After a year of lockdowns, festivals and concerts are finally back. Lollapalooza, one of the largest festivals in the world, celebrated its 30th anniversary in Chicago. Festival-goers and artists alike were eager to get back to live shows, and it certainly showed through brilliant sets and enthusiastic crowds. Grant Park was once again filled with thousands of people crowding the various stages for this year’s strong lineup of musicians, including headliners like Miley Cyrus, Post Malone and Tyler, the Creator. It’s hard to imagine that an event like this could still happen in the midst of a pandemic and whether it was a socially responsible decision to attend this concert is certainly questionable. Lollapalooza claims that 90% of the attendees were vaccinated, 8% showed negative COVID-19 test results, and the rest were turned away. Despite that, many health experts still warned about the “superspreader” event.
Although there was a risk, hundreds of thousands still gathered for the festival. Masks were few and far between; instead, people came adorned in their favorite sports jerseys, glitter, tropical button-up shirts, and many creative implementations of fishnet. The air was filled with the smell of fragrant smoke and delicious foods. In the absolutely beautiful weather over the four days of Lollapalooza, the festival raged on.
On day one, I arrived a little late, not used to navigating the city. I did get to catch the ending of Christian French’s performance at the Lake Shore stage. It was his debut live performance at Lollapalooza, which seemed to be a common theme this year. His youthful husky voice and knack for live performance earned him a sizable audience, despite it being so early on the first day. His music sounds great when you listen to it live, but is equally forgettable.
One thing I didn’t realize fast enough was the sheer size of Lollapalooza. It takes a long while to get from one stage to another, and I definitely had to take that into account. But the trip was worth it, as I was able to catch Ant Clemons at the Bud Light stage. Ant Clemons is among the talented new generation of R&B musicians that are deservedly rising in popularity. While he hasn’t seemed to explode in the mainstream yet, he certainly is on the radar of many other big artists like Justin Timberlake and Kanye West. Fittingly, he started with his song “Mama I Made It,” and seemed to really live in the music. His band was great, his guitar player stealing the show with an absolutely hypnotizing solo. Needless to say, the crowd was hyped. In the middle of the hot Chicago day, he managed to make Grant Park feel like a late night in a red velvet bedroom.
MAX was on soon after. He arrived on stage clad in white, to a roaring audience. MAX is a great performer, full of energy and receptive to the crowd. He gave the crowd what they wanted with his hits “Love Me Less,” “Butterflies” and “Basement Party.” His saxophonist and hype man added energetic solos and flourishes to the music, although sometimes it did feel like he was trying too hard.
I took a quick break to grab a bite (to be honest, the food was serviceable at best and severely overpriced). Stomach full and wallet empty, I returned to the Lake Shore stage to catch Dayglow. I loved the band’s coordinated outfit choice, Dayglow himself dressing like the fanciest red picnic table, with the rest of his band wearing the colors of the rainbow. They reminded me of a millennial version of The Wiggles. Like a lot of current indie-pop, Dayglow has a nostalgic, retro sound with just a touch of surf music. It’s warm and invites you to dance and relax at the same time. He made a fantastic Lollapalooza debut. I decided to lay down and bask in the sun as they played “Fuzzybrain,” leading to one of the most pleasant music listening experiences of my life. Their performance had the friendly intimacy of your friend from high school’s band, leaving a big smile on everyone’s face.
On the way to the Tito’s Vodka stage to check out All Time Low, I took a detour to the BMI stage to check out Absofacto. Acts on the BMI stage have it hard: It’s small and it really doesn’t feel like a full stage, but rather a roadside attraction. Artists on BMI really have to prove their worth. Unfortunately, when I went to check this stage out, the music made me feel like I was at a weed-scented Gap Kids. So I headed off.
I finally made it to Tito’s stage for All Time Low. Starting off strong with “Weightless,” they got my heart rate going. It was a fun atmosphere, with the audience singing along. I’m a stranger to rock music but was glad that I attended their set. There was some witty banter involving Alex’s pimples and Jack’s masturbation habits throughout quarantine that had the audience laughing, and kept the mood casual and fun.
If I could sum up Playboi Carti’s concert in one sentence: It was bad. The mosh pits were rabid; a lot of people got injured, but that’s an inherent risk. It was unclear as to whether Playboi Carti was unprepared or highly intoxicated, as most of the time he just screamed. The rest of the time, he struggled to string together words to make coherent sentences. Though I would struggle to call it a musical performance, it certainly was entertaining.
Kim Petras started performing right after Carti, and, though unfamiliar with her, I decided to check her out. Her stage presence was palpable; when the first song came on and she started to strut down the stage, I was transfixed. Her choreography and singing neatly complemented each other. Bouncy synths, powerful vocals and a solid groove all led to a unique sound that mixed pop and club music that makes you just want to dance. Unfortunately, I had to leave her concert early to go to Steve Aoki.
But as good as Kim Petras was, Steve Aoki was completely worth it. All the drops hit hard, with the mosh pits as wild as they were fun. Bottles, sunglasses and the occasional shoe flew in the air, while people jumped up and down so hard that it felt like the tectonic plates were shifting. Addictive visuals and colorful pyrotechnics made the experience a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. In classic Steve Aoki style, he brought a bunch of guest artists too, among them All Time Low. He threw his shirt and a few cakes into the crowd. Coming out of Steve Aoki, I was drenched in sweat, most of it not even mine; it was definitely an unforgettable experience and the best way to end the night. My only regret is that I missed Miley Cyrus because of it, but there are always tough choices to make at festivals. Overall, day one of Lollapalooza was solid from beginning to end.
Daily Arts writer Jason Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.