I may be showing my age here, but I went to Lollapalooza the first year it toured. There were 10 “alternative” bands sharing the same stage and it traveled around the whole country. Today, it's a stationary behemoth of a festival with 130 bands crossing all genres, including electronica and country music, playing on eight stages spanning the 319-acre Grant Park in Chicago. The diverse lineup and beautiful location on Lake Michigan draws people of all ages from all over the world to spend three days enjoying music, sponsorship and girls in crop tops. [Words by Marci, photos by Chris.]
12:15 p.m. We plan to arrive early enough to catch Brite Lite Brite, 2007 winners of the John Lennon songwriting contest, but by the time we find the media entrance at the far end of the park we've already missed most of their set. So instead, we end up lounging in front of a large fan and drinking coconut water while listening to Emeli Sandé and fine-tuning our plan of attack.
1:49 p.m. The crowd at Icona Pop is mostly filled with girls that aren’t old enough to drink. Many are coping with this inconvenience with pulls off floral-printed flasks and colorful glass bowls. Icona Pop play bouncy,sugary, fun … well, pop music. They’ll be the first headlining band performing at the newly renovated Czar at The Ritz on August 18, and after watching them get this big crowd going in the blazing mid-day sun, I definitely plan on being there.
2:21 p.m. The rain starts, and everyone pulls out their ponchos or scurries to the closest tent.
2:37 p.m. The rain stops.
3:04 p.m. I ask a guy at one of the many booths we pass if I can have one of the flimsy cardboard fans stapled to oversized popsicle sticks that he has stacks of behind him. He says they’re selling them for $3 to offset carbon emissions. I fan myself with my $3 carbon offset fan for as long as it takes me to the 10 feet to the next booth, where they’re giving their flimsy fans away for free.
3:26 p.m. We make our way to the tiny BMI stage to see Houndmouth. I hadn’t heard of this band before getting an email from their PR folks, but I liked them instantly and was looking forward to hearing them live. They do not disappoint with a loud, fuzzy and bluesy set of songs. The more they play, the more people made their way over to the little shaded stage, taking off muddy sandals and dancing or sitting on the grass under the trees and bobbing their heads. On a side note, keyboardist and vocalist Katie Toupin is a total babe.
4:18 p.m. Band of Horses come out to a huge crowd that includes a chunk of people who'd been pushed up against the barricades for much of the day, camping out in wait for Nine Inch Nails. In the daylight, the giant stage seems to dwarf the five-member ensemble, but the sound is pristine and they deliver a beautifully memorable set, filling the park with their haunting harmonies and setting a perfect festival mood.
4:31 p.m. I notice alot of people have started falling asleep in random places. Sometimes you beat the sun, sometimes the sun beats you.
5:19 p.m. This was our first time officially covering Lollapalooza, having hit the fest unofficially for ninebullets.net back in 2008 as regular schmos without nifty photo pit access. So we wanted to make sure we took full advantage during New Order. Chris was told they'd only be letting in the first 60 photographers, and we honestly didn’t know how many were even there, but we didn’t want to miss even a small opportunity. This was New Order we were talking about here, after all. Our worries are in vain, however, as we end up being the only ones waiting in line for a solid 30 minutes to shoot the band, which makes for a nice moment to rest our shoulders and our feet and get hydrated.
6:25 p.m. Bernard Sumner struts on stage wearing — I shit you not — a New Order shirt. My first thought is that maybe he spilled something on the shirt he'd originally planned to wear. My second and much louder thought is OHMYGODITSNEWORDERHOLYMOLY!!!! I'd honestly accepted the fact that New Order was a band I was never going to get to see live, but here they are in front of me, in the flesh. For the first time all day, I see people hanging in the VIP viewing area, available to those moneyed patrons with the $1050 VIP Pass or the $3600 Platinum Pass. While I don't have the scratch for something like that, I say more power to those people who've been fans of New Order since they were teens and have worked their butts off enough to be able to afford seeing their favorite band in such luxury.
And the band sounds completely amazing, their performance enhanced by clips from their iconic videos spliced into live shots of them performing and projected onto the big screens propped on each side of the stage. They play every song I could have dreamed of hearing live, “Ceremony” and “True Faith” among them. The biggest surprise comes when New Order starts winding down and closes their set with three Joy Division songs: “Atmosphere,” “Transmission” and finally “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It's a truly amazing experience and the sun hasn't even yet set on the first day of Lollapalooza.
