By: Campbell Petschke
Currently Bumping: Renaissance by Beyonce
It’s weird to think that the first time I was at Lolla I was still in middle school. While the other chumps were wearing Silly Bandz on their wrists, I was wearing a one-day Saturday pass to Lollapalooza in hopes to see Calvin Harris, fun., and Franz Ferdinand.
The first act I saw was JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound at the Sony stage (now the Coinbase stage). I had to walk into a tented area because it was hard out there for a pasty, white boy. Hours later there were severe thunderstorm warnings creeping up on us and soon had the festival evacuated into the streets of the windy city. Michigan Ave was more flooded with people than rainwater and local eateries locked their doors so us hooligans couldn’t take cover.
The sun eventually shone again and we were able to re-enter. We immediately walked/dodged drunk frat guys over to see the band fun. which if you don’t know who fun. is you either don’t know how to have fun. or just forgot who they were. Anyway, Nate Ruess strutted on stage, set down his jacket and belted out the beginning of One Foot. He then shouted, “what the fuck is up Chicago?!”, and as someone who never really heard that word much yet, thought he was the coolest motherfucker at that festival. The show continued, song after song I just fell more for this band I already really enjoyed. Their set ended with Some Nights, which had people shaking the fresh rain off the leaves above us from jumping around like maniacs. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to go to this festival every year if it meant more moments like this.
New Year, New Me, New Perry
Throughout the years, the festival has gone through many changes big and small. While the F.Y.E. autograph tent and “farmers market” section of Chow Town bit the dust, we have seen a dance area, skatepark, and even a roller rink. The fest has also found many new sponsors over the years. The one that impacted me the most this year was definitely the Discord addition. I had only ever used Discord with my friends to shout my frustrations of how bad I am at Call of Duty, so I thought this would be a good way to be more acquainted with it. Holy hell did I get what I wanted out of it.
In Lollapaloozas past there has never really been a way to communicate with other festival goers unless you either knew other people going, tweeted about it, or existed on their popular Reddit page. With this Discord, I felt united with all these other people. People who loved live music and the festival as much as I did. I felt uneasy talking on there at first since I had never really talked with these many strangers all at once virtually. I had used dating apps and Among Us prior to this so it wasn’t foreign, but still took some practice. Plus both of those apps are mainly lying about who you are so…
Within a week, I felt like I didn’t have to think too carefully about what to say in these chats. I felt as though if a guy can shout “Tove Lo” in the chat every single time he enters then I think I can be myself a little more. Becoming so vocal in this chat had its rewards as the people running the server were granting people access to the “Discord Lounge” for frequently utilizing the chat. An area that sat next to one of the stages at the festival that offered many amenities including private restrooms, life-size Jenga, and complimentary beverages. I felt like Buddy the Elf the way I would go into the bathrooms and snag a Starburst from these jars along the sinks every time I would exit.
This lounge helped me put names to faces as most people were just going by their usernames and not actual ones. I shot myself in the foot because my username included the first part of my last name, which nobody can pronounce anyway. Just ask my elementary school librarian who knew me for five years. Not only that, but I used the actor David Cross as my profile pic since, again, I thought being on the internet meant your identity was hidden. So a handful of the people I met would shake my hand and then say, “Oh! I thought you were bald.” Whoops.
The morning conversations between us all of who we were going to see felt like Love Actually. Where we would all have separate stories, but essentially end up in the same place overlapping with each other (minus the uncomfortable Laura Linney brother story). It felt like the most Midwest version of Jersey Shore the way there were free drinks at times too. Regardless, this lead me to a path of people I never thought I’d need in my life and honestly helped conquer my hesitations towards those on the internet. Though I still don’t trust those aunts on Facebook.
Wait… is that a Dude Dressed as a Wombat?
This was by far the most eccentric I’ve ever seen performers at the festival. While the Green Day bunny was nothing new, there were people dressed as bananas, wombats, and many men in dresses (which is far from a bad thing). That energy was reflected in what I initially found to be a weaker lineup. Eventually I warmed up to it, I mean how could I hate a lineup that has 100 Gecs and Billy Strings the same day? This will be a landmark year in the future of the festival.
