection of artists provide the soundtrack to the madness. Generally, the lineup consists of local and big-name electronic and hip hop artists who perform throughout the day and long into the night.

Some famous returning drivers returning to the track this year included Ryan Tuerck, who was driving a new Toyota Corolla Hatchback with 1000 Horsepower this year, as well as Vaughn Gittin Jr., who drives a Monster Energy Drink Mustang, and is my personal favorite driver to watch at the festival.

Meanwhile, a massive car show is on display, where drivers are able to show off their custom-built rides. Just about every make and model is lined up and down the grounds, making it a cornucopia of eye candy for automotive enthusiasts. All of this is rounded out by the different stages, where DJs and artists pump out sick beats and hot jams throughout the day.

As I’ve written before, this festival is unique to any other on the circuit, as the focus is predominantly on the motorsports and racing, whereas the music is more of a bonus, taking a backseat to the daily drift battles.

What’s New?

The biggest new addition this year was the installment of a classic arcade and console gaming lounge. After hosting different “GameNight” events in both Chicago and Los Angeles, the decision was made to bring the event to the festival this year. All games available were free to play.

The selection of games was excellent, both modern and old-school. Consoles available to play included the Nintendo Switch, which had games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, while classic Super Nintendo games were also available. There were also full seat-and-steering-wheel setups for the new Forza game, which multiple players could compete in at one time. It proved to be the most popular through the weekend, as there were hardly ever any seats unfilled.

There was also a superb selection of arcade cabinets available to play. They ranged from the classics like Galaga and NBA Jam to other favorites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mortal Kombat 4. Having the fourth game in the series available was a nice touch - in my own experience, arcades usually only have Mortal Kombat 1 or 2 on display, and rarely 3 or 4.

Improved Bus Stage

Last year, one of the features of Gridlife included a Silent Disco stage built out of an old school bus called the “GoodBus Stage.” This year, the bus had been fully upgraded, completed with a whole extra stage added to the top.

If you don’t know how a Silent Disco works, participants are given a pair of wireless headphones with multiple channels. Different DJ’s spin music into the channels (blue and green) without creating external noise, which is ideal for after-hours dancing.

The GoodBus is ran by the Chicago-based electro-funk duo GoodSex, who also performed on the main stage that Friday. Gridlife isn’t their only stop on the circuit - the GoodBus travels to multiple festivals far and wide, setting up their own renegade stage all over the country.

I briefly met the pair last year, who gave me an impromptu tour of the bus. This year, however, I was able to sit down after their set and have a full interview with Joe Domingo, one half of GoodSex, to find out the story behind the bus and the GoodSex philosophy.

Interview with Joe Domingo from GoodSex

“Good Sex is the one thing we all agree on. It’s black, white, tall, old, gray, doesn’t matter who you are, you enjoy good sex,” Domingo said in an interview that Friday. “It’s love, it’s the one thing we can all agree on. Our mission statement breathes from that ethos - it is better to be good to people, you get a better return. Life is easier when you’re nice.”

While the group plays mostly electronic funk music, each set is specially catered toward the setting and the crowd, depending on the festival.

“Tonight, I knew SoDown would be playing after us, and we’d have more of a dubsteppy sound after us, so we were transitioning that sound,” Domingo said. “I think our set was indicative of that, in the way that it transitioned the flow from a heavy dubstep bass sound to a funky feel-good throwback sound, and it left room for the remaining artists to build it back up.”

The GoodBus serves not only as a fun after-hours stage, but also as a full-on vehicle for getting the GoodSex message out to people.

“As GoodSex, we decided to figure out a way of getting our message out to a mainstream audience,” Domingo said. “We bought a school bus, gutted it, decked it out with birch wood and steel, sound and speakers and love, and turned it into a mobile soundstage. So now we parade from festival to festival, utilizing it as a tour vehicle and also a sound stage.”

The GoodBus has already been to festivals like Summer Camp this year, and will continue onward to Electric Forest and other festivals.

“The GoodBus is our embodied brand,” Domingo said. “It’s how we get our music and our word and footprint out there. It is a culmination of everyone on the team coming together, doing what they’re good at, and showcasing that GoodSex vision and embodying it into a personable form.”

As previously mentioned, the GoodBus received some upgrades this year, mainly in the form of a better and safer stage on the top.

“We had the roof last year, but we did not have railings up,” Domingo said. “When you’re on top of a bus, you don’t feel safe. Now it’s fully projection-mapped and everything is enclosed, it’s officially another level of the bus.”

