words by Dani Deahl
As Lollapalooza’s gates opened on Thursday morning, the air was filled with fizzy excitement. Whoops rippled through the throngs of fans decked out in jewels, body glitter, and other adornments as the rush moved toward the main entrance. One attendee triumphantly thrust his vaccination card aloft as he yelled “Summertime Chi!”
Like hundreds of other live events, Lollapalooza was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. And, like hundreds of other live events that rescheduled for 2021, uncertainty hung in the air beforehand, despite the city’s insistence that the show would go on. And go on it did.
Precautions were put in place — attendees had to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results upon entrance every day while artists had to provide attestation letters in advance — but many remain concerned about crowds with hundreds of thousands of unmasked people. One Chicago Tribune reporter tweeted that “Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards are 100% a thing at Lollapalooza in Chicago.”
(For its part, the city maintains that there are no plans to shut Chicago down again. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “We’ve been able to open but do it with care because of the vaccinations.”)
this photo from lollapalooza is giving me so much anxiety omg pic.twitter.com/68POnvE9X3
— no context jeff (@thecultureofme) August 1, 2021
Almost all were more than happy to comply with the added regulations. Lollapalooza says it only turned away about 600 people who showed up without paperwork on Thursday, a fraction of the day’s attendance.
It’s not surprising as the anticipation building up to the return of Lollapalooza was palpable. The iconic Chicago festival has been a staple for over 30 years and is a rite of passage for music lovers and acts alike. It’s famous for any number of things, including its location in the middle of the city which provides breathtaking views of the skyline (and cute photo ops in front of Buckingham fountain).
Over time, Perry Farrell’s brainchild has blossomed into a pop-up city within a city, replete with (depending on the year) opulent gifting suites, tucked away forests dotted with hammocks, and even a Red Bull gaming stage, where Ninja streamed on Mixer with acts like Madeon.
That last example might show just how diverse Lollapalooza has become over the years. It’s rooted in rock, but fans of just about any genre can get their fix and wander off their musical path to discover something new.
Dance in particular has its own separate and seminal history with Lollapalooza. The festival launched Perry’s Stage back in 2008 in order to give the genre a dedicated space. That first year in a tiny white tent, it hosted names like Willy Joy, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, and DJ AM. Since then, the likes of CRAY, Alesso, Rezz, Shiba San, Seven Lions, and Duke Dumont have performed on Perry’s as the stage itself exploded in both size and production.
Now with the behemoth stage a mainstay, the dance audience gets the best of both worlds at Lolla: a top-notch experience with plenty of pyro, Co2, and fireworks, and the perfect location to stake as home base for the week. While dedicated hip-hop fans likely did the 15-20 minute trek across Grant Park many times to bounce between headliners, dance fans didn’t have the same worry as the genre is mostly contained to Perry’s. Camping out at Perry’s also affords the bonus of being relatively close to lockers, mobile charging, food, beer stations, and restrooms, a five-peat that can’t be said about many other locations across the festival’s expansive grounds.
This year, fans of dance were treated to heavy-hitters like Jauz, Alison Wonderland, and Grammy-nominated KAYTRANADA on Perry’s, alongside buzz-worthy up-and-comers like Moore Kismet, Wenzday, and Blossom. And, like some previous iterations of Lollapalooza (Daft Punk and Deadmau5 come to mind), dance was the mainstage event two nights, with headliner slots doled out to Marshmello and Illenium.
Among the dance artists, there was a wholesome sense of glee while on stage. For most acts, Lollapalooza was the largest event they had played since the pandemic took the music industry to its knees and snatched away live shows about a year and a half ago. For Alison Wonderland, in particular, the fest marked her first show on US soil in over a year. Within that context, Lollapalooza wasn’t just a festival, it was hope.
That sense of relief and gratitude was perhaps underlined best by Jauz’s set introduction, which began with an acapella of Eminem’s “Square Dance.” The singular line “It feels so good to be back” echoed out over the field at Perry’s to swells of cheers. Then, the Roland Clark acapella of “Glad You’re Home” kicked in over a house beat. “Hello my friends,” says Clark, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your faces. I miss you so much.”
Other notable moments included Marc Rebillet (affectionately known as “Loop Daddy” because of his Boss RC-505 Loop Station) running in large circles on stage in a silk robe leading the crowd in a “fuck Jeff Bezos” chant, Twista making a surprise appearance with YehMe2 to perform “Overnight Celebrity” during Brownies & Lemonade All Stars, and Dr. Fresch goading the Limp Bizkit crowd to smash Wes Borland’s guitar to pieces. Because, sure.
Aside from the music, there was an interesting but noticeable shift: Perry’s, for the first time, is no longer called Perry’s. This year, web-scale blockchain company Solana got in the mix, rebranding the stage as Perry’s x Solana. As part of the integration, Solana built a digital Lolla NFT Marketplace with limited edition NFTs (non-fungible tokens) for purchase. NFTs on sale include a 1-of-1 NFT of the original 1991 Lollapalooza poster priced at $9,999, and 25 NFTs of Steve Aoki throwing cake during his Friday night set priced at $999.99 each. If those prices make you dizzy, there are plenty at lower prices, and even some that can be claimed for free.
NFT by Transition Ninja. pic.twitter.com/QmUVpJ1Gzu
— Lollapalooza (@lollapalooza) July 31, 2021
At the end of four days, when people would normally be exhausted, beaten down by Chicago’s summer humidity and the sheer amount of physical exertion spent darting from stage to stage for hours at a time, there was instead a lightness.
Ultimately, the festival’s storied history combined with the excitement of fans and musicians dipping their toes back into live events made this year’s Lollapalooza feel like a collective emotional reunion. Albeit one that’s complicated, and understandably so. As one of the skyscrapers lining Grant Park’s border reminded fans through lit-up windows at the end of each night: “#VACC TO LOLLA.”
Photo via Shea Flynn