Lolla the past few years, whether it be due to the pandemic or other factors, has suffered with selling out. It could be that artists can sell better if they do venues/arena tours or if they’re looking to appeal to a more specific demographic, but I’ve noticed the FOMO has definitely been the biggest draw for these past few years. They see all these people on Twitter and Snapchat flashing their wristbands and outfits and want in on the four days or at the very least ONE day. I had a friend that bought tickets last minute to see J. Cole on Saturday because he thought he would bring out guests (which he did). It’s little things like this that make the festival environment different than before. People are more like in an “ah fuck it” mindset instead of “I must go to this.”
As stated earlier, this fest was a lot more out there and I think that brought in a nicer crowd. All the people I was surrounded by were drunkenly very nice, very dedicated to their artist they were seeing, or just thrilled to be there. After all these years of media outlets and angry no-life Twitter users saying that these “young Naperville kids” are ruining the festival and passing out from doing drugs, I found the old people to be the worst part of this festival. During Metallica’s set, a very sweaty, probable Harley Davidson cover athlete, was very persistent on offering up his doobie. Not that I wouldn’t love wet lipping the poorly rolled devil’s lettuce this total stranger had to offer. I’m sure I would’ve grown a black leather vest from my arm hairs and distaste towards my girlfriend.
Another older dude socked me in the face on the manic walk out of the Green Day crowd. What for I have no idea, but I learned that day that I can take a punch very well, so thank you random Green Day fan. I’m sure you’ll make your kids very proud when it’s your weekend with them. Point is that the younger crowd was typically more likely to start a conversation with you or just be more polite when it came to navigating through the pandemonium of Chow Town or a large act. For where the acts lacked in attendance, there was at least two groups of very dedicated fans there who were very excited for the show ahead of them.
Running Up That Road, Running Up that Hettfield
There was a video that went viral on the first day of the festival of a man, nicknamed ‘Metallica Man’, that was waiting first in line at the gates Thursday morning. Once 11am hit, he was patted down, scanned his wristband, had his bag checked, and immediately booked it half a mile down Grant Park to get to the barricade of the main stage. The stage that Metallica would grace nine hours later.
Metallica wasn’t the only act that people camped out for. I met people that had waited patiently for acts like J. Cole and J-Hope for the entire day. They had only left to grab water or to use the restroom. There’s some people who don’t leave that spot at all the entire day though, which I never understood. The reason I was able to have those conversations with the people that camped out was because at some point in the day I had made it up there with them after seeing multiple other acts before one at that stage.
The draw for some headliners in past years has had a lot of people excited, but this year it seemed like there was more dedication to other artists too. Ones that would have people camping at smaller stages as well. The crowd for The Regrettes, a popular alt-rock band, had a massive crowd on Friday afternoon. Other acts like Coin, Charli XCX, and even Idles had a lot of fans eagerly awaiting them to do their thing on stage. The science behind why more people camped for these smaller acts fascinates me. Are they camping because they dedicate this day to this artist only? Is it because the headliners lack and they want to get a headliner-like experience because they don’t find these bigger acts appealing? My theory is that Lolla recruited a lot of artists of a specific demographic with loads of streams earlier in the day to get people excited and maybe stay for the end of day.
This to me is the future of the fest. Wherever the lineup may lack, those who already bought the four-day pass have time to explore the smaller artists and those who have the FOMO will rapidly search for those newbies. So Lollapalooza is definitely turning into a great place for the smaller acts to get some attention and love. That’s something that was rarer in the earlier years, but I’m very glad is the case now.
Lollapalooza has had a lot of change in this ‘post’ Astroworld Fest world. Of course with some exceptions, there has been more space in the crowds where in the past you would be cheek to cheek. There’s this weird action of moving forward in a crowd once the artist before the main act is over and shoving those leaving to get a better spot. People get squished, irritation is high, and the sweat is gliding from person to person.
