I’m standing in the thick of the crowd for Dr. Dog on Lollapalooza’s first day, and yet something other than the indie folk band has caught my eye.

Before me, a small group of girls, covered in highlighter paints and Greek letters, have struck up a conversation with a friendly frat bro nearby. The tallest — wearing a pink t-shirt that screams “WAKE AND BASS” — casually switches the topic of discussion, so smoothly that, at first, even the bro is confused.

“We’re having a great time, but we’re kind of sad — our friend Molly went missing,” she says. “We can’t find her.”

The bro looks concerned.

“Oh really? You should go to talk to the information booth.”

“Yeah,” she replies, and presses the topic a bit harder. “We just can’t find Molly anywhere. We’ve been looking all over.”

The bro is befuddled, but then smiles.

“Oh, yeah, right!” he replies. “Yeah, I can’t find her either!”

So it goes at Chicago’s annual three-day binge of drugs (Molly is the street name for a type of MDMA), drinks, food, merch and — oh, yeah — a ton of great music. See, despite the rare contrast between excess and deprivation, festival creator Perry Farrell has cleverly crafted a musical palette to fulfill almost every niche. And for a fest whose lineups have gone from great (2010’s Soundgarden, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire) to good (last year’s Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Muse, Eminem) to meh (this year’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Keys, Jack White, Black Sabbath), appealing to as many fans as possible is vital.

The diversity that ensues is fun, to say the least. You’ve got your aging rockers waiting for Ozzy’s maybe-final-return (spoiler: his voice is coming back), and your hipsters trying to find the newest, coolest thing.

And then, there are the aforementioned party-rockers. The inception of Perry’s tent a few years ago was a huge step, and this year’s uncovered stage was bigger and more thumping than ever before. Many spend the entire day there, with or without the aid of energy-giving substances. The payoff is worth it: The lineup ensures a few big names (like Bassnectar and Kaskade), while still providing the best of the dance music scene.

“It’s weird, I never know how much of my music people actually are going to know,” said dubstep master Dr. P. “I like to have a few fans to cheer, though.”

According to the British DJ, the festival experience provides a unique crowd — one that you can’t duplicate at smaller venues.

Fans at the typical club show are “sort of watching, rather than enjoying themselves,” he said. “Whereas at a festival, they’re just here for the weekend, they’re here to see everything.”

With the $230 price tag, it’s important to get as much bang for your buck — which often means traversing the rather large festival ground numerous times over.

On Friday, that was all the more difficult. The temperature hovered around the mid-90s, but on the asphalt roads, the atmosphere was absolutely sweltering. For many, that meant staying at one grouping of stages on either end. At the Bud Light/ Playstation stages, Metric and Passion Pit were spirited highlights, with Black Sabbath playing a seasoned show for one of their last appearances. But the Sony/ Red Bull pairing, the lineup was decidedly more tantalizing, with the soft and well-executing Shins leading into the dark, electric M83. And the final show the Black Keys put in a crisp, solid performance as usual — perhaps the best headliner set of the festival.

The next day’s lineup was straightforward at first glance, but Saturday’s events proved that you can never really prepare for Lolla. After a fantastic set from Aloe Blacc and GIVERS (and an underwhelming one from Chief Keef), phones began buzzing with news of an imminent thunderstorm. Fest-goers were to evacuate immediately. The schedule was adjusted appropriately, and resumed two hours later with fun. playing an energetic show to a rather subdued crowd. Franz Ferdinand was quite possibly the most exciting performance of the three days, with a one-two of “Take Me Out” and “Ulysses” (one of the most memorable highlights of the festival). And both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Frank Ocean ended the night with sets that more than lived up to the hype.

But if it seemed like Sunday was an afterthought; the day’s acts gave the last day its own glory. The Gaslight Anthem and Of Monsters & Men outperformed their own buzz. The former shed its similarity to the Killers while still maintaining the band’s patented catchiness, and the latter put on a concert that sparkled with future promise. Florence + the Machines and Miike Snow had audiences grooving at opposite ends of the grounds, until Jack White took over with a bluesy swagger and veteran prowess.

Riding the train home from Chicago, another sorority all-star summed up the experience perfectly. Her friend — a guy who had spent the previous day elsewhere — asked her how her night had gone.

“It was fun!” she exclaimed. “I mean, I guess. I don’t really remember too much, but I had a good time.”

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