Lollapalooza 2012, an overall review

For the eighth year in a row, the every-man’s music festival Lollapalooza returned to Grant Park for a weekend featuring some of music’s biggest and brightest. The sold out crowd of nearly 300,000 people bore witness to plenty of music history in the shadow the Chicago skyline, including legendary reunions and returns from hiatus (Black Sabbath, Passion Pit, At The Drive In), as well as rising star headliners (Bassnectar, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean), and everything in between. Top that off with world-class cuisine and an impromptu mass evacuation, and you might begin to understand the scope of this enormous festival that has grown by leaps and bounds in less than a decade.

The lineup for 2012 was lighter on heavy hitters than it had been in previous years, with a surprising number of newer or lesser-known acts playing on main stages during prime time slots. Dubstep and EDM favorites Avicii, Bassnectar, and Justice all played to overflow crowds at their respective stages, representing a recent surge in popularity and influence for those genres. Even with plenty of electronic and hip-hop acts, fans who came to see Sabbath on their only American tour stop still felt right at home with guitar-centric household names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Keys, and Jack White, as well as psychedelic revivalists Tame Impala or JEFF The Brotherhood, delivering stellar performances.

The real joy of Lollapalooza is discovering new artists, many of whom seem poised to break through to mainstream success. This year’s crop of Lolla up-and-comers, such as M83, Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, and Santigold held coveted headline time slots, and made up for the relative lack of big names with strong performances. The massive crowd came alive for more eclectic acts as well; Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs remarked in the middle of her set that she “never thought Lolla would be anything like this,” in reference to the energetic audience, and Icelandic ambient rockers Sigur Ros made orchestral magic in front of a swarm of sun-baked and hungover festival goers Sunday afternoon. This is the magic of Lolla in a nutshell: artists at the top of their game performing for crowds who couldn’t be happier to see them.

This wouldn’t be a proper recap without mention of Saturday’s massive evacuation due to inclement weather. Yes, it seems Lolla 2012 will not be remembered as much more than “The One Where They Kicked Everyone Out,” but as G.K. Chesterton said, every inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. For example, while posted up near a bus stop to talk to friends, a packed school bus with music blaring pulled up alongside us, opened its folding doors, and bid us entry.

Much to my surprise, it had not been commandeered by joyriding teenagers, but had been hired by a local bar to shuttle dejected Lolla evacuees there from the gates where they were all pouring out. A brilliant idea for business, but my friends weren’t interested in pricey cocktails. We convinced the driver to take us to Portillos instead for just a small tip, where we waited out the Lake Michigan tsunami over a healthy portion of Italian beef. The storm soon let up, and the gates were reopened shortly afterward. Besides the few acts that were cancelled or shortened, it wasn’t such a bummer after all, and the crowd seemed refreshed and energized on return to the park.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Regrettably, I didn’t even see half the acts that played over all three days, and cannot begin to recount the crazy people I met or the hilarious on-stage antics I witnessed. If you come back from a weekend at Lollapalooza without a story to tell, then you must’ve gone wrong somewhere. Even if the $230 weekend pass bankrupts you, the music, food, and people make it worth every penny. See you next year.