By Diana Buchert, Promo Director
In a massive city, full of historic architecture, endless train loops, and a massive chrome bean lies a weekend oasis for rockers, rappers, DJs, and fans of all sorts to gather beneath the gorgeous Chicago skyline. Nestled between Lake Michigan and the bustling city, Grant Park manages to pack Lollapalooza into its 319 acres every year since 2006 — and despite the festival’s time-offs (and yearly rainouts), tickets sold out this year in a matter of minutes.
What first originated as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction, the once-traveling festival is now a four-day extravaganza that has expanded internationally and placed The Windy City on the map as one of the summer’s best festival destinations. Though the festival has origins in alternative rock with huge names like Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine and has featured art displays, freak shows, and counterculture idea information tables, it’s clear now that the 26th year of Lollapalooza strays far from those humble beginnings.
Upon entering the lengthy bag check lines, the crowd of mostly 14 to 17-year-olds was surprising. A friend attending with me for his 7th year informed me that most current high schoolers, including his old high school classmates, will be planted firmly in front of Perry’s stage soaking in EDM all weekend long. Contrary to that, we had frantic plans for the next four days.
Our day started with Hippo Campus, where the crowd was already thick upon arrival. Kicking off with the sunny “Way It Goes,” the band exuded contagious energy throughout the hour-long slot. As they continued with breezy jams “Suicide Saturday” and “Western Kids,” the weather acted accordingly; wind began to swirl as the sky darkened with ominous clouds drifting ahead, and luckily, away. Upbeat tunes took a backseat during the slow, steady buildup of emotions that is “Poems,” a song that was a pleasant surprise to finally hear live.
After jumping around to “Violet,” we explored the new surroundings. It’s hard not to compare Lolla’s layout to the massive sprawl of art, activism and camping that is Bonnaroo in Manchester, or even the packed riversides of Bunbury in Cincinnati and Forecastle in Louisville.
It was a big surprise to see the huge lack of art; guest lounges and intersections were decorated with string lights, small statues, and life-size Connect Four games among other things, but nothing stood out to me quite like ‘Roo’s dazzling Ferris-wheel and disco-ball tower. To be fair, there was a few “chill” zones and a roller rink, but time crunches didn’t allow us to experience them.
It was also interesting to learn that despite Lolla’s original activism booths, that presence has been entirely lost over the years. And the vendors — although it was nice to have a walk-in merch store and a FYE record shop — are not even close to the level of cool that can be hunted down at ‘Roo or Forecastle.
Something that greatly made up this lacking was Kidzpalooza, which featured School of Rock kids jamming out on stage, cute decorations, and tons of bubbles. This is the second time I’ve seen this kind of tucked-away area, paralleled only to the “Reverse Daycare” that Warped Tour has for parents of modern-day emos.
We showed up to The Drums playing to a crowd that gave off a weak vibe. Aside from lead vocalist Jonny Pierce, the band brought the same lazy feeling; maybe it has to do with yet another founding member leaving the group within the past two years, causing them to lose some pizzazz. Jonny shimmied and dad-danced his way through “Let’s Go Surfing” and “Money,” but the crowd just kind of swayed along.
Migos had the biggest crowd of the day. Following suit from their Cincinnati gig with Future where they never showed up, the band was about 45 minutes late — like, the cameras captured them walking towards the stage with duffel bags in hand, late. From what the screens could broadcast to the edge of the field, it appeared that all but Takeoff were engaged in the performance while he mumbled a few words. Still, shoes and cans were thrown, teenagers ascended light poles, madness ensued and I still don’t get it.
Next was Kaytranada, a Haitian-Canadian DJ and producer that’s a favorite of mine. Unlike most live electronic artists I’ve seen, he ditches the 3-2-1 countdown drops and instead opts for smooth and booming instrumentals, funky samples, and amazing vocals from The Internet’s Syd, Anderson Paak and many others. Dropping “Together” and his remix of Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl,” I was surprised that barely anyone was dancing as hard as I was, and apparently, he did too.
About 10 minutes into the set Kay says, “Nobody’s dancing! Don’t worry, I’ll make you dance.” He then played his version of Chance the Rapper’s “All Night” and sure enough, the crowd started to react. Overall, though, the crowd seemed too out of it to get their groove on, or at the very least, cheer Kay on when he whipped out sick dance moves.
Regrettably leaving Kaytranada early, we wormed our way up Wiz Khalifa’s crowd to settle in for Lorde. Standing dead center and deep inside the pit, I was prepared to have a soul-cleansing cry. Unlike the sound issues that plagued the first 40 minutes of her Bonnaroo set, Lorde effortlessly began the introduction to “Green Light” backed by jarringly beautiful live strings. A giant see-through metal box held dancers that imitated a party scene with red SOLO cups in hand during her Disclosure feature, “Magnets,” and then writhed behind her during “400 Lux.”
Moments after Lorde teased us with the introduction to a new song she’s never performed before, the screens declared incoming danger. Disgruntled fans pushed, screamed, and relentlessly threw their fellow festival-goers straight for the mud pits (my Chucks took a beating) as the storm raged on.