Other Musical Highlights (Friday)

Besides the funky sounds of GoodSex, other highlights from Friday night came by way of Houston, TX-based rap duo Blackillac. The pair provided plenty of hyped-up rap songs interlaced with funny banter to an enthusiastic crowd as the sun was beginning to dip, setting the bar for the events of the evening.

Second to last for Friday night was EDM DJ Luca Lush, who provided the crowd with several dubstep and hardstyle remixes of popular songs, both in the world of EDM and beyond.

Following Luca Lush was headliner Ghastly, whose sound is difficult to describe in words. His set took elements of different genres and presented them alongside bizarre visuals, creating a visceral audio and visual experience. I was mostly transfixed by his presentation, and the set was over before I even realized it.

He ended his set by encouraging the fans to come to the Silent Disco, saying that he’d be happy to hang out and talk with fans, and to not be shy. I found this to be a classy touch of showmanship.

Saturday Night Shenanigans

It’s impossible to explain the events of Saturday night without first discussing the weather situation.

Gridlife 2017 was marked by extreme heat, while Gridlife 2018 saw its fair share of storms. Gridlife 2019, however, was characterized by both extremes of good and bad weather. While the temperature was very comfortable and ideal throughout the weekend, Saturday evening was ravaged by a storm that rolled through.

Around 7 PM, one of my neighbors ran by my tent. When I popped out to say hello, he was getting inside of his, and yelled “See you tomorrow, dude!”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“Look behind you!”

When I turned around, a MASSIVE black cloud was rolling in FAST. Text messages began coming in on my phone from Gridlife, advising patrons to take shelter. I hunkered down back inside my tent, and wisely so. If I hadn’t, my tent would have blown away, like several others did.

Here’s a video that someone else took of the storm rolling in.

After a while, I emerged from my tent to survey the damage.

Much of the campground now looked like the entrance to Mordor from Lord of the Rings - everything was gray, wet, and muddy. Tents and canopies were strewn from being blown around, most of the attendees were honking their horns and hollering, and several carts were driving up and down the aisles, checking to see if anyone needed medical assistance. It seemed like complete chaos, though it had not delved into anarchy.

I was very impressed with how well the staff were handling the situation. Thanks to the live update text line, we were able to stay informed on when the racing and other attractions would open back up, and it was nice to see the medical staff double-checking with patrons.

In the aftermath, the sun once again broke through the clouds. It was very surreal - it was now very cold, despite the sun, and it seemed like we had experienced all four seasons in the span of just a few hours.

Of course, this led to some main stage schedule changes.

Dubstep producer Dogma had been scheduled to play that evening, but needed to be bumped to get the main stage back on track (remember this for later).

I joined up with some friends to go check out Oliver Tree, the second-to-last main stage performer of the weekend. I had absolutely no knowledge of what his music was like, only being previously informed that he was sort of a “weird rapper.” I guess that’s one way of putting it.

He was certainly weird, dressed in JNCO’s and a 90’s-era Styrofoam-print tracksuit with a bowl cut, but his sound reminded me a lot of that poppy MySpace style in the late 00’s (3OH!3, etc). I was personally not a fan of his performance or his music. I wouldn’t even call his genre rap, but I guess I wouldn’t know how else to describe it.

I was confused as to why he was on before Getter. Even though they do have a song together, I felt that this was the furthest thing away from Getter as possible. Maybe it was an effort to have more variety on the lineup, but it left me feeling more perplexed than anything. It was certainly the “wild card” performance of the weekend, but in my opinion, that wasn’t a good thing this time around.

That isn’t to say that the large crowd that had gathered wasn’t into him. Clearly, this guy is WAY more popular than I realized. The crowd of (mostly younger) fans were all screaming his lyrics with him word for word, while also responding to his performance with wild cheers. So obviously this guy has a big fanbase, and that’s great. It just doesn’t include myself.

Furthermore, Oliver Tree has since announced that he is going on his farewell tour later on this year, so it is cool that the fans who got to see him at Gridlife were able to experience this opportunity. It very well could be the last.

Getter, meanwhile, was arguably the set with the most anticipation for the weekend. It’s no secret that the last few months have been tumultuous on his end - after revamping his style on his latest release, reports began coming in of fans booing him at his own shows, which lead to him cancelling his entire tour. Questions were raised on whether that cancellation included Gridlife, but fans were assured that he would still be playing.

