How we got the story: Covering the Spring Awakening Music Festival

  • Russell Lissau has reported for the Daily Herald for 25 years.

      Russell Lissau has reported for the Daily Herald for 25 years. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Updated 7/1/2019 9:34 AM

I admit it: I wasn't thrilled when I was assigned to cover the second day of the Spring Awakening Music Festival in Hoffman Estates last month.

Although I have pretty expansive musical tastes, I know little about electronic music -- certainly not enough to write an authoritative concert review. And I was concerned that, at 48, I was too old to connect with the audience members I'd be circulating among and interviewing.


But my concerns disappeared after speaking with Metro Editor Lisa Miner about the assignment. Rather than review the DJs and musicians performing at Poplar Creek that day, I was to write about the atmosphere and the attendees. The color, we call it in journalism.

In that regard, the assignment would be no different from the countless stories I'd written about car shows, art festivals, municipal carnivals and other suburban events in my nearly 26 years with the Daily Herald.

Plus, it would be an outdoor assignment on a beautiful day, and that's always a good thing.

I got to the venue and picked up my press pass about an hour before gates opened to the public. I wanted to get a lay of the land and figure out where the stages, vendors and other attractions were before thousands of music fans arrived.

This helped locate one of the best sources for the article -- artist Erika Lizette Doyle, who with her husband and some friends were operating a booth selling pins and other items bearing images she created. I talked with Doyle and her crew before the vendor booths were mobbed with customers, and they told me about the show and why they exhibit at events like this.

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They also introduced me to the folks who run a mobile DJ stage called the Good Bus, and it was there I got an education on DJing and touring.

Once the gates opened, I wandered in search of people who might make good interview subjects. It's hard to describe what I look for in an interviewee -- at this point in my career, it's mostly instinct. I want to speak with someone who'll be comfortable talking with a reporter, informative and interesting. And because the Daily Herald covers the suburbs and not the city, being a suburbanite helps.

I hit gold with my first interview attempt, a trio of friends who'd just walked onto the grounds. One was from West Chicago, and it was her first music festival, and she was having a blast. A home-run interview.

I had just as much luck when I approached two women dancing near the Good Bus. One was from Buffalo Grove. Perfect.

After a few hours, I had a notebook full of interviews and descriptions of what I'd seen and heard. I went back to my car, opened my laptop and started writing. I wrote in the car just in case I needed to go back to the venue to double-check a fact or find a new source. But the piece flowed easily.

What's the lesson? Keep an open mind when approaching a story assignment. Also, wear comfortable shoes if you'll be walking a lot. I did -- and my feet and back were grateful.

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