A blow-by-blow recap of the ironies and oxymorons of Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza 2014: A Recap; or, What Made Me Wear a Tank Top in Public

August 06, 2014 / by / 23 Comments

PR attended all three days of this year’s Lollapalooza, held in Grant Park in Chicago from Friday, August 1st to Sunday, August 3rd.  Here are his observations and thoughts, organized in a reader-friendly timeline format.

Friday

3:48:  After a thirty or so minute delay, my friend with whom I’m going to Lollapalooza today finally arrives at my apartment – let’s call him Warby.  Warby is far cooler than I am, in that he knows about 80% of all of the bands that are playing Lollapalooza, including the super indie ones that play before 3.  I probably know – and this is being generous – about 30%.  He’s been to Lolla before.  I plan on following him around for most of the day and heeding his advice.

4:10: We get on the train and it’s not that bad.  We spot a handful of bros in tank tops and snapbacks and chuckle at them under our breaths.  More on this to come.

5:24:  Warby walks incredibly fast from the Chicago Red Line L stop to Grant Park.  Like freakishly so.  He tells me that he “doesn’t like crowds,” which totally makes sense since he’s going to a music festival where at least 150,000 people will be present at all times.  We arrive at the gates and I lift up my right hand to prove that I do in fact have a wristband – the rest of the attendees filing in follow suit.  I glance towards the horizon.  In the distance is Grant Park’s fountain, seas of people, food and beer stands, the general aura of energy and excitement and all that cliche horseshit.  Warby has a backpack, so he veers right towards the “Backpack” security check; I, backpackless, veer left towards the “Express” security check.

5:35: The express security check takes longer to traverse than the Backpack security check.  You will see, reader, that, like Warby hating crowds yet paying $300 to be a part of them, Lollapalooza is a massive cauldron of ironies and oxymorons.

5:49: Warby and I are able to find another one of our friends – let’s call him Rufus – at the Lake Shore stage where CHVRCHES (pronounced ch-VRR-ches by me and me only, because I find this fucking hilarious even though Warby and Rufus do not) are playing.  They’re a really good band and put on a good performance – but that’s not really what catches my attention.  What really catches my attention is that, as we’re standing in line taking pulls from a water bottle of warm Bacardi (excruciatingly bad), I turn behind me and see, perched on the shoulders of a man in his mid-to-late-30s, a child.  He (or she, I don’t remember) is maybe 5 or 6.  S/he has on gunshot headphones.  I am shocked, and I will continue to be shocked every time I see an additional child at Lollapalooza that weekend.  By my count, I saw at least 20, many of them ushered by their parents past clouds of marijuana smoke and couples violently groping each other.  I have tried to rationalize bringing a kid to an event like Lolla – but for the life of me I can’t comprehend it.  Even if you’re a “cool” parent, there’s really no excuse.  It’s not trendy, it’s not artsy, and it’s not progressive – it’s just blatantly irresponsible.  A child should never be within 50 feet of an area in which scrawny kids with ear piercings the size of jean buttons are peddling molly.  But hey, I don’t have kids, so what do I know.

6:32: We make the quick stroll over to the other end of the southernmost field to the “Samsung Galaxy Stage” to see Broken Bells.  Despite being led by the lead singer of The Shins and Danger Mouse (one-half of Gnarles Barkley), they are outrageously average and I will never be illegally torrenting any of their albums.

7:10: I depart from my friends to go see The Glitch Mob, who are playing at “Perry’s” stage, named after Perry Farrell, the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction and the founder of Lollapalooza.

7:17: Just like Farrell himself, Perry’s stage is a vile and insufferable place.  It is nestled between a platoon of green porta potties and a canopy of sickly oaks and is populated by gangs of delinquents and societal rejects who seize the opportunity to be amongst their ilk with a vicious and insatiable fervor. To give you an idea of the Perry’s demographic, let me present you with some numbers:

– Number of shirtless men seen: 19

– Percent of crowd on molly: 24

– Avg. number of tattoos per audience member: 2.3

– Number of times bass dropped: 12

– Number of people dancing exactly the same way: 55

– Number of people who ask me if I have any LSD: 2

– Number of children seen: 3

– Number of fat men in Heisenberg t-shirts: 1

– Number of minutes I stay at Perry’s before I leave: 30

7:55: Unfortunately(?), I cannot stay to see either Eminem or the Arctic Monkeys perform, as I have a party to attend because I do, in fact, have friends.  However, before I leave, I buy a pulled pork sandwich from one of the food stations and wolf it down as I traverse the crowd.  It costs me $10, and by my judgment is about $9 overvalued.