Before J. Cole graced the T-Mobile stage on Saturday, Big Sean garnered a humongous crowd. One of the biggest for the weekend. A big chunk of his fans tried leaving the area once his set was over and the Cole fans rushed it like Karens at a HomeGoods Black Friday sale. This lasted for about five minutes until loud bass blares emitted from the stage and a flashing red sign popped up on screen. The sign read “Safety Warning. Take five steps back” as a man over the speakers shouted “We need everyone to be safe and have a good time. On the count of three, we need everyone to take steps back.”
Even someone behind me whispered to their friend “uh oh Astroworld part two.” The way that event has still remained relevant is great. People are more cognizant of the dangers of the festival scene nowadays. It shows. Nobody complained when asked to take steps back.
I also want to commend the medical staff at the stages. Every one of them I met or saw was very kind and were passing out waters to crowds in between sets and even during some as well. That was something I had never seen a lot in the past and I was elated to see them taking actions like this. One of the many reasons Lollapalooza has always reigned superior to other festivals in my eyes. If a massive, worldwide attraction like Lolla can show they care about safety and take the necessary steps to prevent potential danger, it makes you wonder why the smaller ones are not able to do it.
Best Crowd: Dua Lipa/Glass Animals
The reason I listed two acts is because it was pretty much the same group of people I stuck near for both sets. After Cordae’s set, we all took a few steps forward and awaited for Glass Animals, an act that no doubt was going to attract a massive crowd as Heat Waves is one of the biggest songs to ever hit the charts. Some people were dedicated fans, some only knew Heat Waves. This taller kid and his friends near me said he was only here for that song. Totally fine. The show is what you make of it, which is exactly what he did. Every song he started to slowly get more into the band, to the point where when the bass of Other Side of Paradise began, he yelled back to his friends “This is fucking lit!”
Dua Lipa had a very kind crowd as well. The people around me were never annoying and knew the words to every song. When the energy and excitement is tangible, you know you’re at a good show.
Hon Mentions: IDLES, Beach Bunny, J. Cole
Worst Crowd: Green Day
I’m sure this comes as no surprise if you read earlier, but this crowd was horrendous. There’s a difference between moshing with good intent and looking for ways to take your anger out on others. The crowd around me had a bunch of older millenials that found issue with most of what was around them instead of finding issue with the air they were polluting with their circle of cigarette smoke. Any little bump into them lead to a shove or dirty look, which if you’ve ever listened to Green Day wouldn’t you expect this?
The definition of rock as a genre doesn’t mean to be kicking the shit out of each other and being rude to anyone within eyesight that is doing something other than standing still. Everyone paid for the same ticket. Your perception of the experience should not include how you treat others and how annoyed you are by them.
Best Food: Budlong Hot Chicken’s Chicken Sandwich
Chicken sandwiches have been on the rise in fast food restaurants and recipe sites ever since Popeyes’ caught traction back in Summer 2019. Ever since then, I have also been converted to this following of finding the best chicken sandwich around. Budlong might hold the crown as of now. The chicken was seasoned wonderfully. Had a great kick that was complimented beautifully by their comeback sauce. I mean any place that makes coleslaw tolerable is a winner in my eyes and that sat perfectly underneath two fluffy brioche buns. It was the last meal I consumed at the fest and man was it the best sendoff.
Hon Mentions: Rainbow Cone, Brisket Tacos from Beat Kitchen
Best Stage: Discord
Discord stage has always been a great place to get a full Lolla experience. There’s mosh pits, there’s trees for people to cool off, there’s a nice hill to sit on, Chow Town is right behind you, and there’s restrooms next to the stage as well.
The artists that performed on that stage utilized the space well too as there were many shows where the artists acknowledged the beauty of the trees and the still massive crowd capacity that can be held despite it technically not being a headlining stage. It’s the best Lolla experience that might be held by Tito’s as well if not for there being hard granite in case people fall while jumping around.
