Preface: Chicagoans talk about the weather, a lot. This is probably due in part to the fact that Chicago experiences the full spectrum of weather throughout the year; summers can reach heights of 100+ degree heat and humidity that New Orleanians could relate to, winters can bring months of continuous below freezing temperatures, while autumns and springs are usually downright gorgeous (especially autumn) but may also entail startling day-to-day temperature and precipitation fluctuations as one season dies to give way to the next.
But, wonderfully so, during and after Lollapalooza 2013 you didn’t hear anyone talking much of the weather, and that’s because the meteorological and/or festival Gods blessed Chicago with near perfect conditions. For three days it was in the mid 70’s, sunny, and dry – except for a slight sprinkle early Friday, which actually only seemed to assure that there would be no dust clouds. And while the experience of each and every music festival is always partly attached to the atmospheric conditions of that weekend (see our reviews of this year’s Wakarusa and Governor’s Ball for proof of that), those going to Lollapalooza were especially conscious of this fact – after last year‘s confusing, quasi-frightening, but well executed temporary evacuation on Saturday due to large storms and high winds (yet many still lament not being able to see the Alabama Shakes during that time!). But of course, weather is just one contributing factor for the festival experience, and since it is one us humans cannot control we shouldn’t focus on it too much. Most all of the other contributing factors are human-controlled though. Let take a look at some of those contributing factors…
The Layout: The layout and implementation of Lollapalooza 2013, the 8th consecutive year the festival has been in Chicago’s grandiose lakeside Grant Park, was actually pretty similar to that of 2012. That may not seem like a surprise to some, but those of us who go each year have seen many alterations in each of the past 5 years or so. Notably, Perry’s (the all electronic stage), kept it’s same construction as of last year – with it’s elevated DJ stage completely surrounded by LED lights with two large satellite screens and speakers placed about 90 yards from the stage out into the crowd. Perry’s has seemingly undergone numerous changes in the last 4-5 years, from being a small stage hidden in the trees to now being a main stage, and the central attraction for a large majority of the attendees. And while for novelty’s sake a new addition would have been fun, it seems that Perry’s stage has reached it final structure, and actually that’s just fine as the stage again offered stellar sound and excellent site lines to the DJs and the visuals. It actually makes one wonder if other stages should be slightly elevated in this manner, for sight-lines sake.
As in year’s past the producers of the fest did well with the amount, and placement of, the essential aspects of any festival; the entrances/exits, the food and water stands, and the portos. While only having 2 entrances and exits may seem on paper like not enough, things actually went smoothly and it never took this author more than 5-10 minutes at the worst to get in (getting out was never an issue either). And by having two “Chow towns” on either side of the park (with many overlapping food/restaurant options), the food of your choice – and you had many choices – was relatively easy to obtain, had they only had one “Chow Town” this surely wouldn’t have been the case. Water wise, you could bring in your own, buy recyclable water bottles at any of the abundant bars, or refill your own bottles or camel-back at the numerous refill stations placed throughout the park. And the all important portos, they were everywhere, and on Columbus drive there was an impressive abundance of them. And while a line here and there would be expected, it was never anything that would interfere with your day/schedule (a seemingly simple point, but for those of us who have been at events where this wasn’t true, we know how much it can affect your day/experience). This last point was even more surprising due to the fact that there were more people than last year, and the crowd was anything but thin (but more on that later).
The Best stage: Again, without much doubt, The Grove stage was the most enjoyable of Lolla’s 8 stages to catch a show at. Situated in the far northwest corner of the park The Grove wasn’t actually hidden from anybody, but at times it felt like that. Surrounded by a half ring of trees, with the stage-right side of the grounds having a slight hill, it was a perfect place to easily see and hear whatever act was performing while being able to sit in the shade. Whether you wanted a momentary rest, or some elevation (which can be ever so useful in an otherwise flat festival grounds), this stage hit the spot. And due to it always being relatively uncrowded, or at least manageable, it undoubtedly provided for this author’s favorite ‘nook’ to hang out in. When you were at The Grove you didn’t feel like you were at a 100,000 person a day event, which offers a refreshing juxtaposition to the main stage experiences.
