The final day of Lollapalooza's 20th-anniversary fest began so beautifully. The sun shone, the birds chirped (probably -- it was hard to hear them over the ovaries-rattling bass from Perry's Stage, which reverberated through the entire park today), the crowd skipped happily from show to show, and the perpetually friendly Lolla staffers smiled and thanked people as they crossed the gates. Did I mention that early-afternoon shining sun? Focus on it. Bask in it. Because after that? It rained. A lot. And then it rained again. A lot. And then there was mud. So, so much mud. The proceedings ended in drenched streets and unrecognizably filthy festies and shoe-swallowing, phone-destroying craters of mud. And that, too, was beautiful.
Rain at a festival, while not exactly ideal, is the great equalizer. Yes, it was unfortunate that Arctic Monkeys' set (among others) got delayed by the first storm. But the people I was huddled with under the Estancia lounge tent were laughing, bonding, making new friends -- and watching the dripping diehards at Cage the Elephant catch Matt Schultz's increasingly slippery body as he (and his mic) stage-dove again and again. And when the first downpour stopped and all 90,000 of us came together again, those of us who weren't drenched quickly got painted with mud. What beautiful people? Everyone was beautiful, everyone was ugly -- and everyone looked like they were paying homage to the classic images of joyfully muddy hippies at Lolla progenitor Woodstock. And when the second deluge began minutes before the headliner sets, it seemed almost fitting, as if Deadmau5 at one end and Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters at the other had called the rains down for their legions of ravers and rockers to play in. The crowd, many covered in trash bags donated by the ground crew, collectively said "screw it" and bolted for the field, helping each other up when they fell, and using the mud as a dance partner that could spin and slip them around.
That's a pretty good picture of what Lollapalooza looks like at the ripe old age of 20, actually: a playful community joyfully reaping the benefits of the fest's pro organization, generally good vibes and penchant for slightly schizo (yet still rock-heavy) sonic diversity. Let's take a look at some of her other characteristics:
Kid-Friendly, or Lolla Believes the Children Are the Future.
Lollapalooza prides itself on kid-friendliness. There's the Kidsapalooza stage, of course, where Perry Farrell always plays a set. There's an offspring-loss-prevention tag-a-kid booth. But beyond the infrastructure, the kids at Lolla, especially on Sunday, just rock. Cases in point: The family of Deadmau5 fans consisting of Mom, Dad and three little kids all decked out in neon paint and mouse ears. The way hardcore tots taunted the rain from Dad's shoulders while wussier grownups ran for shelter. The absolutely awesome little boy of about seven whose seriously fly popping-and-locking in the field at Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley's set drew a huge crowd of smiling, photo-snapping fans. These tykes are cooler than you or me -- and Lolla knows it.
Culinarily Adventurous, Which May Not Be Such a Good Thing.
Lolla's curated vendor list makes for good media, but not so much for profitable fest food. By the end of day one, Grahamwich workers were struggling to move their excess lobster-corndog stock. By day three, the scotch eggs at Gage/Henri had been reduced in price. The lines for deep-dish pizza and Kuma's burgers were unwaveringly long, however.
Trend-Setting, in Its Own Way.
Festivals develop their own fashions over the course of the run. Must-haves for Lolla attendees? Rompers. CamelBak water packs. And oh my goodness, headbands: skinny ropes over braids for that potentially problematic neo-Native American look, sparkly bands for the raver flower children and, most of all, Lollapalooza bandanas wrapped around the forehead like a sweatband. The line for these suckers, which the fest gave away for free, was epically long all weekend long. Must-haves for attendees who want everyone to take their picture? Face-covering, neon-hued full-body stockings (though my favorite was a dude in a three-piece suit). Must-haves for artists? Bells: OK Go had handbells, everyone and their sister had glockenspiels, even The Cars had sleigh bells. Humble stage banter: With few exceptions (like The Cars, who didn't really talk, but hey, they're The Cars), just about every artist was exceptionally happy to be there and grateful to the audience.
Invested in Discovery.
Sure, you can see big stars and old favorites at Lolla, but a significant portion of the festival -- typically the earlier hours -- is dedicated to showcasing up-and-coming acts, including many who have never played the festival (or any festival) before. Sunday, for instance, included Lia Ices' first Lolla appearance at the BMI Stage. All bangles and hair, Ices and her band entranced the crowd with their meandering, ethereal (though somewhat rock-grounded) fairy-tale folk pop set (which included a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here"). Over on the Google+ Stage, Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. rocked the d-bag theatre hard (bubble machines! Whitney Houston soundbites! Ironic racing t-shirts!) and announced that they planned to celebrate their first Lolla gig by leaving "little treats" in various outhouses, including, possibly, a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Somewhat Chaotically Curated.
Lolla's lineup often appears to have been thrown together with little rhyme or reason. Sometimes, it really worked: The somewhat unexpected pairing of foxy Irish rockabilly singer Imelda May on the Sony Stage, followed by the thick, smoky Southern-rock revivalism of Americana act Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses? Awesome. Nas and Damian Marley "opening" for Deadmau5? Kind of weird (though by that point, the rain had washed away all genre boundaries). Little smatterings of odd pop acts, hip-hop and R&B seemed more the result of hard sells by labels and publicists than a real investment on Lolla's part.
Kind of Into the Old-School Rock and the Roll -- but With the Occasional Eye Toward the Future.
Nothing drove this home more than the Foo Fighters' gesture towards Lolla's grungy roots on one end and Deadmau5's rave revivalism on the other of the festival's grounds during Sunday's headline slots. A bit more hip-hop (and maybe a few less white rocker dudes) would have been welcome, however.
A Rather Impeccably Run Community.
Lolla at 20 is not exactly the scrappy, politically motivated, DIY-esque happening of its youth. It's evolved into a smooth, slick, well-oiled machine -- but that's not such a bad thing. While Lolla's maturity means more corporatism and commercialism, it also allows for the implementation of a lot of really great programs, like water-bottle-filling stations, a commitment to recycling and grounds upkeep, and a general fest-as-community ideology that everyone there builds together.
And when the rains came down on Sunday, that's the attitude that prevailed. My colleagues spent the interim between showers at the aptly named Explosions in the Sky, but I think the scene at Nas and Damian Marley's set truly embodied the Lolla spirit. As Nas dedicated tunes to leaders and Marley called out to all the "warriors" in the crowd to work together, grimy fans with their arms linked smiled, helped each other pick through the puddles, sang along, waved Jamaican flags and, yes, staged an impromptu (and innocuous) mud-wrestling pit.