Posted Aug 5th, 2015 (6:22 pm) by Sarah Wilson
Image by Sarah L Wilson Photography

It's three days out of the summer that represent everything American music festivals, those based in a city, want to be. Or should be. Or can be. Or just...are.

Lollapalooza started as a traveling festival in 1991 by Jane's Addiction; eventually died and was rebooted by Perry Farrell in 2005 as a stationary festival in Chicago's Grant Park, where it will live now until 2018 under a multi million dollar deal signed back in 2009.

At its inception, Lollapalooza had strove to recognize the edge cases of the music world. The alternative sounds, be it punk, rock, dance or electronica. You still get a touch of that feeling when you walk the (expansive)grounds. Lolla still brings a diverse line up that attracts everyone from the newest in EDM to hippest of hip hop to well...Paul McCartney and everyone in between.

But is Lollapalooza the model of a city based music festival it's been in the past? Maybe.

Grant Park is stupid convenient to pretty much any part of Chicago. There's easy access in from airports as well on mass transit. Parking, however, is at a premium. Expect to spend at least 30 bucks a day for something that will guarantee you'll come back and still have all your wheels when you get out of the park. So mass transit is really your best bet, if you can't walk from where you're staying. Which brings me to lodging. Chicago is big bucks. I mean thousands of dollars in some cases, hundreds if you're a little lucky. Air BnB is an option if you can't swing the $3,000 and up hotel/ticket packages offered by most 'official' hotels.

Lolla is, if nothing else, a well oiled machine; at least for the most part. The grounds are laid out in such a way as to control traffic patterns in and out smoothly, even during the park evacuation we had on Sunday due to a storm. The entry process is surprisingly fast with the crowd filing through the gates, arms up with their wristbands visible. I saw more than one person plucked out of line when they didn't have the requisite band in place.

From there you moved through the main check. No bags, move right on, scan your wrist band and you're in. Have a bag then jump in the line for bag check and wait maybe 5 minutes to get in. Overall a very efficient process.

Once you're on the grounds you're met with rows and rows of port-o-lets, I've honestly never seen so many in one place in my life! Standing outside each row were hand sanitizing stations, a nice touch.

While Grant Park is really central, it's also really, really big. Just over a mile from one main stage to the other. That can make seeing all the bands you want a challenge when you have to get from one side of the park to the other with only minutes. While missing one or two on the bill is to be expected, it's also a little annoying when you miss multiple bands you adore because logistics are against you! And there's not just two stages either, there's seven in total and each one has it's own name and theme. Perry stage is for all the EDM fans dancing up the dust from noon until the park closes. Head over to BMI or Pepsi stages for the mid level bands (Skylar Spence, FKA Twigs) stages; Sprint and Palladia for the bigger draws (Gogol Bordello, The Wombats, Tyler the Creator) and reserved for the big names (Alt-J, that McCartney guy) Sprint and Bud Light stages. With Sprint at one end and Bud Light at the other that leaves a lot of space in between. So how do you fill that space up?

You add markets, stores, food vendors and art installations. The Farmer's market had fresh and local goods like cheeses and breads, noodle shop or even a smoothie were there for the taking and at a price that was surprisingly reasonable.

Move through the trees and back out into the hot sun on the main strip and you're in Chi Town's Chow Town. Approximately 30 vendors with everything from pizza ($5 bucks for a slice big enough to split) to BBQ to ice cream. Annoyingly, the food vendors didn't sell drinks. Getting a soda or a beer required a wait in yet another line to fork out anywhere from $2 to $6 bucks for your libation of choice. Water and soda were cheap though and though. The drink stands in central locations tended to have the longest lines, if you hit them up at the edges of the fest they usually had shorter waits.

If you don't want to pay for water, grab a camel back and fill up for free at the stations located around the park. Again, the lines are long but the water is free.

Want Lolla branded stuff? Head past the fountain

to the giant Lolla store where you can buy specially designed vans for $75 bucks, a poster for $25 or any number of other paraphernalia.

What was cool was that this year the Lolla wristband was digital and you could actually load your debit or credit card to the band and just tap to buy water, beer, food or even at some non food vendors. Very convenient to have a cashless option!

