90-degree heat? Fine. Constant rain? Easy. If you can’t stand unbearable weather conditions, find yourself another festival.
Chicago’s most notorious music festival lured music lovers and partygoers alike into Grant Park only to trap them under stormy skies, muggy heat and a lackluster amount of the city’s fabled wind. Yet, even as the thermometer steadily rose, the festival grounds filled with increasingly large crowds each day, proving once and for all that
Lollapalooza is not a festival for the weak of heart.
Most music festivals ditch the big-city atmosphere for quiet, rural towns that offer campgrounds and allow for some semblance of personal space. Most music festivals offer up non-musical activities like tents for art vendors and open lawns for frisbee.
Lollapalooza sets its stages in the heart of downtown Chicago, the city skyline towering over the trees of Grant Park, leaving no room for camping. Lollapalooza crams over 130 acts onto seven stages in three days, permitting no time for recreational activities. But Lollapalooza is not most music festivals.
Friday opened with acts like Hockey, Manchester Orchestra and The Gaslight Anthem catching the crowds while the rain that would last all day still seemed trivial and amusing. In fact, for the first few hours, the rain was almost welcomed by festivalgoers who splashed in the puddles and slid on the slippery mix of clay and sand from baseball diamonds. A group of attendees even cleared an area in the mud to sculpt a mini version of Giza. But by Bon Iver’s 4 p.m. set, the rain was less amusing as soggy shoes weighed people down and umbrellas blocked views of the bands.
So I made my way over to Perry’s stage — home of the weekend’s electronic acts — to see Hollywood Holt, a Chicago hip hopper beloved by locals. It was by far the most energetic set I saw that weekend. Hollywood warmed the weary crowds into a dancing frenzy. Revived, I went on to catch a beautiful set by the Fleet Foxes, and fortunately the rain subsided.
Later, Janelle Monáe joined Of Montreal for a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” her pompadour hair fitting perfectly with Of Montreal’s feathery, flamboyant get-ups.
Depeche Mode stole a lot of the crowd from Kings of Leon to wrap up day one, delivering a performance as creepy and cool as ever. Once a rock star, always a rock star.
Saturday got off to a late start as Atmosphere jammed for a slow growing crowd and Joe Pug played his blend of folksy rock to a seated crowd taking refuge at the small and shady BMI stage.
But when Artic Monkeys took the stage, the crowds began moshing, despite the heat. The set served as a catalyst for a run of high-energy performances by Santigold, TV on the Radio, Lykke Li and Animal Collective.
Stepping onstage in an oversized Indian headdress, Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs capped off the night with a ridiculously quirky and fun performance. The set was high in entertainment value and provided some of the more memorable moments of the weekend.
The Foxes returned to give a surprise show late Saturday night after festival hours at The Metro in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. Opener Dungen won the hearts of the sold out crowd. The psychedelic Swedish rockers even earned an encore, unusual for an opening band. The encore was so unexpected that even Dungen seemed confused and didn’t know how to handle the situation, humbly asking, “It’s the Fleet Foxes you came to see, no?” But with a little encouragement from some of the Foxes on mics backstage, they fumbled back to their instruments for a final song.
By the time Fleet Foxes came on, steam was rising from the sweat-beaded glasses people held in their hands. But despite frontman Robin Pecknold’s admission to being drugged up on cold medication and suffering from heat exhaustion, the Foxes put on a powerful show. Their tight harmonies pierced through the thick air and the passion they put into the music was more than enough to wake up an audience sedated by the day’s heat.
I almost didn’t make it out of the house Sunday morning. I wasn’t even a full block on my way downtown before I felt the heat pressing down, the air so thick with humidity it felt like my feet were being dragged through some sort of hot, smelly baby pool. And then, just as I was about to turn back, I was rescued by capitalism.
Under the rush of the rusty L train appeared a group of bright pink shirts and friendly faces handing out goodie bags. Never one to turn down free stuff, I wandered over to see what treasures I could score. They were Time Out Chicago interns donning sponsored goods like matching Ray Ban sunglasses and colorful Converse. They promised a free trolley that would pick festivalgoers up right there and deliver us to the front gate.
I was skeptical at first, but lo and behold, a few minutes later an open-air trolley pulled up to the curb and ushered us in. Cupcakes and other boldly labeled gifts were unloaded on us, pictures were taken and, before we knew what had happened, we were filing off the trolley at the festival gates. Endless lines of festivalgoers watched us parade by with our colorful assortment of brand labels, a group of accidental billboards.
A great lineup of bands like Kaiser Chiefs, The Raveonettes and Band of Horses kept me going that day as the park filled with crowds excited for headliners The Killers and Janes Addiction. The hottest day of the weekend, the Chicago Fire Department set up shop in the park, hoses in the air, making it rain over the boiling fields. Other attempts to keep people healthy in the heat — like misting stations and cooling busses — were also available.
Under such hot and soggy conditions, it would be understandable to worry about fights breaking out between strangers put into close quarters and aggravated by the weather. But for the most part, the crowd at Lolla was a happy one.
Being vertically challenged, I normally abandon the hope of a quality view at concerts, but during almost every set at Lollapalooza I found people volunteering to give me a boost above the crowds. And when I was thrown into a mosh pit at Artic Monkeys, I can’t tell you how many people stopped to ask if I was alright.
That tells you something about the caliber of the crowd Lolla boasted. To beat the odds and be happy while peeling yourself off the people crammed next to you while covered in a mix of rain and sweat takes a true music fanatic. Walking around the city after festival hours I could easily identify the sun drenched, sweat soaked, weary few who had stuck it out the whole weekend. We exchanged knowing nods and carried on our way. It was as if Lollapalooza had forged a brotherhood of music fans just crazy enough to keep coming back for more, no matter the weather.
Music. That’s all there was to lure the brotherhood back. Music and beer. And in the end, if that can’t put a smile on your face, what can?