Friday – Day 1
Curious to see what a set from Portgual. The Man might look like when presented as part of Kidapalooza, my first stop at Lollapalooza was the designated kid zone for the band’s early afternoon performance. They played mostly originals to their young (and old) fans, though they did manage to squeeze in a cover of “Night Man” from It’s Always Sunny in Philladelphia which led into the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.”
When Portgual’s set concluded and the audience cleared, the kid-friendly “pit” up front remained full of parents and their children hoping to snap a picture or snag an autograph. With the afternoon’s featured performance complete, fun activities across Kidapalooza resumed.
Around 3 in the afternoon, light rain started to fall that quickly turned into a short – but heavy – downpour. Many attendees found shelter with Green Street vendors or sponsor’s tents like Red Bull’s Sound Select Tent. Others embraced the rain and danced like no one was watching, taking advantage of the perceived lawlessness that comes with unpredictable nature of festival rainfall.
I staked out early for Iggy Azalea at Perry’s Stage and consequently suffered through an intense tag team set from broish EDM DJs Etty and Joachim Garraud. When Iggy and her fly backup dancers finally came on, I was still too far back to see the stage and balked at the absence of video monitors for viewing assistance. As expected, she held her mega-hit “Fancy” for the end of the performance, but dropped her career-launching “Pussy” mid-set among many other well-received tracks from her current album The New Classic. With song after song of trap-tastic strip club anthems compromising most of the set, it lacked lyrical substance but excelled in energy, danceability, and rebellion.
Walking away from the chaos of Perry’s Stage, I booked it over to the serene Grove Stage to catch the end of Blood Orange. It was a welcomed change of pace to be able to approach the stage, see the musicians and to hear them elaborate on the message behind their music. Group leader Dev Hynes and girlfriend/vocalist Samantha Urbani dedicated their entire set to fallen victims of police brutality and shared spurts of knowledge and encouragement throughout the set. “If you see an arrest happening, record it!” Urbani pleaded as the set came to a close. Given their dedication to this cause, it’s both sad and ironic that the pair had an apparent quarrel with security later that day.
A few hours later, a large majority of the Lolla crowd had assembled at the north end of the festival grounds to see a highly anticipated set from Lorde. Sonically, she delivered. Even while hopping around stage in her signature style of jerky dance movements, Lorde’s live vocals were near perfect.
She made effort to connect emotionally, too, as she sat on the edge of the stage to have a heart-to-heart with the massive Lollapalooza crowd that had decided to attend her set. “I don’t know how many of you are out there…” Lorde said as she peered into a never-ending sea of people before continuing, “But from up here it looks like a lot!” She went on to share her awe at “the gods above” having brought so many people together for her performance and exclaimed that it was “really fucking cool” so see such support from Chicago.
Despite all that, there wasn’t much happening visually on stage for most of the set. Her recurring facial expressions of wonderment looked forced and her bizarre body movements felt unnecessarily dramatic. Once, someone nearby yelled, “Iggy was better!” confirming my suspicions that the set was lacking in energy. Her die-hard fans in the front, mouthing along every word to every song, might be the only ones who would disagree.
Eminem’s headlining set was stacked with tons of hits from the past and sprinkled with new ones from his recent work throughout. Strategically stationed at the back of the audience for a quick escape to another set elsewhere, I was pleasantly surprised to find even the distant crowd enlivened. As we sang the lyrics to all the Marshall Mathers LP classics like “Fuck You”, “Marshall Mathers” and “The Way I Am” I felt like an angsty high schooler from the early 2000’s all over again. Rihanna, currently on tour with Em, also made an unexpected appearance to perform the pair’s songs “Love The Way You Lie” and “The Monster,” as well as to sing vocals on “Stan.”
Not wanting to leave but also not wanting to miss the opportunity to see Phantogram live, I peeled myself away from Eminem and headed toward The Grove Stage. For the second time that day I was relieved to find easy access to a close view of the stage that allowed for a more intimate connection with the band. White light and strobes illuminated the grove, defining the band members’ every move on stage.
A vibrant mix of electro ambiance and edgy indie rock, Phantomgram kept their audience moving without assaulting their ears with aggressive electronic beats. Lead vocalist Sarah Barthel seemingly recognized this as she introduced her bandmate as “Josh Fucking Carter” and thanked him for “making such a fucking dope beat.”
Trends & Pop Culture at Lollapalooza
Attending a large, mainstream urban festival that spans a wide mix of musical genres affords one the opportunity to evaluate trends and themes in pop culture today. One such trend that’s evolved significantly since its inception is the rage stick – also referred to as a tribe stick, totem or simply “a sign.” Lolla’s best incidences of such phenomena were actually just giant images attached to sticks featuring cultural icons such as Hodor, toothless Ryan Gossling and a That 70’s Ashton Kutcher with the talk bubble caption, “Well, damn Jackie!”
Another unavoidable trend- dare I say epidemic- at Lollapalooza was the selfie. The swarm of teenage girls at Lollapalooza couldn’t help but snap photo after photo of themselves doing the things they thought made them look cool- such as sitting on the shoulders of their bros. This particular act was horrifically contagious; once one girl popped up on a pair of shoulders, five or six more would soon follow.
While most attendees squandered precious minutes of time shuffling through the impassable, congested main throughways, I frequently opted for a much more pleasant stroll through Green Street on the way to wherever I was going. The tent for hand-carved, organic jewelry merchant Coco Loco was particularly warm and inviting with staff that chatted me up and treated me like I was a long lost friend.
