Chicago has a lot of music festivals, to a degree that would startle many who don’t live there, even those that live amongst the musical cities of this country and the world. Spring Awakening, Wave Front, Pitchfork, North Coast, and Riot Fest round out the annual 3-day festivals, and there is a plethora of 2-3 days street festivals all over the city that pull in solid musical acts as well. Yes, Chicagoans completely wear themselves out during the summer time, just as it should be.
Yet one event transcends this near-live-musical-glut this Midwestern metropolis experiences in the summer, and that’s Lollapalooza. I don’t care what you’re opinions are on mix-genre vs genre-centric fests, or corporate vs more indie fests, or large vs small festivals (all interesting discussions mind you), Lolla is THE musical event of Chicago, and it’s that rare event in which the whole music-loving country is curious as to what happens in Grant Park each first August weekend of the year. Hell, this author even saw it as one of CNN’s news items of the coming week (which was kinda odd, but still true).
Let’s take a look at Lollapalooza 2013. Layout wise it seems to be the same general setup as in years past. The 2 uber large main stages are on the far North and South side of Grant Park, each with 2 other large stage that faces them across their respective fields. Then on the west side of Grant Park, on the other side of the 6 lane quick-walking-super-highway known as Columbus drive you find the two most unique stages of the festival, Perry’s (the all electronic tent, which always pushes the limit in some new aesthetic way), and The Grove (a stage beautifully set in a shady area of the park that is wonderfully surrounded by trees). And, as always, no matter where you are on the grounds you will find yourself within a gorgeous park situated between the lakefront and the Chicago skyline – that just never gets old. One hopes, that like years past, they have ample portos located around pretty much every corner. And like year’s past they should have bars at every turn as well (at which you can buy cold full bottles of wine put into a sports bottle, which is amazing at a fest because it’s so simple to carry and reduces the trips to the aforementioned portos). What does this mean? Minimal line time, which is amazing at a 100,000 person a day event. If you find yourself standing in a bar or porto line, look harder or walk an extra 50 yards, I assure you that long lines are not necessary with just a little extra effort.
The Eats: One of the most underrated aspect of Lolla is their Chow Town. Graham Elliot, the world renown Michelin star rated chef, is the culinary curator. You read that right. You can grab such tasty items as Lobster Corndogs, Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn, and gormet hotdogs (such as sausage-egg-potato breakfast dogs, or anduille-alligator sausage dogs, etc.). The food is arguably superior and more diverse than at the Taste of Chicago, and it’s not even the main focus of the event.
The main focus, is of course the music. The headliners are NIN, Mumford & Sons, Steve Akoi, Queens of the Stone Age, The Postal Service, Steve Angello, Mumford and Sons, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, The Cure, and Knife Party. However, let’s take a look at a few of the not-to-miss non headliners from each day.
Icona Pop: Early on Friday these two women from Stockholm can be found at the Lake Shore stage. Icona Pop‘s music is a brand of electro pop, yet with very hard hitting bass. They use catchy and diverting lyrics and hooks. Their songs often build to those DJ electronic crescendos. But the word is that the best thing about them is their live set, which is said to catch the listeners of their album by surprise. If you’re there early, check out these ladies to quickly get your weekend started.
Disclosure: Disclosure is a British band/DJ duo that is making a storm overseas at the moment after their debut album that dropped last year, and have just started to gain attention really in the US. Their songs can have elements of R&B, house, and progressive electronic – but with a unique glossy sheen laid on top. With this combination their songs can take you by surprise, as they adroitly never seem to do too much, and therefore often catch first time listeners off guard. But don’t worry, there will still be plenty of joyous bass drops as well.
Theophilus London: From Brooklyn via Trinidad Theophilus London is a technically a rapper, but since he often sings – or lies somewhere between the two vocal approaches – and plays with a band it’s not your normal hip hop. The result is soulful and indie-rock undertone to his tunes. It’s playful and highly accessible music.
Hot Chip: This band out of England is no newbie to the scene. They actually have released 5 albums already. They play a brand of electro rock that focuses more on interesting synth-guitar-vocal interplays than on hitting you with bass. It can be complex and dynamic, but always leads to a good time, even in their more somber songs (which they certainly do have). This band plays as one and knows what they are doing on stage. This show should prove to be a great electro rock party right around sunset, and what doesn’t sound great about that…?
GRiZ: GRiZ began producing music when he was 14. Combining elements of soul, R&B, hip hop and even at times undertones of jazzy melodies – he used wildly diverse, interesting and unique musical building blocks to create his songs. One can tell these songs can’t be made quickly. You will get some wobble, build, and bass hits – but you’ll travel down a distinct path before you get there – which makes it all the better when he lets things really get going.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Unknown Mortal Orchestra are a psychedelic band that have released two full length albums, the last one of which II was critically acclaimed by many. Their version of psych rock relies on the slight use of fuzz and sonic blurring, on top of which they present their melodies and lyrics. And of course, there is a good amount of well employed reverb. But they can find some very enjoyable and toe tapping beats to layer all this upon. In the end it might not be for all, but if you are into psychedelic rock at all – then this is a show you should be at.
Heartless Bastards: The Heartless Bastards (click here to see their OurVinyl acoustic session) played a fantastic Lolla set back in 2010. It was in the pouring rain, but they handled it like masters and the show really was one of that weekend’s best. Let’s hope they can do that again, without the rain of course. They play a brand of Americana rock that can be sweet and sultry, or heavy and in your face. Erika the lead singer has an utterly fantastic voice, and the band follows her lead and never strays from “the pocket”. This is good old fashioned American rock n’ roll and a flat out fantastic live band.
Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar released one of the better hip hop albums of the past half decade with Good Kid M.A.A.D City this past year. It has quickly catapulted him into the spotlight, and for good reason. His lyrics and beats are diverse, but are always cerebral – even when he’s being whimsical or silly – which is a rare thing these days in popular rap. He also can hold down a stage and placate a festival crowd, without the help of hype men or a bunch of people running around on stage. He has an old school approach to hip hop, with modern beats. You don’t want to miss this hip hop dance party…
Alt-J: After winning the highly coveted Mercury Prize in England (awarded to the best debut album of the year), this band has quickly become quasi-well known. Their album An Awesome Wave is wonderful from front to back. With quick-beat based psychedelia, barbershop like harmonies, and genius song creation/progression they have created an album that will be listened to and loved for many years to come. So yeah, you probably know what songs they’re going to play having only one album, but trust us, you want to experience this band. Expect a big and highly excited crowd as well… And be prepared to throw up some triangles into the air!
Grizzly Bear: Grizzly Bear is an indie rock band that brings a very unique approach to the genre, but it’s not overly electric or inaccessible to the first time listener. With toe-tapping beats, and pleasant use of vocals (both of the front man and the backing vocalist), they create for a positive rock vibe. They can often become psychedelic, but never become overly trippy (well, okay, maybe a couple times they do). But the music always has an upbeat undertone. And with their six pm slot on Sunday, it’s a perfect band to enjoy the winding down of the festival with.