The Best Food: Food wise Lollapalooza didn’t disappoint. Some of the highlights were the wild n fancy dogs from Franks N Dawgs (such as the pork loin breakfast sausage with Cobb smoked bacon, fried egg & drizzled with maple mayo), Smoke Daddy’s barbeque sandwiches, the fresh squeezed fresh lemonade (which is not your mother’s lemonade!), and of course Lou Malnatis deep dish pizza. So whether you are a long life Chicagoan or a visitor to the city, having some of the city’s most original takes on “traditional Chicago food” was a wonderful side-note to the calorie-burning extravaganza this is Lolla.
The best unique ‘fest moment’: Often at festivals there is a vibe, energy, and critical mass of happy people that creates for interesting moments that you wouldn’t experience in any other setting. During Kendrick Lamar’s raucous set, which was at the north stage during Saturday afternoon, at some point two young men on wheel chairs could be seen to be lifted above people’s heads to be crowd surfed. At first Kendrick got a great kick out of this as he pointed to the guys with a big smile on his face and kept rapping. However, as they got closer to the front and multiple security guards were getting ready grab them from the crowd, Lamar stopped rapping, and the music stopped for a couple minuted as he made sure they were safely transitioned, telling the crowd that that was what festivals are all about and that it was one of the coolest things he’s seen on tour. Then when security was going to escort them away he told them not to, and to let the guys stay in the pit (right in front of him) for the remainder of the show. The crowd erupted into a frenzied cheer and then the music went on. For the remainder of the show they would often be shown on the tv’s enjoying their perfect viewpoint – which again would elicit roars of approval from the crowd. It was a spectacular moment, and props to Lamar for handling it as he did!
Hot Chips’ “Ready for the Floor”
Some of the Best Musical Highlights of each day: [Please keep in mind this is just one author’s reflection and one person can only see a fraction of all the acts over the weekend! To see the complete list of artists from this year just click here, or scroll to the poster at the bottom of this article.]
Friday: Crystal Castles can be somewhat of a gamble live, and as the duo appeared on stage while chugging a bottle of whiskey, one can infer as to why that may be. But on this afternoon they were ready for attack. Their electro-psych-fuzz style might be more ideal at night, however after a few songs to get the crowd into the right state of mind this show proved to be that ‘kick in the ass’ that sometimes help one get into a proper ‘festing mood’. “Black Panther” and their multi-song blurring (which included the wonderful “Untrust us”) towards the end of their set was the highlight.
Queens of the Stone Age played to an excited, yet not overly packed crowd (relative to others that weekend at the north main stage). And while this author is not too familiar with them, to catch one of alternative rock’s preeminent band’s in the late afternoon slot was great fun. Their musicianship was on full display, and the sound guy also was having a good day – as they were well balanced and ‘in your face’ without being unnecessarily or obnoxiously loud.
Hot Chip was another band that had a relatively easy crowd to navigate through, as many people must have been at Flux Pavilion. And as they had the coveted ‘sunset slot’, it made for a great chance to see this English electro rock band play a set list of songs chosen from across their discography. It was relatively short on number of songs, but meant that they played each song out to the fullest, giving us slightly different versions than compares to their albums – which was a welcomed treat. This was especially true for their two ending tracks, “Ready for the Floor” and “I Feel Better”, which became enjoyable little dance parties as the sun made it’s exit and the lights and bass emanating from the stage really hit the spot.
Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle”
Saturday: Saturday was a better day in terms of artist lineup organization and was definitely felt like more of a music-marathon than Friday.
GRiZ played early on Saturday afternoon. This nuanced DJ combined elements of house, hip hop, funk, jazz, and dubstep into his own sound that easily placated the crowd that had gathered early to see him. And occasionally he played over his music on a saxophone, adding an organic element to his set & sound that was both exciting musically and refreshing. Look for GRiZ to get bigger and bigger, the only shame of his Saturday set was that it wasn’t latter in the day.
