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A weekend at Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival

Photo by Will Rice, courtesy of Lollapalooza.

Photo by Will Rice, courtesy of Lollapalooza.

Chicago’s very own Lollapalooza music festival took to the city’s Grant Park this past weekend for its 23rd year. This year the three-day festival, complete with seven stages, gave rise to an eclectic lineup, spanning the genres of folk, rap, electronic and everything in between. This being my fifth year attending the festival, I had high hopes, but to no surprise the weekend had both my expectations and my eardrums blown away.

I began the festival at Lolla’s Kidzapalooza stage, where Portugal. The Man was performing for a group of eager toddlers sitting cross-legged in the front row. Behind them sat a larger group of somewhat out of place twenty-somethings that couldn’t resist seeing the band, despite it being a children’s show. The group demonstrated some “Sesame Street” enthusiasm, opening with a cover of Pink Floyd’s iconic “Another Brick Wall,” and continuing with a G-rated version of their latest album, “Evil Friends.” Despite the censorship and occasional crying baby, the Alaskan rock band delivered a bright, wholesome performance that defied the ages.

After the delightful tame show I found myself a bit restless. There was too much space around me, I could hear myself when I spoke and there were just too many lyrics stuck in my head – the common symptoms of EDM deficiency. I knew it was in my best interest at this point to make my way to Perry’s, the Lolla stage notorious for its electronic theme. Inching my way through the tightly-packed crowd of ravers, I was delighted to see former Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell take to the stage named after himself. Farrell had created Lollapalooza in 1991 as a farewell tour for his band. Collaborating with French DJ Joachim Garraud, Perry and his wife Etty delivered punch of vocals to compliment the bass-fueled electronic symphony.

Head and the Heart. Photo by Will Rice, courtesy of Lollapalooza

Head and the Heart. Photo by Will Rice, courtesy of Lollapalooza

Grinning and bearing the discomfort, I held my ground in the sweaty mosh pit in anticipation for Iggy Azalea, who would be performing next at Perry’s. After about an hour of life as a packaged sardine, the Australian breakout hip hop diva took to the stage with a group of backup dancers donning what looked like a cross between athletic wear and Urban Outfitters apparel. Opening with “Change Your Life” and “Work” off of her new album, “The New Classic,” Azalea radiated confidence, spitting out rapid-fire rhymes like second nature. Ending with her radio-renowned single “Fancy,” Iggy Azalea’s aggressively energetic performance landed her model-turned-rapstar image as one to be reckoned with.

Towards the end of the night, it was off to the headliner’s stage for one of my all-time favorite bands, Arctic Monkeys. The English Indie band were met with roaring acclaim as they began their set with “Do I Wanna Know.” Bringing their 1950’s-inspired greaser swagger, this group knew how to captivate a crowd with classic allure. Lead singer Alex Turner’s tight-fitting, high-waisted slacks were the perfect compliment to his Elvis-inspired swinging leg moves. Taking several breaks in his show to comb his perfectly slicked black hair, Turner had his audience in a swoon. Ending with “Why Do You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Are You Mine?” these Monkeys turned two sincere questions into one phenomenal finale to the first day of the festival.

Lorde at Lollapalooza. Photo by Jack Edinger, courtesy of Lollapalooza.

Lorde at Lollapalooza. Photo by Jack Edinger, courtesy of Lollapalooza.

After a much-needed shower and a whopping five hours of sleep, it was back to Grant Park, where I began Lolla Day 2 with Kate Nash, the UK singer/songwriter best known for her 2007 single “Foundations.” To my surprise, Nash ditched her usual girl-next-door sweetheart persona for a cape, cornrows and a pair of 7-inch platform shoes. Accompanied by her all-female band, the glittered-up singer gave a fearless performance, taking several breaks to frolic offstage into the audience and even stomp on the keys of her keyboard. The highlight of the show was when Nash invited a group of her fans on stage to dance along to hit “Merry Happy.” After a lively set, Nash left the stage, but not before mouthing “Go have fun!” to her screaming audience.

After Nash, I found myself a bit worn out, so naturally, I grabbed a couple of apples from the festival farmer’s market and found a shady spot in which to refuel. Between two of the festival’s biggest stages, Lake Shore and Samsung, this spot offered quite the vantage point. Temper Trap was just finishing up its act at Lake Shore as “Sweet Disposition” provided my satisfying Golden Delicious with the most serendipitous soundtrack. Fitz and the Tantrums picked up where they left off, as they opened up at Samsung with their unique jiving version of Cher’s “Sweet Dreams,” leaving the crowd hanging on every lyric. Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick did not shy away from twirling around his mic stand, and channeled his inner Ray Charles for a smooth keyboard accompaniment to “MoneyGrabber.” But James King definitely stole the show during “Love is the Feeling” with a hair-raising saxophone solo.

Kate Nash. Photo by Jack Edinger, courtesy of Lollapalooza

Kate Nash. Photo by Jack Edinger, courtesy of Lollapalooza

Now revitalized with citrus, I headed over to the Lake Shore stage, where Seattle-born band Head and the Heart had its wide-eyed audience in a melancholic trance. There’s something about this band’s sound that invoked a nostalgia — one that makes you want to put your arms around complete strangers and sway with them in an expression of compassion. I allowed myself a single tear to shed at the indie folk performance, realizing just how hard that limit was to maintain when the band ended with “Rivers and Roads.” Anyone who has ever had to go away for college would agree that the lyrics to this song hit a bit too close to home.

Towards the end of the night, I found myself at Buckingham fountain in the middle of the festival, torn between two headliners: Outkast and Calvin Harris. Hearing a certain playfully upbeat set, I followed my eardrums to Outkast, who had even the furthest in the back dancing along to their classic hip hop wisdom.  Outkast playing their most notable songs, “Hey Ya,” “Roses” and “Mrs. Jackson,” brought the hits I considered middle-school classics to life. Andre 3000 and Big Boi made the South end of Grant Park into what feel like a 1990s nightclub (or what I assume what one of those must’ve been like…). A perfect way to end day 2 of Lolla.

I took most of Day 3 to explore the different non-musical facets of the festival. I strolled on by Toyota’s SOUNDWAVE tent, where festivalgoers were able to take slow-motion pictures inside a customized 2014 Camry. The festival’s iconic Chow Town, a series of food kiosks featuring Chicagoan fare, outdid itself this year, adding  lobster corn dogs, spicy magnolia beef baos, and authentic artisan sandwiches to its  eclectic menu. Green Street also returned this year, featuring several environmentally responsible clothing and jewelry shops crafted by world-recognized artisans as well as “Rock & Recycle,” where people can earn a free Lolla t-shirt for collecting recyclables from around the park.

After my festival explorations, it was time for the night’s headliner, the one and only Skrillex. Accompanied by an electrifyingly vivid light show, the dubstep DJ mystified his audience into a trance. Pyrotechnics fog and green lasers all contributed to the show’s rave atmosphere. There was not one moment of silence in Skrillex’s show, as he played his fan favorites “Bangarang,” “First of the Year” and “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” as well as a few new pieces, including a womping remix of Disclosure’s “Latch.” In the crowd, you could physically feel the vibration of the music tickling your skin, leaving many unsure if they were experiencing bass or heart palpitations. All in all, Skrillex delivered an exhilarating performance that put the three-day festival to rest.