So now you've eaten and you've still got half a mile to get to your next stage. Detour through the Green Street area. Here you'll find everything from clothes made of recycled fabric to original artworks.

Prices range from the ridiculous to the reasonable (I left with two prints from the amazing awesome artist Chuck U)who was also working on a mural to decorate the grounds in between working his tent.

Spaced throughout the festival are various tents for first aid, lost and found and other assistance. I have to say the first aid tents were fairly under-stocked. My friend was stung by something and the best they could offer her was hand sanitizer. Their supplies seemed to be band-aids, hand sanitizer and a few other odds and ends. The one we stopped at didn't even have sun screen! Boo.

As you made your way through the park there were Lolla ambassadors spaced regularly through out to point you to the right stage, the closest "facilities" or the first aid tent (such as it was). Security was everywhere but not at all obnoxious or over-bearing. The grounds crew were hopping! All day they were emptying the trash, compost and recycling bags located all over the festival grounds. And if they weren't hauling bags, they were picking up the trash the people who couldn't be bothered to use the conveniently located bins were leaving behind. By the end of the weekend there was some mess on the ground but these folks really busted to keep it at a minimum.

Overall, Lolla is a fantastic experience. It's hot, it's crowded, it can be dusty and dry or pelting hail at you as run from the grounds. While the down sides are pretty well restricted there few and they were significant. Those include overall size of the park. If there was more time between bands or if there were less space between stages, that would make Lolla a much better experience. When you pay as much as you do, tickets starting at $175 for a day pass up to thousands for VIP, you want to see what you want to see. And being thwarted by a super long line for drinks while you're on your way to see Alt-J is a royal pain in the butt. Cooling stations, buses set along the main drag, were there for those who really got too hot but what about the rest of the crowd? How about a water spray system for the front rows? I personally watched six people get lifted over the barricade in various stages of heat exhaustion. How about a cooling station you can walk through the spray in? Anything to cool off the 90+ degree heat that radiates up from the pavements and drives Lollas overheating dancers to the trees.

So the final judgement?

Festival Production and Organization: 18.5/30
points lost for First Aid tents that were lacking in supplies; long lines for any of the water or other drinks, free or paid; Being a little too spread out with the overlap of bands forcing you to miss some bands you really wanted to see. Wanted to bring your kids? Kidapalooza was back this year with tons of activities for kids and child registration so child safety was clearly in Lolla organizers heads, making it easy to open up the gates for generations that exceeded the age of 20!

Presentation: 16/20
Points deducted for things like the rather dated looking Perry stage. This hasn't changed in years and while the light effects are still amazing, it could use an update; There were minimal art installations and again, the vibe of it all was sort of dated. I saw the same bubble volcano over the sign before, thanks. I'd love to see some more encouragement for the patrons to get involved in the arts. The spin painting of the arms of concert goers was brilliant!

Sustainability Practices: 20/25
Mass transit, encouraged carpooling and Uber/Lyft were a great way of handling the influx of people to Grant Park. Not only did the organizers provide trash and recycling they also encouraged composting!

Non-Musical Entertainment: 8/10
There were plenty of sponsors such as Samsung, Sprint and others who had booths with branded things to do. There wasn't much to do that was Lolla sponsored though, other than the music and dancing. Kidapalooza had all kinds of activities for the kids too.

Overall Festival Atmosphere: 9/15
Points were lost here for the cost ratio of the ticket and the very real possibility of spending a lot of money on a ticket that didn't mean you were going to get to see your favorite bands. While it's conveniently located, travel packages are out of reach of so many of the people who want to go to Lolla, it would be nice to see more affordable options available in coming years. The crowd gave new name to 'crowd' at some sets and made some of the lines crazy long. Perhaps 100K people is a little much, even though the organization is brilliantly done.

Total Score: 71/100

Lollapalooza is a long running and respected festival but some parts may be starting to show that age. Somewhat dated stage sets and branding, borderline over crowding and too much overlap of bands sets may detract a bit from the overall experience but Lolla is still a great time and worth hitting up.

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