It’s hard to explain what it is about Lollapalooza makes it sit right in the US musical festival sweet spot, but it undoubtedly does. It’s not as influencer-focused as Coachella, but everyone’s still dressed in their festive best, taking photos in front of a towering fountain in the middle of Chicago’s Grant Park. It’s also just a short walk from a city transit stop just like New York City’s Governors Ball, but unlike the Big Apple festival’s line-up, which veers towards a younger audience interested in DIY bedroom acts and TikTok viral hitmakers, Lollapalooza has something for everyone, drawing in as many bunnies eager to see NewJeans dance to ‘Hype Boy’ as hip-hop heads looking to rap along to ‘If You Know You Know’ with Pusha T.
It’s also nothing like Bonnaroo, where fans camp out in order to see their favourite acts, forgoing showers even when they’re encountering multiple mud puddles on a Tennessee Farm. Here, you can still find yourself balancing for your life in a puddle of mud – much like fans did during Red Hot Chili Peppers closing set on Sunday (August 6) but at Lollapalooza – but you have the graceful option of rinsing yourself off at a hotel nearby afterward.
Perhaps it’s the mid-west hospitality of festival-goers that makes it stand out among other fest, like the woman who told NME “You look so good” on the same day of The 1975’s headline set on Friday (August 4). She seems to have no idea she is lifting lyrics from one of the band’s biggest songs, ‘Robbers’, considering she’s wearing Kendrick Lamar merch and the rapper is about to play hits from ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ to an overflowing crowd at the same time as the Manchester band.
It could be founder Perry Farrell’s penchant for highlighting new genres and making history with the festival’s choice of headliners, whether it’s Karol G’s show-stopping reggeaton performance as the first female Latina headliner to take on the fest or Tomorrow x Together’s sharp and youthful, rockstar status-confirming set as the first South Korean group to top the bill after proving their credentials on a smaller stage just a year earlier. Still, the festival doesn’t wander too far from where it came from as a Jane’s Addiction farewell tour back in 1991, with burgeoning rock acts like LoveJoy drawing large crowds to the same stage Lollapalooza veterans RHCP close out the festival on.
But even in the midst of acts giving their best at the festival, there’s still an undercurrent of imperfection that makes it all approachable and real. Lollapalooza isn’t trying to be anything it’s not, and by returning each year with a new plan to prioritise diversity in sound as well as a steadfast dedication to highlighting fresh acts (like on its BMI stage, where up-and-coming acts like Annie DiRusso and Beauty School Dropout are met with fans who sing along to every single word) the festival proves its dedication to just putting the music first, and the fans Lollapalooza draws in mirror that effort.
Sunday night is the perfect manifestation of this, as Lana Del Rey takes over the Bud Light stage. Girls in white dresses and red heart sunglasses are crowded beneath her in the post-rain mire, their faces covered in black mascara tear streaks and their legs splashed with dirt. As cameras pan the crowd, showing their smiles and cries on LED screens, what makes Lollapalooza so special starts to become clear. It’s messy and clean, immaculately planned but with space for chaos. Much like the fans that swarm back into the city after festival gates close, their tired and excited bodies rushing to their beds or off to the next show under the clean lines of Chicago skyscrapers, Lollapalooza embodies the disarray, beauty and promise of music in four thrilling days.
Del Rey embodies it too as she sings about life and death and love in a white vintage dress, and the crowd returns the words of ‘Summertime Sadness’ back to her like a choir. She jokes about being dragged off the stage because of curfew (again) as the last minutes of her set play out. Just like Lolla, the performance is messy and clean, immaculately planned but with space for chaos, and as she closes the festival’s 2023 offering down with “Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have”, it’s safe to say she – and the festival – are right there in that sweet spot.