Lollapalooza celebrated its 25th Anniversary this weekend with four full days of live music that featured more than 170 acts on eight stages. The festival began back in 1991 as a farewell tour for legendary rock band Jane’s Addiction, and became synonymous with much of the alternative nation during the '90s, before being resurrected as a destination event in Chicago’s beautiful Grant Park back in 2005. Since then it’s exploded in size and scope, swelling to a capacity crowd of 100,000 every year — complete with the obligatory corporate sponsorships — while also developing an internationally-recognized reputation that reaches well beyond Chicago — or even the U.S. — with Lolla having spawned spinoffs in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Germany over the past decade.
Naturally, the 25th Anniversary came home to Chicago this summer with an international flavor, and whole lot of hometown love. Merchandise available in the massive, air-conditioned mall-style LollaShop mirrored the city’s beloved sports teams, and the festival’s past artwork, while also accentuating the bright festival fashions more often found on the largely millennial crowd, made up of packs of festie besties excitedly experiencing it all for the very first time.
That meeting of past and present has come to define what Lollapalooza has morphed into over its time in Chicago. Musically there was really something for everyone: from full-blown raging dance parties at the perpetually-pulsing Perry’s stage (which was again packed with bodies bouncing to the beats of some of EDM’s biggest names all weekend), to the huge mainstream rock acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead, pop starlets like Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding, established and emerging rappers like Future and Flatbush Zombies, dozens of buzzworthy indie bands, and more.
Upon arrival into the city, though, it’s unmistakable that no one outside of Grant Park is all that thrilled by the throngs of thousands descending upon downtown. From television personalities, to restaurant and hotel staff, to even security at the event itself, Chicago’s broad shoulders begrudgingly barred the burden of bringing in something so amazingly massive. The sun-scorched, far-from-sober fans made for some tense moments outside the gates and elsewhere, but despite the dominance of what can only be called the Lolla demographic, the festival itself found every way to prove that it was so much more than its now somewhat notorious reputation as something to be endured more than enjoyed.
The marathon experience of the anniversary’s expanded four-day lineup is likely to blame for any such increase in negative feelings this year, while back here in West Michigan it’s also likely the reason why slightly fewer Lolla acts made stops in our area before or after their festival gigs. Still, that didn’t stop underground bands like Pinegrove and Wild Child from playing Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids respectively this weekend, nor drone-rockers Nothing from following up their Lolla experience (including opening two sold-out Jane’s Addiction aftershows in Chicago) with a show at The Pyramid Scheme this week. In fact, Lollapalooza’s presence in the Midwest drives a lot more tour routing our way, with overseas acts like Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit and England’s The 1975 starting US tours at the fest, before working their way here.
It also can’t go without mentioning that this year’s Lolla also featured two West Michigan natives taking on the festival’s biggest stages, with Grand Rapids’ born Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers absolutely commanding the festival’s largest crowd on Saturday, while Gull Lake High School graduate Curt Cameruci of Chicago trap duo Flosstradamus helped deliver one of the most-talked about sets on Thursday night.
Here’s a quick list of some of our biggest takeaways from Lolla’s landmark year.
Top 10 Highlights
1. Flosstradamus / Chance The Rapper
After the spotty rain stopped on Lollapalooza’s first night, Chicago’s own Flosstradamus ascended the massive Perry’s stage for a set filled with their familiar bass drops and full-blown sensory overload. But when they brought out not only their friend and fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper, but newly-signed Chicago Bull Dwayne Wade, and former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams during their finale, they easily stole the night away from mainstage headliners J. Cole and Lana Del Rey.
2. Tom Morello
Chance The Rapper wasn’t the only surprise to guest to steal the spotlight. Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Chicago-area native Tom Morello joined both X Ambassadors and Jane’s Addiction during their sets on Saturday. True to the anniversary year’s spirit of cross-generational collaboration, Morello amped up X Ambassadors’ “Collider,” before ripping through the Jane’s classic “Mountain Song” alongside guitarist Dave Navarro.
3. Jane’s Addiction
Besides bringing out Morello, Jane’s Addiction pulled out all the stops on their anniversary performance of their 1990 LP Ritual de lo habitual, starting things off with a bang as fireworks burst around them during the opener “Stop!” They also welcomed burlesque dancers and female suspension artists who swung out towards the crowd from high above the stage, much to the cringing of many younger audience members who found a new understanding for Farrell’s lyrics, “nothing’s shocking anymore.” When they closed with a performance of their biggest hit “Jane Says,” with guest drummer Jimmy Chamberlain of ‘90s-era Lolla vets Smashing Pumpkins, the band proved theirs was still the defining moment of the festival’s long and wild history.
