In 1991, Perry Farrell solidified his position in music history—as if he really needed any help—by creating what many have come to call our generation’s Woodstock. After experiencing a few different incarnations, Lollapalooza celebrated its 20th anniversary this past weekend in Grant Park. Here is a look back at everything you need to know about this year’s Lolla!
If you’re familiar with Lollapalooza, you probably know that the seminal music festival started as a touring showcase of the best of 90s music, until it quietly faded into music history in 1997. The world couldn’t keep the sleeping beast quiet, and in 2003 Farrell and Jane’s Addiction had a false-start revival with another touring Lolla. Thankfully for music fans, in 2005, Farrell created what we now refer to as Lollapalooza: a weekend-long party in the middle of one of America’s great cities.
This year, Farrell crafted a lineup of over 100 acts that was the perfect sampling of the past twenty years of great music. From hard rock legend Deftones, to lyrical maestro Eminem, to indie sweetheart Beirut, to LA beat masters The Glitch Mob, Lolla had something to offer for everyone. And Kidzapalooza was the perfect spot for kids who will one day grow up to be cooler than you cause their parents made them struggle through the mid-west humidity, all for the love of music.
From August 5–7, nearly 100,000 music fans packed into Grant Park to celebrate the 20th birthday of an age-defining festival. For those three days, Lolla took over the entire city of Chicago. The last direct flight from LAX to Chicago Midway was about 80% Lolla-ers, all ready to start what the flight attendant dubbed “The Lolla Party Plane”. And the Lolla Party theme carried through every minute of the weekend until the return flight touched ground at LAX late Monday night.
The Best AND Worst Part of the Lollapalooza Experience: Its Downtown Location
What sets Lolla apart from many other music festivals is it’s centralized downtown location. Coachella is a party in the middle of the desert, Outside Lands is nestled in Golden Gate Park and away from the bustling neighborhoods of San Francisco, and South By Southwest is spread across multiple Austin venues.
At the end of each night, Lolla-ers flooded out onto Michigan Avenue and wandered around Downtown Chicago looking for the next party destination. Thousands of people walked into any open establishment, covered in sweat and mud from a day of outdoor partying, but without a hint of exhaustion. Every bar or restaurant within a four block radius of Grant Park was instantly filled with chatter of the crowd’s favorite and least favorite acts, greatest surprises, and biggest disappointments.
And this is the magic of Lollapalooza. People from all over the world, of every age, and from all walks of life were able to share a drink or bite over their collective experience. Conversations recounting the day’s events solidified the memories everyone carried home with them. No matter how much you disagreed about the specific acts, everyone could agree that they were enjoying one hell of a party.
The central downtown location, however, is also the cause of Lolla’s biggest downside. Presumably because of a strict noise ordinance in the city, the festival ended promptly at 10 pm every single night. Whereas Pretty Lights played until sunrise for his set at Bonnaroo this year, the lights turned on and music shut off in Perry’s Tent at 10 o’clock on the dot, abruptly ending his set mid-song at Lollapalooza. Sunday’s headliner, Foo Fighters, were the only act able to play beyond 10, and it was just a few minutes at that.
Aside from the annoyingly strict shut off time, Lollapalooza 2011 proved that you can have a 100,000 person party of people who all gather for the same reason: a great music party.
– Favorite: The Kills
With Alison Mosshart as a front woman, how could you not love The Kills? Seriously. Have you seen her in The Dead Weather’s Treat Me Like Your Mother video? Bad ass. But don’t expect the same arena-filling bluesy rock that The Dead Weather offers. Instead, The Kills provide rock songs you can sing and dance to. From the opening song No Wow, to the closer Sour Cherry, The Kills had every body in the crowd dancing despite the sweltering heat and humidity of their mid-afternoon set time. Mosshart commanded the stage and didn’t let you forget for one second just how damn sexy a female rocker is. The crowd-favorite Heart is a Beating Drum had everyone singing along, completely immersed in sexy rock oozing out of the speakers around them.
– Least Favorite: Muse
Muse are festival veterans, and perhaps I expected a bit too much from them because of that. At the beginning of their ascent to fame, Muse played in smaller clubs and front man Matthew Bellamy produced an entire show around his interactive piano stand. He’s since traded his impressive light and key display for his guitar and a strangely placed fireworks show in the background. Opting for mostly crowd pleasers, Muse skipped most of the piano-driven anthems they were once known for. As disappointing as Girl Talk was, I was happy with my decision to cut out early on Muse’s set to check out Perry’s tent.
– Greatest Surprise: A Perfect Circle covering Imagine
Full disclosure: I only stuck around APC’s set for a few songs before heading into Perry’s tent to check out Skrillex. But the few songs I did catch killed it! Maynard Keenan made sure the crowd was awake with his powerful howling of John Lennon’s Imagine lyrics. An unexpected and truly unique musical moment.
– Biggest Disappointment: Girl Talk
Gregg Gillis is no stranger to starting a dance party. Over 15,000 people swarmed the tent, wanting to cash in on the promise of Girl Talk’s live show. Despite bringing all of his typical Girl Talk tricks with him to close out the first night of Perry’s tent, Gillis fizzled at the end of his set. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the strictly enforced 10 pm noise curfew, but I had high expectations for 15,000 dancing and singing along to Girl Talk’s remix of Imagine while confetti, toilet paper, and balloons poured over the crowd.
