From its genesis as the touring ’90s grunge brainchild of eccentric singer Perry Farrell to its current status as a once-a-year Chicago concert destination, Lollapalooza has remained a live music mainstay. A massive, all-day festival can be an endurance test for attendees – you’ll need to schedule your time wisely and take care of your body to survive the experience. But before we teach you how to do all that, let’s begin with a little history.
Know Your History
Lollapalooza began as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction in 1991. Singer Perry Farrell’s uniquely non-macho personality was injected into every aspect of the festival. From the euphonious name, itself signifying “an extraordinary or unusual event,” to the participatory nature of what Farrell called the “Alternative Nation,” Lollapalooza was a living, breathing example of 1990s counterculture. Handpicked bands from disparate genres were meant to surprise fans and expand their musical palates. Where else could you see Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ice-T, and Nine Inch Nails all on one day?
More than just a celebration of music, the early days of Lollapalooza brought alternative “freakshows” like the Jim Rose Circus to the masses, alongside political and environmental nonprofit groups. Alternative art and early virtual reality games (more Virtual Boy than Oculus Rift) made the festival a full sensory experience.
The late ’90s unfortunately saw a decline in all aspects of Lollapalooza, from attendance to adherence to peaceful vibes, particularly with the inclusion of the mainstream and macho Metallica in 1996. Farrell himself quit the tour and Lollapalooza was canceled in 1998.
After attempting to resurrect the touring festival along with his newly reborn Jane’s Addiction in 2003, Farrell retooled Lollapalooza as a “destination festival” like Coachella, settling on Grant Park in Chicago for its location. It was so successful for fans, promoters, and the Windy City itself, a deal was signed to keep Lollapalooza a Chicago concert staple through 2018.
While Lollapalooza has changed quite a bit from its “Alternative Nation” heyday, its commitment to showcasing new bands alongside old favorites remains. That brings us to our first tip for surviving Lollapalooza…
Skip Your Favorite Band
What?! While it may be controversial and counterintuitive, there is a case for skipping your favorite band at a music festival as large as Lollapalooza. It is physically impossible to see every band at the biggest Chicago concert, baring cloning technology. There are simply too many bands playing simultaneously on multiple stages, too many non-music attractions, as well as necessary breaks to rest your body, fill your belly, and empty your bladder.
Your natural reflex may be to prioritize your favorite bands on the bill — performers you’ve seen before and know for a fact will put on a good show. With so much musical talent at the festival, no one wants to waste even half an hour on a sub-par show. That said, you’ve already seen those favorite acts before. If you saw them recently, you’re unlikely to hear any new material or fresh takes on classic tracks. Every band, even a headliner, is likely to play a shorter set at a festival than they would on their own tour. That’s why it might be wise to focus on newer, smaller groups, and catch your favorites on tour later when they can play a full set in excess of 90 minutes, instead of a condensed blast as short as 20 minutes.
Find a New Favorite
If you do want to take advantage of the musical variety offered by a Lollapalooza-sized Chicago concert, here are a couple of strategies to help you discover new artists. The first is purely pragmatic: show up early and leave late. Not only is it impractical to move between main and side stages for each band, you miss the opportunity to see artists in context. Stick around for a set before and after the one you came for. Festival organizers may place bands in a specific order, where one set flows well into the next, or artists my be inspired to turn in a command performance when they follow a group who just killed it and has handed them an enthusiastic crowd. Best of all, you minimize walking between stages and don’t have to give up a good spot.
The second strategy is even easier: just ask your favorite band who they’re most excited to see. If they don’t mention anyone interesting at the festival in an interview, ask them yourself on their preferred social media site. Don’t forget that every musician was a fan before they were a star.
Take Care of Your Body
A day full of live music, surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic fans, is a dream come true – but it’s also a full day on your feet, outside in Chicago weather that can easily send you to the hospital with a heat stroke. Staying hydrated, applying sunscreen, wearing a brimmed hat, and retreating to shaded or air-conditioned areas might not seem particularly “rock and roll,” but you and your friends won’t be able to appreciate a great band if you’re about to pass out and they’re having to take care of you.
Get In and Get Out
Keep your timing in mind: in past years, gates have opened at 11 am and the music ends each evening at 10pm. There are two entrances to Lollapalooza at Grant Park in downtown Chicago: the Main Entrance at Michigan & Congress, and the North Entrance at Columbus & Monroe. The Box Office is located just north of the Main Entrance at S. Michigan Ave & E. Van Buren St.
Visitors and locals alike can plan a route on any of Chicago’s public transportation systems using the RTA site. If you plan to ride your bike, following the original eco-friendly spirit of Lollapalooza, you’ll find racks north and south of Balbo Avenue – just don’t forget to bring your own lock! Four underground 24-hour secure parking lots are located directly beneath Grant Park, in addition to Soldier Field’s North Garage.
Now we come to the most important advice in the entire article for surviving Lollapalooza or any large music festival (aside from the sunscreen): put your phone in your pocket and let it stay there. Check in with your friends, take one or two pictures for Instagram, and then forget about it. It’s a lot easier to be in the moment and connect with the musicians and your fellow fans if you spend more time looking at them rather than at your phone. Don’t worry, someone else will be around to take shaky video with distorted audio and upload it to YouTube for future generations. Chances are, you’ll be able to find actual professional recordings and streams of the Chicago concert on Lollapalooza.com/webcast and the official YouTube channel during and after the performances. So feel free to slack off for one day and enjoy the show with your own eyes.
Photo by Liliane Callegari