Radiohead also returned to Lolla for the first time since helping to swell the festival’s crowd past 75,000 in 2008. Their enormous crowd once again hung on the acclaimed British band’s every eccentric nuance, waiting with bated breath for a possible rare performance of their elusive 1993 hit “Creep,” which never came. Instead, they explored much of their newest LP A Moon Shaped Pool, before closing their two-hour-plus set by leading the masses through a surprisingly touching singalong of “Karma Police” off their 1997 landmark release OK Computer.
5. LCD Soundsystem
After four days of dancing some might have thought the Lolla crowd wouldn’t have anything left for the extensive disco rhythms of the reunited LCD Soundsystem by Sunday night. They couldn’t have been more wrong. A strong, devoted crowd grooved to James Murphy and company’s career-spanning set from start to finish, making use of every minute that brought fans back to their set at Lolla 2007 with songs like “Us v Them” and “All My Friends,” while making it clear to everyone why the legend of the New York City group has only continued to grow during their absence.
6. Third Eye Blind
Fresh from live-trolling the Republican National Convention a week earlier, ‘90s pop-rock band Third Eye Blind suddenly felt far more relevant than just a nostalgia act tossed onto a side-stage during the day at Lolla. Frontman Stephan Jenkins “didn’t give a fuck,” leading obvious singalongs to hits like “Jumper” and “Never Let You Go,” before premiering a brand new song, “Cop v. Phone Girl,” where he referenced the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. It all came to a triumphant end when a wheelchair-bound crowd surfer made his way to the stage during a rapturous rendition of “Semi-Charmed Life.” Later Jenkins was also spotted along Michigan Avenue telling religious protesters outside the gates to kiss his ass while chatting with friends and fans.
7. Sir The Baptist
The most poignant moment all weekend came on Sunday when Chicago artist Sir The Baptist took Lolla-goers to church. Performing from inside a coffin placed onstage, he also tackled the tough topic of the Black Lives Matter movement, by imploring the largely white crowd in attendance to take a second away from the fun and frivolity of their festival to think about their fellow man.
8. Danny Brown
When Detroit rapper Danny Brown came onstage Thursday afternoon, fans had already dodged spotty rain showers for over an hour. So as he burst into his new track “When It Rain” off his upcoming album Atrocity Exhibition, the crowd went nuts, bringing down the sky with the bounce of their hands.
9. Frank Turner/Nothing But Thieves
Booking as many British rock bands as they did, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Lollapalooza was plagued by drizzle throughout its first two days. These two great acts from across the pond hit all the right notes even under cloudy skies, particularly Turner, whose track “The Next Storm” rivaled Brown’s for best song in the rain. Young rockers Nothing But Thieves, meanwhile, stole a page from the first Lollapalooza in Grant Park by channeling 2005 headliners Pixes with a perfect cover of “Where Is My Mind.”
10. Samsung Galaxy Lounge and VR experience
It’s rare that a corporate sponsor can actually contribute something notable to a concert experience besides free promotional swag. But Samsung stepped outside of the box by inviting attendees to go onstage with their virtual reality experience. Those looking for something more real – and who happened to own a Galaxy phone – they offered a premiere viewing lounge that went beyond simple brand promotion to real customer appreciation. Although it’s far-removed from its counterculture roots, which were on display at a “Time Warp” exhibit inside the park, Lollapalooza could do far worse with its corporate integration as it continues to move forward as an unabashedly mainstream event.
Top 3 Breakout Performances
It takes a lot to make a lasting impression on the highly-distractible dancing crowds on the Perry’s stage. The towering visuals alone are enough to drive anyone to develop ADHD. However, inspired by similarly-masked past Lolla performers Deadmau5 and Daft Punk, rising future house DJ Marshmello did just that, with a stream of devotees in the front row duplicating his silly look, while the rest of the crowd got low to bass drop of his signature track “Keep It Mello.” Talk about making a name for yourself while keeping your true identity unknown.
Pop music and Lollapalooza have slowly embraced each other over the last half decade, with the likes of Ellie Goulding, Flume, and Disclosure all debuting on the tree-lined Pepsi Stage before graduating to international success and celebrity profiles. This year, rising R&B star Alessia Cara packed fans in tight to listen to her message of embracing your inner introvert amidst the materialism of pop culture with her hit “Here.” The moment, and Cara herself, truly feel like Lolla’s past and future blurring into one. Look for her to return soon on a much larger stage.
With ties to Chicago’s hip-hop scene, St. Louis rapper Smino came out early on Sunday to help put another Midwest city on the map. Repping his crew Zero Fatigue, the young rapper looked poised to follow the likes of Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa as he closed his high-energy set with a track produced by Grand Rapids’ own Sango.