And he DID play.

I have very fond memories of seeing Getter at Electric Forest in 2016, which was an all-dubstep set, but I haven’t actually heard much from him since then. I decided to approach this one with a fresh, open mind, and make my own call on it.

If my understanding is correct, the previous tour was mostly new material, but his set at Gridlife seemed to include a little bit of everything. It was one of the most diverse of the weekend - incorporating and chopping many different styles of Electronic music, he delivered a very lively set that was hype at times, lower-tempo at others, and all-around bizarre.

As far as the crowd reception goes, they were LOVING it. When Getter announced that he was going to play a new song, the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheers, just as they did when he first took the stage. It seemed he had hit that perfect balance between both old and new material.

Getter ended his set with many thanks, vowing to the audience that he would learn how to drift and come back next year to drive and race, with the crowd screaming for more, even after the lights came on and Getter had left the stage.

Although the main stage closed for the weekend after Getter, the GoodBus would still be going strong for the remainder of the night.

Remember how I mentioned Dogma earlier? Well, he was able to play a set after all. He took the top stage of the Bus (Green Channel) and delivered a very heavy meat-and-potatoes dubstep set.

Like I’ve said before, the best sets you’ll ever see are the ones that revive you, even after a whole day of festival activities. I was about to leave the Disco for the night, but figured I’d stick around for a minute longer to see what it was about. Needless to say, I ended up staying and rocking out for the duration of his performance. He ended up being the final set of the Bus that night, and my personal favorite set of the weekend.

Interviewing the Drivers, Part 1 - Levi Brown, Kalamazoo

During the races Saturday, I was able to speak with local Kalamazoo-area racer Levi Brown, who drives a modified 1991 Honda Civic about his history with Gridlife.

“I’ve been coming to track events probably since I had my license back in 2003, 2004,” Brown said. “I started doing some Autocross stuff and then I started coming out here to Gingerman. I started getting more into it when Honda Meet came around, and I've been following Gridlife since day one. Once they started doing the whole time attack thing, I started doing time attack.”

Brown has been using his Honda Civic for almost 10 years.

“I actually bought this car before the Gridlife stuff started going on,” Brown said. “I’ve had the car for about eight and a half, nine years now. Kept it pretty simple, I put a different motor in it, tweak some stuff on it here and there. Simple stuff, I keep it manageable and fun.”

The Civic that Brown drives was number 420 in the competition. Unlike Kalamazoo-area driver Trent Meister, who chose 666 as his own number, Brown’s number was chosen by an unknown staff member as a joke that stuck.

“This number was actually chosen for me the first time they started doing the banners and door cards,” Brown said. “I never figured out who picked it for me, but they gave it to me. Since the first Gridlife that they started doing the time attack stuff, the number stayed with it. I just rolled with it. It’s become part of the car more so than anything.”

Brown also spoke about his performance that Saturday.

“The track felt really good my last session,” Brown said. “It rained earlier, I didn’t go out midday, so this one was the last chance I had to put down another good time. I didn’t get down to my personal best, but I got back to about where I’m usually at. I don’t change much on the car, so I’m right where I usually am, so I’m happy with that.”

Despite not beating his own personal best time, Brown said that he had gotten closer than he had in quite a while.

“About a year and a half ago at the Fall Gridlife event, I got down to 01:39.0, and I was consistently in the 39’s that weekend,” Brown said. “This weekend, my fastest was only at 01:40.5, so I’m a little over a second off my fastest pace. It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve been down even into the 39-second range.”

Interviewing the Drivers, Part 2 - Richard J. Hixon, Georgia

Tyler KO Photo

One thing I haven’t been able to do in my three years of attending Gridlife is to interview an out-of-state Pro Driver. After the festival was over with, I had an opportunity to interview Georgia-based driver Richard J. Hixon, who was racing in a streamlined 1989 BMW 325 is, about his experience with Gridlife and his origins as a racer.

After competing at the Gridlife South event in Atlanta, Hixon made the decision to apply for his first Midwest event this year.

“The cool thing about Gridlife is going to these different race tracks,” Hixon said. “You get the opportunity to drive the big tracks that otherwise would be [really far away]. To be apart of it is an honor, and it’s super special to go out there and rip this stock E30 with the big boys. It’s a crazy feeling.”

Hixon first became interested in motorsports-related activities when he was a teenager, at which time he was still living in his home state o