After a not-so-swift navigation to find an Uber, a kind, dry passerby handed us a massive deep dish pizza slice for our troubles. With this crappy storm looking to be a one-off thing, I had high hopes for the rest of the weekend.
The train to Chicago hadn’t even arrived when my friend’s prophecy from Thursday had come true; while waiting around the station, we bumped into a former classmate who eagerly told us, “I’m so excited dude, gonna be at Perry’s Stage all day.”
An autumn-like chill had arrived, giving the day a gloomy but comforting vibe. It could’ve been the 12:30 set time, or the cold, but The Districts had a stagnant crowd during their set packed with old favorites like “4th and Roebling” and great new singles “Salt,” “Violet,” “Ordinary Day,” and “If Before I Wake.” The finale of “Young Blood” packed a punch in its buildup, with lead vocalist/ guitarist Rob Grote rolling around on the stage, shredding away.
Next up was Phantogram, who I was excited to see after their dazzling visual show last October at Columbus’ EXPRESS LIVE! which featured projections onto a thin black sheet and Sarah unleashing smoke from a feathery black cloak. Maybe it was because I was further back or because everyone seemed kind of dead, but perhaps Phantogram benefits from small, dark venues for live performances. It was my second time hearing tracks like “You’re Mine,” “Mouthful of Diamonds,” and “Don’t Move,” but the same impact wasn’t there and the sheet-less visuals were disappointing. The set ended with Sarah ‘Simba lifting’ her blue and white polo-wearing pup Leroy. The tiny Yorkie mix soaked in the huge audience’s applause before trotting over to the side of the stage and out of sight with the rest of the band.
Immediately following was Run the Jewels and energy were surging before they hit the stage. One of the weekend’s coolest moments occurred when a now-viral fan named Jacob Powell held up a sign asking to rap “Legend Has It,” and Killer Mike and El-P gladly brought him up on stage. The crowd cheered him on as I first held my breath in worry, then joined in on the celebration of him absolutely killing the acapella rap.
Our Friday night included bouncing between The Killers and Crystal Castles. Performing a mix of old and new songs, Crystal Castles’ new frontwoman, Edith Frances, dumped water over her own head and the audience’s as green lights roamed the stage. We made it back to The Killers just in time to hear Mr. Brightside, and I felt complete.
Today was finally Chance’s day, and the air was buzzing with excitement. We started the day with Amine whose acapella version of the hit “Caroline” was a big snoozefest of a finale. After spending some time sitting in Kidzpalooza, it was time to camp for Chance.
Arriving two hours early, we planted ourselves in the middle of the pit during Alt-J. While I entered the hour-long set as a casual fan of “Breezeblocks,” I left it still just a casual fan of their biggest song. Alt-J is definitely unique, but the songs all held the same slow pace and everything kind of blurred together.
As the crowd mutually breathed down each other’s necks for the next hour, we waited anxiously for Chance, when finally the video screens lit up with a highlight reel. From his big Grammy wins to numerous news specials on the Chicagoan. The crowd leaped forward about 20 feet when Chance finally appeared on stage.
Diving straight into “Mixtape,” my body was basically taken hostage by everyone around me as I began to jump without actually jumping. When the opening notes of “Waves” played, the crowd buzzed over a possible Kanye appearance that unfortunately never happened. It was heartwarming, though, to watch my Chicagoan friend tear up when Chance talked about the importance of family after Vic Mensa joined for “Cocoa Butter Kisses”.
In similar fashion to Chance’s Breakaway Festival show last year, he took weirdly long pauses in between songs that lost the momentum of the set. Maybe it was a combination of his slow-hype-slow mix of a setlist and the four hours of uncomfortably standing on my feet, but by the last third of his set, I was over it. I wanted to keep feeding into the hype of everyone around me but found myself still bummed over missing Sylvan Esso (again) and Mac Demarco. Still love you though, Chano.
By Lolla’s fourth day, morale was low. Our feet, ears, and minds were all aching so we slept in to recover a little.
After chilling for hours, we decided to voyage over to Lil Yachty, an expedition that ended after five minutes of feeling too many sweaty bodies pushing against us in a spot where we couldn’t see a hint of his red beads.
We assumed it’d be the least stacked day of the weekend, but one thing ended up blowing our minds: Justice. As the majority of the park was teetered at the opposite end watching Arcade Fire, we were deep in the pit for the French electronic duo.
Kicking off with the steady “Safe and Sound,” the duo lightly bopped their heads to the pounding beats as they navigated around each other to different sound boards. The light show was absolute madness to match — the light fixtures lowered, turned, and strobed along in brilliant display. I was loving the constant groove but had to leave about 30 minutes in to catch an early train.
Right as we reached the edge of the field, the first blares of “Waters of Nazareth” began to fill the air. We waited, deliberated on whether or not to stay, then sprinted back towards the pit, jumping straight into the air as the main beat dropped, then spun around, kicked, danced freely like nobody was there. Thank you, Justice, for rocking my socks off better than anyone else the entire weekend.