The air outside can be something akin to invisible steam, the lake is perfectly swim-able, apparently summer has reached it’s zenith in the city of big shoulders. This only means one thing to it’s musically devoted inhabitants; it’s time yet again to participate in one of the world’s most celebrated music festivals. This weekend (Aug 5-7) Lollapalooza will be invading Chicago’s dramatic downtown lakefront park, the one named for President Grant. This year Lolla will be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary. And while the artists and scope of the 1991 rendition, compared to the contemporary, would make them seem like completely unrelated events , they most definitely are. Lolla has slowly made the changes over time, from when festivals were eccentrically novel (at least in the US), to the modern generation’s seemingly universe adoration of the music festival. But the impetus has remained the same, a deep love for music, and a willingness to devote multiple full dog days to taking it in live.
What makes Lollapalooza different from most other fests is, for the most part, pretty obvious to see. It is one of the largest festivals in the world, yet unlike most others (save maybe NOLA’s Jazz Fest), you aren’t going to be camping at the end of the night, and you’ll be somewhere with a shower and if not a bed, at least an indoor sleeping bag. The festival is not somewhere in “Chicago-land”, it’s in the exact center of the metropolis. Taking up literally all of Grant Park, the festival is encircled by both a towering skyline on one side and Lake Michigan on the other.
The other aspect of why Lollapalooza is such a wonderful time is the logistical planning of it all. There are 7 stages (8 if you count Kidzapalooza), yet each one is relatively far away from the next closest one, and a couple are completely without eye/ear shot of any other stages. There is easy movement from stage to stage, since last year’s decision to open up Columbus Ave and everything west of it to pedestrian movement and 2 stages. Also, take a look at the map, do you see how many bars, bathrooms, and eateries there are? Hosting 34 different food options, from all around the city, Lolla has the gastronomic chops of something more like a food festival. No joke, the food is legit.
What’s of musical interest this year? Let’s break it down by day.
Friday: The Naked and The Famous, who released one of last year’s best debut albums, play at 1:30. But it would be worth it to get there early to catch these New Zealand electro pop/rock up-and-comers. These guys won’t be playing at 1:30 in next year’s fests, you can count on that. In the middle of the day you have some tough choices to make in terms of highly acclaimed, but not completely well-known acts. The Smith and Westerns and Le Butcherettes both start at 3:30. The former is a local Chicago act, coming off of the release of their second album “Dye It Blonde” and touring with MGMT, who play a lo-fi psychedelic pop/rock which is pretty catchy at times. The latter is a Mexican duo who play a brand of toe-tapping, but edgy, blues-punk rock. Then another local act gaining a lot of attention is Kid These Days; if horn & blues-based rap sounds like an interesting genre to you, then be at this show. For those dub electro heads out there, Skrillex and Afrojack are back to back at Perry’s stage from 6:15-8:15 (rumor has it Perry’s will be a pretty psyched out large tent this year). To end out your evening you have to choose from Coldplay, Ratatat, Girl Talk, or Muse. Everyone should be able to get themselves excited for one of those acts. Of course though, much was left out. For the complete Friday line-up click here.
Saturday: For those who will be showing up on the earlier side of Saturday, Phantogram at 1:30 isn’t a bad idea for kicking off your day. Their music is dark, but danceable, 2 piece electro rock that comes off pretty well live (although this surely must be their largest stage to date, we’ll see how they do). Mayer Hawthorne & The County play at 3:30. If any part of you is into soul, r&b, or mo-town then Mayer Hawthorne is an artist you will appreciate. Joachim Garraud, a wonderful mid-level DJ, goes on at 4:45. He played a great surprisingly extended set last year and surprised some people. The Local Natives, whose debut album “Gorilla Album”, was on many peoples best-of-2010 list go on at %:30. It will be interesting to see how these guys do on the big stage, one can expect a large anticipating crowd for that show. Ween and Lykke Li also play Saturday’s late afternoon, offering something acclaimed and interesting for those interested in something older & proven or new and exciting. To end out the evening one can choose from Eminem, Pretty Lights, Beirut, or My Morning Jacket. This author will personally be catching the beginning of MMJ and then moving on to Eminem to end the evening. Not because of any great love of the recent music, but because if I didn’t then 17 year old me would never forgive me of now. One has to imagine that’s going to be the case for many in the crowd. Much good stuff was left out though, to see Saturday’s complete lineup click here.
Sunday: Sunday is a good day of music. Unfortunately one of the most anticipated band for all fans of indie rock, Titus Andronicus, go on at 12:45. On Sunday, after two days of festing, that might as well be 7:30am. Upbeat and sing-a-longable Noah & The Whale are on at 2:30, and this writer is curious what kind of live show they provide. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., who are deservingly garnishing attention after their debut release “It’s A Corporate World”, go on at 3:15. They have a sort of mellow sound, but at times it’s laden with catchy momentum or a danceable undercurrent. They are a dynamic act and we’ll see how they handle the big stage. At 4:00 though it will be time for one of the weekend’s best kept secret, The Cars. These guys practically invented the new-wave sound, and after almost 20 years of separation, are on tour to support their new album “Move Like This.” If you are too cool to look forward to singing along with Just What I Needed and Good Times Roll, well then you are just missing out! Returning to Lollapalooza after a year hiatus (although playing at a much later time of 7:00) is Manchester Orchestra. These guys just play damn good contemporary hard rock, and their live show is even better than their albums. If you like rock at all, you want to be there. To end the night one can choose from Cold War Kids, KiD CuDi, Deadmau5 or the Foo Fighters. And while it’s tempting to check out one of alternative’s preeminent bands, and no one will regret attending the Foo Fighters, you’ll be advised to end your epic weekend attending arguably one of the world’s best DJs – with the un-arguably best visual show happening anywhere – also known as Deadmau5. For Sunday’s complete line up click here.
Lollapalooza 2011, let’s hope the weather stays relatively dry and cool, just like last year. But, hey, even if it’s not, this festival – like in the years past – should be off the chain. See you there.
by Sean Brna