The Bay is replaced by Lake Michigan, and the fog trapped in the foothills gives way to oven-like humidity. Deep dish becomes the only pizza crust, while Derrick Rose jerseys of every color replace Giants caps. E-40’s “Function” is a mere afterthought to any tune by hometown favorite Kanye West. This is no “Yay Area.” This is Chicago. And on Aug. 3-5, the city played host to one of the nation’s largest music festivals: Lollapalooza.
Founded in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza has morphed quite a bit in its 21 years. After a handful of hiatuses following its beginnings as a traveling festival, Lollapalooza has recurred annually in Grant Park since 2005. The acts have grown with the crowds, morphing Lollapalooza into an annual pilgrimage for thousands of fans who have fallen in love with the event. For Stanford students, however, making the lengthy trip to Lolla can prove to be rather difficult. To offer some insight into the festival, Intermission made the journey to Chicago to see what Lolla’s all about.
Like many Stanford Lolla-goers, Intermission’s adventure began each morning north of downtown Chicago in Evanston, a neighborhood simultaneously part of the ‘burbs and the city. Evanston is the home of Northwestern University, a Midwestern academic powerhouse where a Stanford student is likely to have one or two friends willing to let him crash on a futon for the weekend.
When students wake on the hot Friday morning (or, more likely, early afternoon), they slowly make the journey downtown. Trains are packed with countless neon tank tops, CamelBaks and high-waisted jean shorts. All the commotion, combined with the growing frequency of late-morning handle pulls scattered about the train, immediately triggers memories of early-morning insanity on the Bay to Breakers Caltrain.
When the train arrives, hordes of festivalgoers take to the streets of Chicago, charging toward Grant Park. Thousands of people fill the sidewalks, funneling toward the famous Michigan Avenue, the heart of shopping in Chicago. Century-old buildings deemed worthy of Christopher Nolan’s Gotham cast massive shadows on the crowds below.
Heading south on Michigan, skyscrapers eventually reveal the green, tree-scattered expanse of Grant Park, cuddled up next to Lake Michigan. The fans have amassed at the park, and late Friday morning the gates open.
For the next 60 hours, Grant Park will play host to 270,000 people and 150 musical acts performing on eight separate stages. In 2011, Lollapalooza reportedly injected $100 million into the Chicago economy, a number likely matched this year, given the record attendance.
Friday’s lineup started the weekend off with a bang. Daytime performances included Passion Pit, The Shins, Dev and M83. One of the most impressive lineups of the day could be felt emanating from Perry’s Stage, tucked in the corner of Grant. Named after Lolla’s founder, Perry’s Stage has played host to some of the most exhilarating electronic, house and dubstep music the world has to offer. Once a covered venue, the tent was popped off this year to allow for greater attendance. On Friday, Perry’s featured The White Panda, Zedd, Porter Robinson and Nero, who blasted bass loud enough to be heard stages away. To finish the day off, Bassnectar headlined at Perry’s on Friday night, attracting a crowd more than prepared to rage to dubstep.
Outside of the moshing frivolity of Perry’s were some equally phenomenal headliners. Wale rapped on the PlayStation Stage, while The Black Keys and Black Sabbath exhibited Lolla’s rock origins. All headliners, however, were cut at 10 p.m. due to city noise ordinances. Although a sore point for many fans, the early end time allowed for festivalgoers to experience aspects of Lolla that make it unique to other festivals: it’s in the city. Fans flocked to bars, hotels, deep-dish pizzerias or one of the more than 35 official after-shows to cap off a wonderful day with some downtown Chicago nightlife.
With a somewhat groggy start from the day before, Lolla-goers got after it again on Saturday–for a while, at least. In the late afternoon, the event organizers chose to evacuate the park due to severe weather warnings. Soon after the evacuation, a powerful thunderstorm rolled through, pummeling the park with rain, hail and wind. However, as the storm gave way, the festival reopened to spectacularly muddy shows by Calvin Harris, Bloc Party, The Weeknd and Franz Ferdinand, among many others.
As the sun set, fans made the tough decision of which headliner to see. However, it was impossible to make a wrong choice. Frank Ocean’s smooth R&B melted hearts, Avicii melted faces and Santigold eliminated all worries. All the while, The Red Hot Chili Peppers played a phenomenal show to thousands of forever-loyal fans.
On Sunday, people in Lolla wristbands filled coffee shops and diners to order breakfast at 1 p.m. It was Lolla Sunday, and it was time to rally. On the festival’s final day, committed fans flocked to J. Cole, Sigur Ros, Toro Y Moi, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Miike Snow and At the Drive-In. Although Zed’s Dead kept the literal pulse of Lolla at Perry’s, Florence + the Machine may have captured the soul of the festival. Retro Hollywood movie-set spotlights glowed at the crowd, and simple silver fans blew Florence’s flowing red gown, transforming Florence + the Machine’s stunning voice and beautiful instrumentation into a spectacle to behold.
As dusk gave way to night, Justice took over Florence’s stage, while Jack White played at the other end of the park. Kaskade brought a powerful set to cap off an electrifying weekend at Perry’s. Comedian-turned-rapper (or vice versa) Childish Gambino lyricized his way through an incredible set while his fans rapped right along with him.
At the crux of shipping lanes and interstates in the heartland of the nation, Chicago is a literal crossroads. In a spectacular, exhausting three days of musical mayhem, Lollapalooza and its over 270,000 attendees further amplified this definition. Friends from the Farm had midsummer reunions, while friends from high school met each other’s new college companions. For three days, the third largest city in America was transformed into a venue to enjoy music, weather, food, fun and company. It may not be the Bay Area or Indio (the home of Coachella), but with Lollapalooza, Chicago shows it has something truly special to offer.