– Favorite: Death From Above 1979
Jesse F. Keeler (one-half of MSTRKRFT) and Sebastian Grainger put on one killer performance. With JFK creating sounds out of a bass guitar like you’ve never heard and crafting intricate layers of backing music, and Grainger smashing his drums while screeching his signature not-quite-metal-but-not-quite-screamo blend of vocals, DFA1979 gave everybody in the crowd something to marvel at. They even had a woman serving as an American Sign Language interpreter dancing and translating at the side of the stage. Grainger hopped off the drums during the extended bridge of my favorite Romantic Rights to go over and provide her some company and took a moment to interact with the front of a muddy pit. It was a bad ass version of an already rockin’ song, and definitely my favorite moment of Saturday. The frequently featured sign on the projectors that said simply “HUGE PARTY” perfectly captured the pulsing crowd that shouted, shoved, danced, and threw empty cans of Bud Light. The kind of party DFA1979 would approve of.
– Least Favorite: Pretty Lights
I love Pretty Lights. Derek Vincent Smith is an electronic music genius. DVS spun his special blend of remixes and beats, and played favorites like Hot Like Sauce and Finally Moving. As per DVS’s genius, the songs flawlessly flowed into one another, and the entire crowd under and around Perry’s tent grooved together as one collective. However, another potentially great set was foiled by the Chicago noise ordinance, as DVS was cut off literally mid-song. Shocked, the crowd slowly stopped their dancing and dropped their hands, wondering if it was a joke. It wasn’t. But if you get the chance, check out Pretty Lights at Red Rocks or any other club in your area, and don’t let his Lolla performance taint your view of DVS.
– Greatest Surprise: Local Natives
Southern California natives Local Natives played in front of what they proclaimed was the biggest crowd they’d ever had the pleasure of performing for. It’s a great feeling seeing tens of thousands of people singing along to the folk-pop-rock songs of hometown favorites. The dueling drums and harmonized call-and-answer vocals filled the field with a nice and calming early-evening set.
– Biggest Disappointment: Deftones
Sadly, the disappointing Deftones set was due more in part to how rocking they actually are than anything else. A bad speaker set up combined with too many people crowding around the smaller Playstation stage created a bad experience where you could barely hear Chino Moreno’s vocals.
– Favorite: Deadmau5
The very first electronic act to headline a main stage at Lollapalooza, Joel Zimmerman did not disappoint. By the end of Sunday night, the field in front of the Bud Light stage was a giant, muddy dance pit. And no one cared. Deadmau5 has a new stage set up called the Expert Griefing Machine, which has three illuminated cubes suspended over his signature dj’ing cube. Combined with the coordinate LED backdrop and his electronic Mau5head, Deadmau5 spun a beat filled set that had everyone forgetting the slippery and sinking mud under their feet. Zimmerman carried the dance party through peaks and valleys of quick dance beats and slow and heavy drops. Crowd favorites included Ghosts ‘n Stuff and Raise Your Weapon. However, the shining moment of Deadmau5’s set was when Sofi Toufa came out to sing live vocals over Sofi Needs A Ladder and One Trick Pony. Despite ending almost 10 minutes early, Zimmerman put on one hell of a show, and I did not mind one bit that I left literally covered in a wall of mud up to my thighs.
– Least Favorite: Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky are one of those great bands that will only ever translate through headphones or speakers in your room. Undoubtedly talented musicians, Explosions special brand of jam just can’t carry a crowd at a large festival like Lollapalooza.
– Greatest Surprise: Flogging Molly
Arriving late to the party on Sunday, I walked through the Monroe side entrance to an entire field of people jigging and singing to the Irish rock of Flogging Molly. Proving that sometimes, people just want to link arms, kick around mud, and dance, Flogging Molly had everyone on their feet and singing. Just pure rock and roll fun.
– Biggest Disappointment: Boy & Bear
An awesome part of Lolla is that many of the artists in the lesser-known groups will wander around the bars with everyone else at the end of each night. Normally, it’s a great chance to talk to someone just entering their fame, hear some excellent tour stories, and gain an excuse to support another band. Unfortunately, the front man of Australia’s Boy & Bear let his international fame inflate his ego a bit too much.
– Honorable Mention: Foo Fighters in the pouring rain
Hands down the most memorable moment of the entire weekend was when the rain returned at the beginning of the Foo Fighters’ set. After the disappointment of a shortened Arctic Monkeys set due to weather delays, Dave Grohl brought the rock back to the Music Unlimited stage. As the riffing guitars and blasting drums of My Hero started, so too did the rain that pelted down onto the crowd. The crowd reveled in weather, embracing the muddy field as an impromptu slip-n-slide. Others turned their faces toward the stage, belting along with Grohl and jamming with the rest of the band. Although I left their set early to catch Deadmau5, word has it Grohl coaxed Farrell to come out onto stage and greet the field full of music and party lovers. Here’s to 20 more years of rocking in Grant Park.
Will I be back at Lollapalooza next year? Hell yes. And you’d be a fool not to. Even if you’re not a fan of electronic music, take a pit stop at Perry’s and just enjoy the guaranteed good times and dance party. Not convinced? We literally partied the roof off Perry’s tent. After the first night, festival organizers had to remove alternating panels from the tent so people inside could get enough air to keep rocking. On the whole, it was the best part of Lollapalooza.
The one thing I’d do differently: Shell out the money for the smaller after party shows. With the strict closing time, you will have more than enough energy to keep the party going for another few hours each night. And having seen many of these acts in both smaller venues and the huge festival setting, they each have something unique to offer that you won’t want to miss.