Moving At High Speed: GRIDLIFE Fest Founder Chris Stewart Talks Music & Cars

CRS 8154
Highway To Hell: Drivers at GRIDLIFE take a run around
the course during the festival. The June 3 event at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Mich., will feature Kaskade, Joyryde and Kavinsky. 
Courtesy of GRIDLIFE/ Chris Sullivan

The inception of GRIDLIFE in 2014 put together both of founder Chris Stewart’s biggest passions: good music and fast cars. While Stewart had worries about whether the combination could work, he knew that the two cultures went hand-in-hand more so than one would initially suspect.

“Music is a subculture. Car culture is a subculture,” Stewart tells Pollstar. “The idea was really birthed out of the combination of my passions and then my professional career.”

Stewart’s professional start began in advertising, with the GRIDLIFE concept serving as a side hustle and passion project. The first iteration of the event took place in 2014 with the aim of bringing the different subsets of car culture together.

“The thing I noticed within car culture was that there’s all these segments if you think about it in the capacity of music,” Stewart says. “It’s like, how do you get a bunch of people that love different genres together? Car culture is the same thing. You’ve got people who do drifting, you’ve got road racers, fast and furious culture. The individuals are kind of the same, but they don’t intermingle.”

The festival has managed to expand to have locations in Colorado, and formerly in Atlanta. Those attending GRIDLIFE have the option of buying tickets that allow them to bring their own cars and join in on the drifting and racing side of the events. Fans can join in on ride-alongs, or buy “VIP” tickets to hit the road themselves.

“It’s all kind of seamlessly blended together,” Stewart says. “I think it really comes to life at the Colorado event because of how that’s set up. You’ve got the main stage and wrapping around it is the racetrack, so as one act ends, we’re sending these cars out and we’re drifting and shooting a laser canopy over the top of the entire thing. And the smoke of the drift cars highlighting those lasers. Then that wraps up and immediately a music act starts.”

After continued growth throughout the past several years, Stewart looks back on GRIDLIFE’s first iteration and all of its changes. When starting this venture, he wasn’t even sure it could work, or what sort of audience they would attract. But their last Colorado event grossed $750,000 and reached 100% capacity.

“The first year of GRIDLIFE was a nugget of an idea,” Stewart says. “An experiment and like, ‘Will this work? Can I get these people together? Do they even care about music?’ And then we really started to take off as a brand in 2016. So we introduced a second festival in Atlanta, and we went from just doing the one GRIDLIFE in Michigan to two festivals in 2016 with another three car culture events. Then we introduce the third festival in Colorado in 2019.” 

The Atlanta edition of the festival no longer takes place, but GRIDLIFE is due to take place at the Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Mich., on June 3. This year’s lineup features Kaskade, Joyryde (who occasionally hangs cars from the stage while playing), and Kavinsky. 

“Kavinsky hasn’t played a show in the United States since 2013, but his entire shtick is that everything is based on being the villain driver in an ‘80s video game,” Stewart explains. “I’ve been asking every year, ‘What are the available dates for Kavinsky?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, just hanging out in Paris.’ Then it just so happened that this year he’s got his first album out, and he’s starting to do more things. That’s a personal booking for me, but I also think it’s very fitting for the totality of the festival as well.”