Chicago is home to many of the nation’s biggest summer festivals. This week, Lollapalooza was a plethora of incredible musical acts to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.
Lollapalooza has been many things over its near thirty years, from touring festival to stationary, cancelled & revived, underground to mainstream. Indeed, its changing nature has been key to its longevity, as other festivals stick to their guns and get stuck in the mud, or never happen at all (this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous music festival of all time couldn’t get off the ground). But that very change also brings about criticism, of “not being what it used to be,” “following trends, not starting them,” and generally not being as good as it was when you were younger, even while younger fans are experiencing it for the first time.
The 2019 edition was, in many ways, the most mainstream Lollapalooza ever, the most leaning into today and least into yesterday or tomorrow, from all the Instagram moments to Spotify-ready line-ups. But it was also, in other ways, its most diverse, the lack of a focus becoming the focus itself, a chance to see everyone from celebrity DJs to aging rock stars to internet pop celebrities to crossover cultural phenomena, Thursday-Sunday, August 1st-4th.
The first day of Lollapalooza is usually the lightest, having only been added in 2016, not even being weekend adjacent. But the festival has been doing a better job of spreading the wealth, and there was much on Thursday that was Lollapalooza ’19 must-see.
One of the things that hasn’t changed about Lollapalooza is the heat, and usually having to see all but the non-headliners under the beating sun. Only the smaller stages have any real shade, the semi-shaded side American Eagle Stage, the small up-and-comers BMI Stage, and the bonus Bud Light Dive Bar. A running promotion that Anheuser-Busch has bringing to festivals starting last year, it’s a tiny faux-dive bar located behind Tito’s Stage that has side-sets by a handful of Lollapalooza performers. It’s also almost completely in the shade, with picnic tables all around (and yes, sells Bud Light). On Thursday, it had an early intimate performance by Win and Woo, who would later headlining the Tito’s Stage next door. “We started in dive bars, so this is appropriate,” one of the DJ duo introduced themselves with, and they drew a healthy (if bro-heavy) crowd that literally shook the stage – a crewmember had to hold down the speakers.
By the middle of Lollapalooza, the heat has gotten to everyone, one’s initial energy has worn off, and it’s easy to question whether you’ll make it to the headliner. That’s why the festival needs energetic middle-to-late-in-the-line-up acts such as Normani, Fitz & The Tantrums, H.E.R., and Hayley Kiyoko. Whether at Lake Shore, Bud Light, T-Mobile, or Lake Shore Stages (respectively), they had the kind of big & bold sounds that worked well in the hot & sweaty part of the festival day. And that was true whether for veterans like The Tantrums or newer ladies such as Normani, H.E.R. or Kiyoko – indeed, special mention has to be made of Normani & Kiyoko’s killer dancers.
The Chainsmokers vs. The Strokes. Those were the rival headliners on Day One, and the conflict kind of summed up music today – or at least white people’s music. Do you want to see the highest-paid DJs in the world play the Bud Light Stage (and not Lollapalooza’s usually EDM stage/ghetto, Perry’s Tent), or the band that brought back rock n’ roll at the start of this century/millennium? Do you embrace whatever it is that the kids are listening to today (if not yesterday, and maybe not tomorrow), or do you go for not-that-long ago nostalgia (back when you were a kid)?
As people revved up towards the weekend, on Lollapalooza Friday there was the viral video of a 100+ kids jumping/knocking down the fence to get into the festival, where the only person stopped was a guy with a prosthetic leg. Yet both the festival and the Chicago P.D. were quick to follow-up by announcing that all of those fence-jumpers/breakers were quickly caught inside the festival. And that one guy who was stopped before? He actually ended up getting in, because ’19 artist Rich the Kid got in touch with him online and gave him an artist pass (Rich the Kid himself actually didn’t perform on Friday, his time slot given to Polo G, but was squeezed into the Saturday line-up).
The hot early part of the day at Lollapalooza is when to see the up-and-coming acts, and to see if they’re actually going anywhere. Omar Apollo had a strong crowd for 1:00 PM, when he opened up the second day at the massive Bud Light Stage, as did Boy Pablo right after at Tito’s Stage. The Nude Party have been playing seemingly every festival this summer, and their Cali surf-garage did fit well under the sun at the Lake Shore Stage (bonus points for thanking the techs, “Out all day in the heat, tuning too many guitars.”).
The actual weekend brought the hottest day so far, with less of a breeze off Lake Michigan. Considering the heat wave that had struck much of the United States two weekends before, including cancelling New York’s Ozy Fest, one hopes that global warming won’t do in the outdoor music festival. Not the biggest worry about climate change, not by far, but a definite First World Problem that brings it all a little closer to home (like the avocado shortages…).
Under that sun were the smooth, sweet sounds of Men I Trust at the Lake Shore Stage. They are a fast-rising female fronted act at a festival that had a lot of them. It’s long been the case that music festivals tilt XY (just look at the line-ups of the supposedly forward-thinking nineties Lollapalooza…), but perhaps the music industry is finally giving up the idea that, while women will listen to male act, men won’t listen to female ones. It’s a fallacy across the entertainment industry (has been holding back female movie stars for generations), but it’s never been less true than it is today, a credit to the open-minded & much-derided millennials. Just look at the gender diverse crowd for Bea Miller (the American Eagle Stage’s shade did help, something else with universal appeal), who brought her great girl power, including talking about “rubbing one out” and being called a slut, to great cheers.
The final day of Lollapalooza was overshadowed by the tragic mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. Even for all of the talk of America becoming numb to mass shootings, two together hit hard. At Lollapalooza, the idea of a mass shooting at the mass festival comes right to the fore of one’s mind, particularly after both the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting a week ago, and particularly the shooting two years ago at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas – and word that that shooter had initially planned on targeting Lollapalooza, but couldn’t get a hotel room that looked out over Grant Park.
A more sedate final day of Lollapalooza saw young Ryan Beatty at Bud Light Stage and (Sandy) Alex G sing through his clenched teeth at the Lake Shore Stage; the parenthesized Frank Ocean guitarist has new album House of Sugar coming out next month. Meanwhile, there were the smooth sound of NoMBe at a shady & packed Bud Light Dive Bar, with the performer going through the crowd to stand on the back bar, then back into the crowd, as his set’s end.
Ariana Grande closed out Lollapalooza ’19 at the T-Mobile Stage, because this is the world we live in today (earlier this year, Miley Cyrus played Barcelona’s supremely artistic Primavera Sound ). Were there people scoffing (and not just the photographers, who were all pissed because none of them were allowed to even look at the mega pop star)? Sure, but she had a giant crowd filling all the way up to the side stairs of the main stage. And Grande brought her full show, including expert dancers.
Lollapalooza was never going to be like it was, but nothing is in this new millennium. But it has become what it is now, a giant festival drawing from all four corners of the musical world. It’s also super-professional, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Coverage: Anique Monae, Miz Venus, Jariel Frazier
Photo Credit: Getty Images