Saturday

10:02: I wake up with a sore throat, which is one of the worst possible things that could have happened.  Being sick for Lolla, I rationalize, is like being unable to read and playing in the NFL: It’s totally possible, and many people do it – it’s just not ideal.  I drink some tea and pop some Halls and keep my chin up.

1:42: I arrive at the Lake Shore stage for Wildcat! Wildcat!, accompanied by Warby, Rufus, and my other friend who we’ll call Olafia.  They were whatever.  Who cares.  The members of the band will most likely be singing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” to a class of kindergarteners in five years anyhow.

2:02: I buy my first beer of the weekend.  It costs $8.  I would end up spending an inordinate amount of money on alcohol: All in all, probably six beers and a bottle of wine in a black water bottle, which in total cost me $72.  This was dangerous, mainly because…

2:18: For the first time at Lolla, I use one of the porta potties.  The process of using the restroom at Lolla is a surreal and life-altering experience that I’m still not sure really happened.  The whole latrine situation still feels like some sort of feverdream.  In fact, since Lolla ended Sunday, I have had two separate dreams – as in two different nights – about the porta potties at Lollapalooza.  I used these porta potties probably at least 12 times. Each time I became more adjusted to the process, which is terrifying, considering peeing at Lolla is the stuff of Medieval horror stories and prison yarns.

Let me try to paint this picture as best as I can:

You, bladder full of shitty beer and/or shitty wine, amble to the nearest stretch of bathrooms – probably about 25 or so porta potties a stretch.  There are usually about 6 people in any given line at any time.  This seems like not a long wait, but it becomes complicated when compounded by the fact that 1. The lines are usually 75% female, and 2. Not only do females take longer to use the bathroom in general, but most females at Lolla wear outrageously uneconomic (but kitschishly stylish) outfits that probably take about 2 or so minutes just to remove, let alone fumble with while trying to actually do the deed.  This, along with the fact that, as one astute gentleman in front of me in one of these lines observed, “most people probably just fuckin’ pass out in there,” means that you will most likely be waiting about 20 minutes or so just to pee.

So it’s your turn.  You approach the door and open it – and you are greeted with feelings that no man or woman should ever have to feel.  The floor is muddied and littered with smashed cans and toilet paper.  The murky blue of the toilet “water” is gorgeous in a terrifying way, buffered by vermillion hues and strips of TP.  The temperature is stifling – probably at least 105 degrees, if not more.  And the hand sanitizer capsule hung to your left has been swiped from its resting place; unless you brought hand sanitizer with you, (which I did not, by the way, meaning that for the duration of Lolla my hands were stained with the germs of thousands of immoral urinators) the hope of purification after peeing is completely nonexistent.

What really kills you is the waiting. I witnessed multiple occasions where people shamelessly cut in line and tried to slip into the porta potties at the exact moment someone exited (none succeeded). I also had very cute girls unapologetically cut me in line, without even so much as an acknowledging glance my direction – clearly banking on the fact that they’re gorgeous and therefore no one would ever tell them off.  And they were right. I didn’t.

2:35: My friends and I watch Phosphorecent/Phosphorous (I never learned what their actual name was), whose lead singer clearly listened to too much Bruce Springsteen growing up.  I’m really pounding the brewskis.

3:15: The Temper Trap performs, about which I literally have nothing to say since they’re one of my favorite bands and they were incredible.

4:19: For the next three or so hours, there’s a very strange period where Rufus and I are waiting for OutKast to perform (that evening at 8), while Warby and Olafia break off to do other stuff.  Olafia is excited about The Head and the Heart (no thanks), and Warby is seeing some band I don’t know anything about.  I go to the bathroom a few more times, and also buy a jumbo Chicago Style hot dog for $7, which is actually somewhat decent.  Some of the bands heard: Fitz & The Tantrums (cheeseball as hell), Manchester Orchestra (goofily loud and decidedly unspectacular), Foster the People (lead singer wore a really obnoxious shirt but they seemed okay), and The Head and the Heart (didn’t really pay attention to since me and Rufus at that point had landed a pretty great position for OutKast.)