One of the better back-to-back show experience this author experienced was Unknown Mortal Orchestra playing right before the Heartless Bastards at The Grove. UMO were sounding good on this day, with their tones and verb/fuzz balance actually sounding better than it usually does on their albums! And while they probably could have crafted their set-list better on this day, as starting out with their more psychedelic numbers might have made some first-time onlookers move on, they ended their set very well. “Swim and Sleep” was a particular highlight from them.
The only odd thing was the aforementioned lack of a crowd for them and the Heartless Bastards who followed after them, which didn’t really make sense, but as a spectator was fantastic because of how close one could easily get to the stage. The Heartless Bastards then played their second Lollapalooza appearance (last time it was in 2010 in a downpour at one of the larger stages), and it didn’t disappoint. Their version of thick and sultry Americana blues rock really works well in a festival setting, as it can have that wonderful balance between rock and groove.
The aforementioned Kendrick Lamar then put on one of the fest’s best shows. Playing at the north main stage, to what felt like one of the fest’s largest crowds, things quickly became a hip hop dance party. Seriously, even though the crowd was dense, people made sure there was enough room so that everyone could get their groove on, and few didn’t take up the opportunity to do so. Plus, unlike his Bonnaroo appearance, he had a live drummer and electric guitarist to add to his music. This allowed him to either organically reinforce the beat, occasionally add an distinct edge to his beats with the guitar, as well as end out songs in ways that aren’t heard on his albums. It’s hard to say which track of his was the most fun, “Bitch don’t kill my Vibe”, “Backseat Freestyling”, and “Swimming Pools” were all crowd favorites. For this author, Kendrick is the most entertaining hip hop artist in years, and reminds one of the greats from the 90’s that basically created this world-traversed genre. He truly understands how to engage a crowd and make you feel like you’re a part of the experience and not just watching it. And of course, his having the two young men who were crowd surfed to the stage stay and watch his show only endeared him more so to the crowd.
After seeing some of Mumford and Sons, and concluding that their show is the exact same as it ever was, plus not worth dealing with what was easily the largest crowd of the evening it was off to catch The Postal Service. This decision turned out to be one of the best of the weekend, as un-known to this author at the time, Benjamin Gibbard announced at noon that Saturday that their Lolla show would be their last, ever. Playing every song off of their 2003 classic Give Up, along with other b-sides and rarities, they provided for a wonderful set. Emotion did not seem to get in the way as they were completely on point and “in the pocket”. Benjamin and his all lady band were looking stylish and fancy on their final night. And since the majority of the masses were at Mumford, it seemed to be only their more ardent fans, which is exactly what a sendoff show should be like! Their closing song Brand New Colony was a fantastic, yet now looking back on it, bittersweet musical moment. It was an honor to be there for it.
Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young”
Sunday: With another stunningly perfect day of weather Sunday somehow proved to be probably the festival’s overall most crowded day. While the logic of that seems odd, as many people have school/work on Monday, and as each day was supposed to have the same amount of people – for some reason it unquestionably felt more crowded.
Tegan and Sarah, put on quite the enjoyable show to an audience that was surprisingly female dominated. The sweet and soft disposition of the sisters was well received as they bantered with each other between songs. The front woman handled the crowd with a friendly disposition. She also expressed her gratitude for the brilliant weather; exemplified by the heat stroke her sister suffered during a past performance at Lolla. They were very tight as a group. While maintaining tonality and tempo, they did not stray from the recorded versions of their recognizable tunes. However, the crowd seemed completely content by the absence of improvisation as they sang note for note with the group.