7:38 p.m. Hot Chip walks onto the stage looking almost as weird as I’d hoped they would. I think I subconsciously expected them to have matching outfits, maybe with a space theme or something? But I was OK with Alexis Taylor’s scrubs, blue full-length coat, while Al Doyle is clad in a white straightjacket-style tunic. Alexis’ expressions vary between super serious and somewhat forlorn as the UK synth pop band performs a mix of songs from their last four albums.
8:32 p.m. I’d decided to skip The Killers and Nine Inch Nails to hit The Grove stage for Lana Del Rey. It turns out the stage she performs on is set up in a grove of trees, clearly designed to frustrate and torture everyone who didn’t get there early enough to nab one of the few unobstructed views. There were people climbing anything they could wrap their Converse around and after the show starts and we realiz that not only could we not see her, but we can't even hear her, we head back to the hotel to soak our feet and eat some mac n' cheese.
Today's Lollapalooza Lesson: Drink lots of water, but make sure you eat something besides granola bars; we were so busy running around that we forgot to eat dinner, so I'd developed a pretty nasty headache by the time 8 p.m. rolled around...
3:17 p.m. After a small post-breakfast napcident, we rush back towards Grant Park. On our way, we walk into a crew of marketers handing out Fruttare fruit bars, and are told that for the small price of me liking their Instagram page and posting a picture of myself eating their delicious ice cream, I could get a free plug-free cell phone charger. I now had hope that I could Instagram/Facebook/Tweet all day without fear of iPhone death, AND I GOT FREE ICE CREAM! At that point I know this is going to be a good day.
3:41 p.m. For some strange reason Matt and Kim are given a midday timeslot on a medium-sized stage, and the crowd stretches almost all the way to the opposite stage. Everyone roars when the electro pop duo comes bounding onto the stage, towels twirling and booties shaking. After a couple songs and a handful of people getting rescued from the crowd, Matt comments on the heat. "A wise man once said, 'It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.'" Apparently inspired by talk of nudity, Kim adds that she had tried to f**k the s**t out of Matt the night before and he shut her down because he wanted to save his energy for this day. It clearly worked, as he didn’t stop bouncing and dancing and running across the stage for the entire hour. They manage to fit in eight songs and even threw a few t-shirts to the crowd. This was my third time seeing them over the last four years and they still manage to amaze me. There are very few bands out there that put on such a high energy show and these two do it consistently. I hope Kim eventually got laid. She totally deserved it.
4:49 p.m. The crowd for Ellie Goulding was 83 percent girls in lace crop tops, 15 percent guys in colorful tank tops trying to hit on them. Ellie belts out 13 songs, including a surprising cover of Elton John’s “Your Song,” alternating between whaling on the drumset at front center stage and skipping across the stage to sing to the whole crowd. Maybe it's just because I was hearing her music outside of a nightclub, but while it was all very pretty, it felt a bit bland.
5:19 p.m. We remember to eat dinner today, and end up getting double hamburgers from The Billy Goat Tavern & Grill in Chow Town. At $6 apiece, it's pretty much the most bang you get for your buck and there's no kale or quinoa to be found. And yes, they are awesome.
5:31 p.m. Listening to Eric Church crooning about saying ma’am and grace in his exaggerated radio twang while I sit in the dirt waiting for The National feels alot like torture.
6:05 p.m. I was really torn between seeing Foals and The National. I’d seen Foals at Lollapalooza in 2008, but they were on a tiny stage and I was left wanting more. On the other hand, I’d never seen The National live and a brief poll on Facebook prompted us to head to The National. I'm not disappointed in the least. With a big f**k you to the sweltering heat of the later afternoon, Matt Berninger saunters out in an all black, three-piece suit and begins to serenade us with his lovely, buttery baritone. His vocals don't lack an ounce of the emotion that his studio fare holds and I can barely contain myself during “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” singing at the roof of my mouth along with much of the rest of the audience.
7:14 p.m. We go by the Samsung Galaxy area because we’d gotten an email about possible VIP access for Galaxy users. We discover a whole process involving stations with activities you do to earn tokens, like making flower headbands and getting henna tattoos, the tokens eventually used to trade in for the things. It all sounds like fun, but we have music to see.