7:58: I state to Rufus how low my expectations for OutKast are.

10:02:  OutKast is fucking amazing.  Looking back, if there was one event that I had to point to in order to justify the $300 + ~$150 for food and alcohol I spent at this godforsaken weekend, OutKast performing as fireworks erupted over the Chicago skyline was it.  They not only did the hits – “Hey Ya!,” “Ms. Jackson,” etc. – but did a ton of deep tracks, like “Elevators,” “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1,” “Crumblin’ Erb,” and “Aquemini,” amongst others.  Andre 3000 wore a platinum blonde wig and a black jumpsuit with some sort of political slogan plastered to the front, along with a price tag reading “sold” dangling from the waist (fitting, considering OutKast could have easily branded its slew of summer shows as the “Andre 3000 Needs Money Tour.”)  I went home happy, super stoked for what the rest of Lollapalooza had to offer.

Sunday

12:12: The sore throat I awoke with yesterday, which I had managed to keep at bay for most of Saturday, has manifested itself into a full-fledged head cold.  An immense panic sets in.  I tell Rufus and Olafia, who plan to leave our apartment at about 1:30 in order to go see London Grammar (an act I sincerely wanted to watch) that I am going to leave about an hour after them – which is a bold-faced lie, because I am actually planning on not going at all.  Considering that I am blowing my nose about every 30 seconds and feel like the skin of a cactus, going to a music festival where I will be peer pressured by thousands of people to get drunk seems like not the best idea in the world.

2:30:  I go to Lollapalooza.  Disease be damned.

2:39:  As I am taking the train to Grant Park by myself for the first time that weekend, I am finally able to take especially good note of the other concert-goers on the bus.  A lot has been written about the demographics of Lollapalooza – college-aged, white, wealthy, suburban, and pseudo-hipsterish WASPs in tank tops (male) and high-waisted jean shorts (females).  So I won’t bore you with descriptors you’ve read dozens of times before.  No one really likes the above described people, including those types of people themselves. The problem with Lollapalooza is that its branding and vibe is so effervescently powerful and demanding that it sucks its attendees into indulging in those exact vices they hate so much.  Case-in-point: On Saturday, I wore an oversized navy tank top, khaki shorts that stopped at the knee, and Ray-Bans.  I talked with my friends loudly, coarsely, and drunkenly on the L to the Chicago Red Line stop.  I yelled about OutKast and Young the Giant.  I laughed like a buffoon.

I think my train ride to Lolla that Sunday made me realize that, while I seemed to place myself on a higher pedestal than these neanderthals all weekend, in reality I was absolutely no better than them, because we were both going to the same place, wearing the same attire, holding the same goal – drink beer and scream at music.

Fun fact about this section: in the first draft of this piece, I went on a super-whiny rant about how much my generation is sucked into its own privilege and can’t see how idiotic it truly is and blah blah blah.  My friends whom I asked to look over this article, and whom I love dearly, all but said that it was horrible and that making sweeping generalizations are bad and that I should go take a hike.  Well, not in those words.  But that was basically their sentiment. Thing is: I’m white.  I come from a good family in a good financial situation.  And I, like probably thousands of gloomy Lolla attendees, am writing a think piece in an attempt to dissect the festival’s flaws and hypocrisies.  It’s pretty easy for me to rail on my near-sighted friends and uncaring parents and drug addicts and tattooed baboons and bathroom line cutters and the myriad of average music.  But what’s hard is pulling back my perspective enough to realize that, in one of those think pieces somewhere out in the digital aether, someone is describing a gnomish-looking kid in a blue tank top singing along to “So Fresh, So Clean” while dancing like a blind orangutan.

Large crowd events make us really, really stupid.  And whenever someone tries to pull a David Foster Wallace and write about how unfun a supposedly fun thing is, it never fucking works, because 1. no one, including me, is David Foster Wallace, and 2. supposedly fun things are actually pretty fun.  Overall, I had a good time at Lollapalooza – yeah, some things were kinda sucky, and yeah, the demographics of Lollapalooza are irritating and infuriating, but I fit perfectly into that demographic; and for me to cross my arms and act like I don’t stand with them, despite literally standing with them for three days would be dismissive to a comical degree.