Alt-J played in the later afternoon at the Lake Shore Stage (the smaller stage that faces the south main stage). OurVinyl has always been an interested follower of this young band (covering their album release, as well as a show of theirs in México City as well as Chicago). The crowd at Alt-J was immense. Meandering through the sea of individuals (some of whom seemingly felt more entitled to their proximity to the stage than the other 10’s of thousands) proved quite difficult. The battle for position was intensified by a palpable rift between those ardent fans who could anticipate key and tempo changes and those that where there because of Alt-J’s burgeoning popularity and buzz. Unfortunately for Alt-J they preformed on the Lake Shore Stage. Considering the other acts performing at or around the same time, the organizers would have been better off placing Alt-J on a stage that had a second line of speakers, so that those farther back could have heard them well and not tried to force their way closer to the stage. Had they preformed on the Red Bull stage, 5/8the of the crowd would have still been behind the second row of speakers.
Vampire Weekend provided for a stellar set that got many in the crowd happily dancing in their spots. Playing their brand of accessible, yet unique, indie pop/rock – they really had the crowd (which was also very, very large) in the palm of their hands. Playing mostly songs off of their last 2 records, you could tell they were doing well to entertain their devoted fans, and those who were deciding to check them out for the first time. Their recent single “Diane Young”, with it’s wild percussion, particularly energized the fans. Also, they were an interesting contrast to Phoenix, who despite all of their talent, still seem to be dealing with the immense fame (well deserved, no doubt) that their fantastic 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix garnered them. This inability to successfully and creatively move on from the success of that album was apparent not only on their newest album, but also in their set-list, and the experience overall, of their headlining concert that ended Lollapalooza’s Sunday night.
What could be improved: [I want to preface this section by saying that I am an ardent lover/supporter of Lollapalooza and have attended for many years. I only give these suggestions because I truly love this wonderful festival that occurs in my hometown and want it to perennially be one of the world’s premier musical events] There was once a time in America, oh maybe 7-10 years ago, that there being a massive festival with some of music’s hottest names was reason enough to show up, and reason enough to have an amazing time. And that is still true, to a degree. But as stated in the Lolla preview, Chicago itself now has six separate 3-day music festivals. Every major city seems to have a couple to choose from, and there is a startling plethora of them in rural spots all over the country, from April through October. Lollapalooza, and other big-ticket fests like it, are no longer the only thing like itself on people’s summer calendars. For many, festivals are not a once a year event, people attend numerous of them throughout the year. This means a festival’s lineup, while still incredibly important, is now not sufficient to ensure that people have a thoroughly enjoyable time, the logistics and operational setup have just as much sway over the overall feeling attendees leave the event with. Consider the point that many festivals – Lollapalooza this year included – are selling out (or nearly selling out) before their lineups are even released! This means it’s clear that people are now attending for the festival experience just as much – if not more so – than they are to see some of their favorite musicians.
The Crowd: In 2010 Lollapalooza promoter Charlie Jones told the Chicago Tribune that they were expanding the capacity from 75,000 people to 95,000 (when they smartly expanded the festival grounds) and in his words, “The capacity is now around 95,000 and we are not going to sell that. I doubt very seriously we will sell that. Would it be great to be able to? Of course. But we have a theory of growing this festival responsibly, and we will set a higher number than last year but it won’t be as high as 95,000. And after it’s over, we will adjust accordingly each year depending on how things go and fans respond.”
Well, this year they sold out with ease and it was 100,000 people a day they let into the festival. And the truth is, it felt like too many people. In 2010 when the crowd was about 80,000 – 85,000 people a day the festival had a much more appealing atmosphere and vibe. Of course you don’t notice that so much when your in a crowd at one of the main stages, but it’s just the little things like trying to find your friends and the overall energy of the event and mass of people. On that note, another problem with this many people was that nobody’s phones worked! And it didn’t matter what carrier you had or whether you were texting or calling, once you walked into the grounds it was nearly impossible to find your friends via phone. And this has not happened in years past. One hopes that the producers understand how much of a massive difference this makes in one’s festival experience. I personally had numerous friends in from out of town that I was just not able to meet up with in the grounds, on 3 consecutive days. You had to walk in with the crew you wanted to stay with, and with 8 stages of continuous music and different tastes, it’s not likely you’ll stay with that same initial crew. In future years this just cannot happen again, whether it’s less people in the park or more temporary cell towers, making sure cell phones can at least text in a festival is an undeniable priority.
