Meg McGeMeg MegMegMMeg McGee gives a rundown on the Chicago music festival scene and why Lollapalooza may be headed in the wrong direction.
Chicago is known not just for its skyscrapers, corruption, and unnaturally green lake but also for two of the best music festivals in North America: Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. A total of 300,000 people attended a completely sold-out Lollapalooza this past weekend and Pitchfork attracted 150,000 festival goers. But as I’m discovering, there are stark differences in the types of people attracted to these events. Which over time could mean the success in growth of one and the demise of another. Let me explain:
Pitchfork has been referred to as “the little festival that could”, starting off with smaller, local bands, to legendary headliners such as Sonic Youth, Bjork, and Modest Mouse. The festival has gained momentum and popularity as Lolla’s little sister. It you want a relaxed, intimate festival experience, Pitchfork is great for that. The artists roam around tiny Union Park and hang out with the crowds. You can get close to stages without hassle. For example, last year was my first p4k I ended up front row for Real Estate and Vampire Weekend’s set. You spend less time waiting in long lines and more time enjoying the atmosphere.
Lollapalooza is amongst the greats in terms of music festivals but unlike Coachella and Bonnaroo, you don’t have to camp out in the middle of nowhere. Lolla is in the middle of downtown Chicago at the historic Grant Park and sells out almost instantly. Which lately, has been a bit of a pain for real music fans. People seem to buy tickets before the lineup is released and the 8-ticket limit makes it easy for scalpers to buy an excessive amount of tickets and sell them for ridiculous prices. In 2010, I bought my Lolla Saturday/Sunday ticket two days before the festival started and the headliners were Lady Gaga, The Strokes, Green Day, and Arcade Fire. A year later, Lolla tickets sold out in two months. The next year, one week. This year, twenty minutes.
I have a theory, maybe a slight generalization about Lollapalooza but I have lots of insight, being a Chicagoan and music fan. The Perry’s stage at Lollapalooza (named after Lolla’s founder, Perry Farrell) recently has been getting bigger, home to neon and window-shattering dubstep bass. Which is fine, I won’t be quick to judge anyone’s music taste. However, in recent years, it has attracted mostly suburban kids looking to “RAGEEEEE” at Perry’s and never leaving.I would argue that this year, Perry’s stage drew more fans than the headliners. Recently, Huffington Post Chicago quoted a 15 year-old suburban kid who said he came to Lolla for “the girls”, he’d never even heard of Nine Inch Nails. Grizzly Bear and Beach House were bands where I expected huge turnouts but the crowd was dreary. Lolla is becoming less of a music fan’s paradise and more of a free-for-all. The crowds are becoming apathetic and restless, always searching for something better to do. While scrolling through people’s Facebook photos from Lolla, it seems that a majority were at Perry’s raging with their frat brothers.
Overall, I don’t think Lolla will ever have a problem selling tickets or booking great bands, I just think the quality of people is going to decline as years go by. If you’re going to spend all three days at Perry’s, maybe you should go to Ultra Music Festival or Spring Awakening where there’s nothing but dubstep and ragers. Personally, I’d rather see headliners that haven’t tour edin four years (The Cure) instead of bands that are likely to tour again (Phoenix). That’s why last year when Black Sabbath played, it was a real treat for me even though I didn’t know all of their discography. That’s what I appreciate the most about Lolla including the picturesque skyline that surrounds the festival. Perry Farrell does a great job at getting rock legends to headline. However, I prefer the vibe that Pitchfork has because it is more intimate for the artists and fans. And I believe as long as Pitchfork preserves that aspect of the festival, it will remain successful and continue to bring great acts like it did this year. We’ve had a great run, Lolla but it’s time we go our separate ways.