Everyone wants to have some sort of unique, memorable experience at Lolla.  They want to share a bonding moment with their child.  They want to experiment with new “things.”  They want to see all of their favorite musical acts in the same place.  They want to harness what they see and write a scathing op-ed on the state of millennial culture.  But in a festival of over 300,000 attendees, uniqueness is dead.  All the things you want to do, the paths you want to carve out for yourself, have been done before.  And it’s not that Lollapalooza’s attendants are all mindless drones – it’s that Lollapalooza itself makes them that way.  The ambiance of Mr. Farrell’s magnum opus is a tractor beam of individuality; it turns you into another face in the crowd, another dumb kid who had too much to drink, another virally brainwashed teenager.  Are any of those things about you true?  Of course not.  But Lollapalooza isn’t a time for individual expression.  It’s a time for collective submission.  Try as you might, you’re just as much of a caricature as the guy standing next to you groping his girlfriend’s ass through the hole in her hot pants. You and that guy are not representative of the differences of the population of Lollapalooza, but are indicators of its sameness; your attendance proves it.  And that’s the biggest irony of the entire weekend: that all of the sights and sounds you personally experience at Lollapalooza have nothing to do with you at all.

Alright, let’s move on.

4:37: I arrive again.  I somehow am able to find Rufus, Warby, and Olafia around the Lake Shore stage, which is truly a miracle considering that the giant throngs of people at Lollapalooza make communication through any sort of cellular device virtually impossible (i.e., if you get separated from your friend group, forget it; you will not find them again).

5:35: An on-and-off rain has fallen all afternoon.  This has turned the Grant Park fields into muddy, wet, sloppy canvases that are a sick dehydrated kid’s worst nightmare.  Boys and girls show off and play in the damper areas; mud covers their legs, torsos, and faces.  They smile giddily.  As my friends and I watch Glen Hansard (who was quite good), the rain starts and stops ad nauseum, making me feel undeniably sickly.  At various points during the hour-long set, I felt like I had to pee, poop, throw up, sit down, take a drink of water, take a drink of beer, and take a nap.  I tell myself that it’s all worth it to see Young the Giant – one of my favorite bands – at 7:15.

6:01: Time passes incredibly slowly.  Rufus, Warby, and Olafia have ran ahead of me, far less afraid of the mud and grime, to the opposite end of the field to see The Avett Brothers, whom I have a general interest in seeing but not a great enough interest in seeing to keep up with them; as such, I lose them; and, in concurrence with my note above, I never see them again for the remainder of the day.  I spend the next hour and fifteen minutes pacing back and forth by a hill next to the Lake Shore stage, leaving to go to the bathroom twice, seeing girls dancing with each other and having more fun than I could ever possibly fathom having, and generally being mopey as rain stains my completely-destroyed Nikes.  Also, sometimes I cough and blow my nose.

7:15: Finally Young the Giant comes on.  This was the sole reason I even bothered to make the trip; this is why I convinced myself to get out of my bed at 2:15 and limp down to the Purple Line and deal with the Lollapaloozers and stand in the rain and lurch through the mud and eat horrible food and deal with horrible porta potties and inhale cigarette smoke and cope with the fact that I am having way less fun than the vast majority of people at Lollapalooza.  I was gonna enjoy this, dammit.  Nothing was going to stop me.  I was gonna sing along with every song, dance like no one was watching, and live in the moment for the first time in a long time – I was going to truly experience the joy of Lollapalooza in one of the last moments I possibly could.  Cynicism was dying: I was gonna have my own, special Lolla experience.

7:18: I have to go to the bathroom.

7:45: I can’t hold it anymore.  I leave and go to a porta potty for the last time (a truly bittersweet trip).  Realizing there’s no way I make it back to the position I once had, I decide to leave.  Eventually I get home.  Eventually I go to sleep.  Eventually I wake up, still sick, the next morning.
My crimson red 3-day wristband still sits on my desk, crudely severed from my wrist by scissor incision.  It will lie there for a few more weeks, collecting dust.  Come September, I will throw it away.  It will find its way to a landfill somewhere – hopefully along with thousands of other discarded red and yellow wristbands, each one a token from a uniquely identical event.