The lineup and expansion: One could tell that Lollapalooza was, along with many other festivals this year, trying to balance the acts in terms of genre (there was much less of a focus on DJ electronic) and also age group (hence having New Order, The Cure, and NIN). And while they definitely did have an effective broad appeal in the mid tier acts, they could have done better with their primary headliners. NIN, The Killers, Mumford and Sons, The Postal Service, Phoenix, The Cure – these are all highly talented bands that can put on solid live performances, but only two of them have recently released albums of note (Phoenix and Mumford), and it has to be admitted that neither of those albums possess the quality or distinctiveness of the band’s previous albums – both of which came out in 2009 and are the reason why each band remains headliners. A different and more forward-thinking assortment of headliners could have brought a more appealing and palpable direction to the fest, which then can greatly assist in correctly creating that certain hard-to-describe but ever so important, unique fest “vibe”. This would especially help if you are going to let in a record amount of people, an amount of people surpassing what they once thought would be safe/enjoyable for attendees. These factors led to the feeling in many that too many people were present there just to party – to be honest – the crowd overall seemed slightly less about the music this year than in year’s past. The other trouble this causes is that because Lolla is a mid-summer festival that occurs 90% during the day in the sunshine it isn’t the best place to rave, or just get f#%&ed up, and wander around looking for a good time. Don’t get me wrong, those aspects are decidedly part of the fun of festivals in general, but too much of this can quickly make things feel like “amateur hour” from within the crowd. Maybe this is something out of the producer’s control, as stated before, most of the tickets were sold before the lineup was released. Dialing back the attendance to something around 85,000, a better choice of headlining groups, and maybe releasing the lineup (or at least part of it) before the majority of tickets sales would go far to again kindle that sublime “we’re in this together” atmosphere that can be so hard to create in massive urban fests – but that Lolla has created so well in many of the years past! But then again, these suggestions would probably greatly affect the bottom line (unless they raise ticket prices, which they probably could), meaning the reality of them being implemented is understandably low. However, it is not out of the realm of possibility because Lollapalooza has always been a progressive force within the world of large festivals (it truly has been one of the festival’s best qualities over the past 8 years).
Conclusion: Let’s not misunderstand! The 2013 incarnation of Lollapalooza, while not being perfect, was again the fantastic and seminal music festival it has been for almost a decade now. It remains the world class music festival that should be on every music-lovers list of ‘must sees’. That cannot be doubted. This year the weather Gods smiled upon Chicago’s Grant Park, providing for 3 enjoyable and sweat free (relatively) days, that were provided for an utterly sensational experience. There was a solid mix of mid tiered acts from the realms of hip hop, rock, indie, electronic and pop. The chilled full bottles of wine in sports bottles were flowing all weekend long (that is still the best beverage option at any festival in the US!). And while the crowds were daunting at some shows, the lines for amenities were tolerable, and the food options always made becoming hungry an enjoyable proposition instead of just a nuisance to be taken care of (veteran festival goers will relate to that comparison).
The word Lollapalooza means “a person or thing that is particularly impressive or attractive”. Well this thing, this extravagant celebration of all things music, was undoubtedly impressive and attractive. Moments such as cheer-inspiring wheel-chair bound crowd surfers, or a great band saying goodbye for the last time, or just the nightly panorama of the Chicago’s skyline of majestic man-made mountains lighting up as the red-orange sunset slowly receded into night. Lollapalooza always offers one those moments that you’ll happily walk away with and not forget anytime soon. And as you leave on Sunday night; your feet hurt, your skin is extra warm with 3 days of sun, your ears are ringing and you don’t want to deal with another crowd for a while – you know you’ve been thoroughly Lolla’ed. And you know you are going to eagerly await doing it all again the next year!
See you in 2014 Lollapalooza!
Written by Sean Brna
OurVinyl | Editor
Photos provided for by Lollapalooza