Hon Mentions: T-Mobile, BMI, Tito’s
Biggest Fest Improvement: More rock artists and variety of vendors
Rock/alternative acts were on the decline, especially when these ‘alternative acts’ were just pop acts with guitars. This year there were a LOT more actual alt artists. Those who complained about the lack of rock clearly didn’t look hard enough. Inhaler, Crawlers, IDLES, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and Meet Me @ the Altar all were rock acts that drew somewhat of a big crowd (except Rolling Blackouts who deserved a bigger turnout). The “there’s no rock” excuse isn’t valid. Go look up other acts.
Whoever is in charge of choosing vendors did a great job this year. The Liquid Death Club, Hulu Motel, and Dunkin lounge were all very well organized and actually improved my experience at the festival. Discord above all I raved about already, but this definitely was a big hit too and I hope that all the ones I listed come back next year.
Needs Improvement: Image
More than anything, Lollapalooza needs to get their image back under control. Back in the day there used to be a kooky carnival character theme with lots of mascots that gave off a similar vibe as the three eyed fish from The Simpsons. This gave the fest a personality that was pretty recognizable.
There was a Legend of Lolla game that revealed some of the acts before the lineup drop that had a design that reminded me of that old festival vibe. Surprisingly they didn’t stick with it for the rest of the weekend as the same design existed as the past five years. If there was a mascot of some sort or at least fun design, Lolla would be a step above the rest in terms of marketing. Look at how popular Benny the Bull is for the Chicago Bulls. People immediately recognize him as associated with the team.
Top Ten Sets of the Weekend
10. Tove Lo
Before the festival, I hadn’t thought about Tove Lo in years. Probably since she was last at the festival back in 2017. I enjoy her style and personality, but I just never felt the need to return to her tunes. I did a little research prior to fest time and came across a new single, True Romance, which might be the best song she has ever dropped. Her vocals behind that minimal beat worked so great. Hearing it live felt like something special. She is a great performer that still has a dedicated following after all these years.
9. Goth Babe
Goth Babe had to drop out of the 2021 lineup. I was pretty disappointed since he was an act I didn’t know until I found him on the lineup last year. I was very pleased to find him back this year and man did he put on a show.
Even without a full album yet, he was able to captivate the crowd with his very summery tunes that have crept their way into my life multiple these past few years. Hearing Encinitas live was one of my favorite Lolla moments ever. The way I envisioned his set in my mind is exactly how it played out on stage. It was the quickest set of the weekend as the energy and presence carried the whole crowd early in the afternoon Sunday.
Cordae has slowly become one of my favorite artists in hip-hop the past few years. He was the best act in the 2019 XXL Freshman list and put out one of the best albums of last decade, The Lost Boy. While I wasn’t crazy about his drop this year, I was still stoked to see how he was as a performer since I last saw him VERY far away in 2019.
I don’t think Cordae had a lot of fans before his set started since most seemed to be waiting for Dua Lipa, but I think he had a lot more after leaving the stage. He came out on stage, destined to be drenched in sweat as he bore a fake beard and windbreaker/jeans combo. Clearly perspiration was not in his list of fears as he captivated the crowd with ease. He played all his hits and wasn’t afraid to slow it down either. He’s only going to grow larger in these coming years.
7. 100 Gecs
If you know anything about 100 Gecs, you know you’re going to get an interesting experience. The pioneers of hyper-pop knew their audience and gave them a treat. They came out dressed as wizards and left as Lolla legends. Their set was an equal blend of meme hits like Money Machine and Doritos & Fritos, as well as unreleased tracks presumably on their new project.
It didn’t matter what they played because the crowd was eating that shit up. They put on an insanely fun set.
6. Glass Animals
After How to Be a Human Being, Glass Animals fell off for a little bit. A little too long. I LIKE Dreamland, but it’s not nearly as good as the first two albums they put out mid-2010s. That being said, Dreamland songs sound amazing live. I last saw the group back at 2017 Lolla and they put on a good show, nothing grand, but a fun one. This time around they really perfected their stage presence and setup as well. From wall to wall there was retro neon signs, tv sets, and really dope visuals.
Davey is a really humble performer as he graces the stage and owns the catwalk that would be used by Dua Lipa a few hours later. He knows the vibe and how to work this crowd. As I said earlier, the crowd for Dua Lipa only really knew Heat Waves prior to the show and were groaning while waiting. Song after song though, those people were dancing their asses off and had smiles on their faces the whole time.