7:52 p.m. Kendrick Lamar is just wrapping up when we got over to the Bud Light stage and a couple of guys in wheelchairs are leaving the photo pit area. It turned out that these guys had crowd-surfed in their wheelchairs all the way from the back of the crowd to the front, and when they made it to the pit, Kendrick told security to let them stay. I can’t name a single song that he sings, but that was a pretty damned cool move. Oh, and the wheelchair dudes are now total chick magnets.
8:31 p.m. I was completely bummed to miss The Postal Service when they played Orlando a couple months ago, a show which sold out pretty much immediately. As we walk up to the stage to see them at Lolla, we see people sitting in front of the barricades who'd been patiently waiting there since the gates had opened, just to secure their spots for The Postal Service’s set. The band emerges to a raucous response and a stage so full of smoke that Ben Gibbard has to tell them to cut it out. I'm ecstatic when they start their set with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” When Chris is done shooting, we find a spot to sit on the grass and I just sit back and soak up the music of a band that provided the soundtrack to my life a decade ago. They end up fitting 16 songs into their set, including every single cut from their one and only album, Give Up. Ben Gibbard is as charming as I could have imagined and Jenny Lewis continues to be a stone cold fox.
10:04 p.m. We hobble our way back to the hotel, having walked over 13 miles according to Map My Walk.
Today's Lollapalooza Lesson: Don’t ever go anywhere again without one of these magical rechargeable cell phone chargers. And insoles.
12:01 p.m. Our legs and shoulders are killing us by this time, but we're back and ready for the last day of music, and Guards kicks it off. A friend had brought this band to my attention a few months prior, describing them as “super-catchy, slightly lo-fi anthem pop,” which is entirely accurate and right up my alley. They do a great job playing to a noon crowd that was just starting to gather to hear the first bands of the day.
12:59 p.m. We wander over to check out the shops set up on the west side of the park. Amid alot of thrift stores with old boots and suffocating amounts of patchouli, I find a place that carries cool screenprinted t-shirts and a table of interesting hand-carved earrings. At that point, we decide to head back to the hotel to charge batteries, dump memory cards and grab some food and drinks.
5:07 p.m. Alt-J is one of the top three bands I’d been looking forward to seeing this weekend. They won last year’s Mercury Prize with infectious beats and unusual vocals. I wasn't sure how their quiet electronic-driven sound would translate live, but it turns out that much of their music is produced with real instruments, and it all comes together amazingly well on stage. When the bass drops in on “Fitzpleasure,” I am a happy camper. Somehow they crammed 16 songs into an hour set, including "Slow Dre," their Kylie Minogue and Dr. Dre mash-up.
6:13 p.m. We remember to break for dinner and choose chicken skewers with wonton chips and an amazing edamame dip from Ra Sushi, which we eat while listening to Grizzly Bear once again knock it out of the park. These guys are just so very good. We also run into the impeccably dressed Wild Belle.
7:44 p.m. By this time, the line of photographers waiting to shoot The Cure is the longest I'd seen all weekend. There are photographers in line that I hadn’t even seen at any of the other pits thus far. Once again the Platinum VIP area is relatively full of well-off middle-aged New Wavers digging into coolers of Budweiser products.
8:16 p.m. Robert Smith, my teenage crush, takes the stage to gothgasms from the huddled masses. It’s no surprise that he’s aged, we all have/will, but man, does he still sound great. Every time he raises his eyes, the crowd squeals. When he does his little batty dance, the crowd swoons. And when he does his trademark yelps and coos, the crowd nearly loses consciousness. It's perfection. They play songs spanning their discography, with a major emphasis on Disintegration. The highlight for many appeared to be “Friday I’m in Love,” which found almost everyone who’d been sitting along the hillsides jumping to their feet and running down to dance with the crowd. Having been an avid Cure fan when this single was released, I remember actually being angered by its cheesiness, but I couldn’t help but get caught up in the happiness of the fans and find myself singing along. Chris and I had been trying to guess what song would end the show and I gasped in excitement when they launch into “Boys Don’t Cry.” I really didn’t think I’d ever see The Cure again after their last tour, widely rumored to be their last, so I feel lucky to have gotten the chance to see them again, and they confirm that the aching legs and the blisters we've acquired to get to this point are well worth it.
Today's Lollapalooza Lesson: Wear thicker socks and start saving up now so I can afford to be a Platinum VIP pass when I grow up and return...