Fashion at Lollapalooza
I also had the opportunity to speak with TOMS Style Ambassador Katie Parfet about fashion themes at the festival, who says Lollapalooza street style is always a welcome departure from the barely there bathing suits and super short shorts of earlier fests like Coachella. “The city backdrop lends itself nicely to motorcycle jackets thrown over a breezy dress or worn-in pair of denim,” she adds.
When pressed for tips on balancing fashion and function in the event of rain (such as the downpour we experienced on Friday) Katie advised that layering is key.
“I always pack an army jacket or a lightweight cardigan in my backpack. And comfy shoes are a must. I wore my TOMS Paseo lace-up sneakers all weekend. Their tomboy feel contrasted nicely with my girly top. And a little mud post rain made them look more grunge.”
Even a fashion amateur like myself could spot the festival’s most prevalent trend (sported most often by all those damned selfie-takers). Katie confirmed my suspicions were correct.
“From Fashion Week to Lolla, crop tops reigned supreme. The key to keeping it classy with a crop is to pair with a high-waisted jean or skirt. Statement eyewear was also everywhere. I chose to wear my TOMS Noah frames in honey tort.”
What about girls with a thicker frame who opt out of the crop top trend?
“I love a good lightweight cotton dress. It doesn’t wrinkle in your suitcase and can be dressed up with fun jewelry. Pair with classic sandals like the TOMS Correa for a pop pf color.”
The Provocateurs presented by Art Alliance
If you were in Chicago for Lollapalooza and didn’t make it to The Provocateurs presented by Art Alliance at Block Thirty Seven, you missed a great opportunity to see an impressive collection of internationally-acclaimed art. Curated by the one and only Shepard Fairey- a controversial street artist, graphic designer activist and illustrator whose work you might recognize from the 2008 presidential campaign (he designed the Barak Obama “Hope” poster) – the exhibit was not to be missed.
In addition to several prominent pieces of his own artwork, Shepard Fairey also included work from more than 40 other provocative artists.
Saturday – Day 2
My second day at Lollapalooza kicked off with industrial pop goddess Meg Myers’ 3 p.m. set on The Grove Stage. Appearing at the mic wearing nothing more than black and white horizontally stripped hot pants and a solid black crop top with the shoulders cut out, many in the audience were shocked to hear such a powerful voice come from within such a dainty woman.
Appearing to be in a perpetual state of sadness, Myers smiled infrequently and instead gazed intensely into the audience as if the angst of her songwriting was somehow stemming from us. She donned both an acoustic and bass guitar multiple times before the set was over, and her striking vocals – perhaps the most captivating aspect of her stage presence – never lost intensity, right down to the feral screams on “Heart Heart Head”.
When Myers’ set concluded and she left the stage, the crowd immediately pushed forward and got claustrophobically tight. I reconsidered my plan to leave, wondering what upcoming set had drawn such an intense crowd.
A bro in front of me began offering premature apologies to his neighbors for the insanity that was about to ensue. “I just want to say I’m sorry in advance, because I’m about to go hard,” he warned people to his left, right, front and back. Consulting the festival schedule, I hastily left the dense crowd and opted for the happy jams of John Butler Trio over the raps of Atlanta-based Rich Homie Quan. It looks like he put on quite the show, though.
The back right quadrant of the festival grounds looked a lot different on Saturday afternoon than it did for Friday evening’s Lorde performance. Instead of a vast sea of latent onlookers, Saturday’s crowd was lively and buoyant. I happily bounced around to John Butler Trio at the Palladia Stage and conveniently continued to listen from afar while waiting in line for an autograph in the corner of the concert field. Next, I quickly abandoned plans to see Gramatik when the galloping drums, trickling piano, and winding vocals of Grouplove’s “I’m With You” fell upon my ears and I zig-zagged into the crowd singing along.
Later that night, falling perfectly in line with every rave review of this summer’s most buzzed about touring act, Outkast delighted all at Lollapalooza. The relentlessly fun and engaging set easily over-shadowed the lame-by-comparison performances from Krewella, Cut Copy and Calvin Harris.
To Lolla or Not to Lolla?
Lollapalooza is a smorgasboard of musical diversity with heavy representation from the hip hop, indie rock and EDM genres. Its host, The City of Chicago, is also a cultural melting pot of music lovers from all ages and backgrounds. While Lolla’s attempt to appeal to the masses is respectable (and fully achieved, logistically), curating a festival for mainstream tastes inevitably leads to vanilla results.
I suppose it boils down to your motives and goals for spending an exorbitant amount of money to attend one of the country’s largest and most revered festivals. Lollapalooza is a place to be seen; whether you’re taking selfies while sitting atop of your dude’s shoulders, turning heads on the midway with bold fashion statements, or living the high life in VIP- everyone wanted to look good at Lolla.
Musical discovery and underground exploration is a hard goal to achieve when so many of the artists on the bill can be heard on the radio at any given time. Events that aim to draw a smaller crowd and cater to a specific genre are inherently better aligned with the entire festival population’s preferences. By focusing narrow and deep (instead of wide and shallow) a more musically and culturally enriching experience is inevitable. I say this because Lollapalooza was fun, but- in the end- hardly worthy of the hype and definitely not worthy of the ticket price.