Back in 2015, the only songs I knew by Metallica were For Whom the Bell Tolls (because of Zombieland) and Enter Sandman. Seeing them at Lolla that year was cool, but I didn’t appreciate it the way I would’ve now. Good thing I got a little redemption at this year’s fest. I know Metallica’s core discography pretty well now and it paid off big time. I can’t help but feel that if you are a big fan of the band this was one of their best shows. They played over two hours of classics, introduced a whole new audience of Stranger Things fans to some amazing tunes and even flashed the Master of Puppets scene from the show.
James and co’s presence was immense, as big as their sound echoing throughout Grant Park. The crowd was also very kind to the younger fans and the older fans were acting like excited kids that age too. Metallica brought out the best of all ages that weekend. James poking fun about St Anger being not as bad as people say was a good laugh too.
IDLES has had a massive impact on me these past few years. Their passion and anger towards the political bullshit they’ve shown their distaste for on all their records bleeds into their performance so well. Joe would shout “fuck the queen” and naturally as ignorant Americans we screamed too. They know how to put on a damn good show too. The guitarist hopped in WITH his guitar and started moshing with us during Colossus. Joe looked out at the audience as if he was absorbing all the energy from thousands of sweaty chicagoans and visitors. They wasted no time and put on an anger fueled set that was full of dedicated fans who were as equally as excited to see the band as they were to perform for us.
3. Dua Lipa
Oh man. Camping out for four hours unintentionally for Dua Lipa was one of my best Lolla decisions ever. Physical is one of my favorites from her and she opened with it… It could only get better and better. She brought the heat with her background dancers, parodying her viral hip twist dance from a few years back, and even fought a giant lobster. Yes, a giant lobster.
Dua put on a professional show that didn’t feel too corporate or that she treated it as just another performance either. Given I was only about 25 feet away from her I saw a lot of genuine smiles and the choreography was really neat that close too. Her band played well, her vocals sounded nice, and the visuals meshed with the dancers and props made it one of the prettiest shows of the weekend (partially thanks to her too of course).
2. J. Cole
If you asked who was in my top five must see artists in college, J. Cole would’ve definitely been seen in big black print. As someone who has been through a handful of tough shit since I first heard 2014 Forest Hills Drive as a sophomore in high school, this concert meant a lot to me. J. Cole always has a winning spirit. It reflects in his music and in his personality as well. Between the songs he would make sure the audience knew how much he appreciated everyone being here. He would preach to the audience that they gotta work hard for what they love. Love was a very central theme of the show.
Love Yourz was one of the most beautiful, unreal moments I’ve had at a show before. Cole knows how to pull on the heartstrings, but also how to hype up a crowd of dedicated Dreamville fans. He brought out JID and Bas for support too. HELL YES. They all gave it their best and it more than paid off. The entire crowd knew all the words to all the songs and begged for an encore after he went over for time anyway. One of those shows where you walk out instantly wanting to see them again.
1. Beach Bunny
I feel so inspired by Beach Bunny. Not just because Lili and all the bandmates are from around Chicagoland, but because of their sound. It’s very homey feeling. Her new album, Emotional Creature is about love and all of its beauty and struggle as well. The fact that she started off at high school/college level of putting out music gives me a lot of hope to continue writing for the blog and even writing songs of my own too.
By pure coincidence, I actually ran into Lili and her partner on the way to one of the other shows. Both were exceedingly nice and I of course geeked to her how much her music meant to me too. It was a favorite moment of the weekend no doubt.
How was the show though? It was one of those rare perfect sets that you don’t always see. Usually there’s maybe one or two key songs they should’ve played or maybe they didn’t have a good stage presence… Not the case here. Beach Bunny played to a massive crowd at 5 on Sunday afternoon and I was so happy to be at barricade for it. She played a little bit of everything from her discography. Promises and April live were my favorite songs that weekend no question. I adored this set and I very eagerly shouted through every single track. I hope to see them again very soon.