By Kristi Kates
Arriving in Chicago for the 20th Anniversary of the ambitious and now classic Lollapalooza Festival (August 5-7), this intrepid reporter - and 89,999 other music fans - were pleased to see that the Lolla grounds were sunny, expanded into more sections of the park than previous years, funkily decorated, brightly colored, and all ready to go for a weekends worth of fantastic music, food, and fun.
So what would the fests highlights be for 2011? One of the headliners, or would a second-stager or a newbie grab all the attention? Would Chow Towns foodstuffs live up to the reputation of Lolla Culinary Director Graham Eliot? Would 90,000 people daily be able to co-exist in beautiful Grant Park without incident? And - perhaps most pivotally - would it rain?
Buzz band Wye Oak, along with fellow noon-timers Narcisse and Ruby Jane, kicked off Lolla with their individual sets, although the grounds were still a bit sparse as people worked their way through the entrance gates via the newfangled fabric Lolla ticket bracelets. By one in the afternoon, though, Lolla had already picked up speed.
The afternoon acts that snagged the most buzz were probably Smith Westerns and Londoners The Vaccines, whose debut album tracks may have fared better later in the day when folks were more awake, but were met with cheers nonetheless.
White Lies, The Kills, and the awesomely punky Two Door Cinema Club took over the mid-afternoon stages; Bright Eyes aka Conor Oberst followed up with a standout set on the northernmost stage at 6:30; and Chicago locals OK Go - decked out in matching suits in red, blue, yellow, and green - dominated the 7 oclock hour with their catchy, poppy set on the new Google Plus stage, which was completely packed for the duration.
The biggest detriments of Lolla 2011 seemed to be the fans themselves. The main complaint overheard in the press tent was that people werent being terribly polite about allowing their fellow attendees to move through the densely massed crowds from one show to the next. Fence crashers also started a mission of their own on Friday, gathering numbers of themselves in attempts to attend Lolla without paying, and foot injuries were prevalent in the first-aid tent due to many attendees insisting on strolling around barefoot (merely stupid.)
Lolla night one was capped by a battle of the Brits, with Coldplay on the north end of the festival field, and Muse on the southern end. Coldplays emotional, elegant songs were unfortunately a little drowned out by the amped-up, distracted Lolla crowd - but opting for Muse paid off well, as Matthew Bellamy and crew filled, and well exceeded, the Music Unlimited stages audience area. With Bellamy in strong voice, Muses big, bombastic sounds kept the huge, packed sea of fans and the myriad tiny blue squares of their cell phone screens under control as they rocked their way operatically through many of their older hits (including the rarely-heard-live Butterflies and Hurricanes.) Muses set coincided at one point with fireworks going off on a nearby athletic field, making for a striking conclusion of Lollas inaugural day.
The second of Lollas triple-threat of fully-scheduled festival days began with great weather yet again - not too hot and thankfully even a little breezy.
The strangely-named but talented An Horse started the afternoons proceedings, followed by a blast of dancey-funk-rock from Friendly Fires, whose Jump in the Pool single probably voiced what a lot of overheated Lolla attendees wished they were doing.
By mid-afternoon, the lines at the two Chow Town food vendor locales were long, enjoying such varied menu offerings as (the expected) pizza, hot dogs, and sandwiches, and (the unexpected) organic goat cheese burritos, lobster corndogs, truffle popcorn, cactus tostadas, and frozen kefir; Chef Eliots helming of the Lolla foods was proving to be a success.
Back to Saturdays music, the late afternoon showcased plenty of buzz bands, from Fitz and the Tantrums, The Drums, classics Big Audio Dynamite and Ween, and singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, to a surprisingly tepid set from a much-anticipated Cee Lo Green.
Instead of being the splash that his big, soulful voice should have been, Green, instead, stood mostly in one spot during his set, seemed somewhat annoyed with the crowd, and got distracted, stopping mid-tune and changing up songs in a jittery fashion. Fashion was perhaps the only interesting thing about Greens set, with he and his entire band bedecked in some sort of spiked, heavy, black-wrapped costumes that were surely not too comfortable in the heat; perhaps thats why he was so grumpy.
Detroit rapper Eminem and Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket faced off on the two main stages as Saturdays final performances, with Eminems crowd being large but thankfully, fairly passive, and MMJs fans singing along with many of the bands off-radio underground hits. Elsewhere, multi-instrumentalists Beirut offered a melodic reprieve from either band back on the Google Plus stage, starting later (8:45 pm) and winding up the evening nicely.
Much like previous years, two days of sunshine were apparently two too much of a good thing for Lolla. Sunday began - and continued - with fog and then rain throughout much of the day, pulling fans in to ankle-deep mud wallows at many of the stages, and casting a damp pall over the days schedule. That didnt stop the music, though.
While the day got off to a slow start due in part to the discouraging weather, Noah and the Whale helped pep things up with their early-afternoon set, complete with bouncy melodies and folky sensibilities. The Cars and Arctic Monkeys followed each other at 4 and 6 p.m., respectively, with The Cars retro-fied synth-rock hits getting the crowd dancing, and the Monkeys Brit-pop keeping those feet moving all the way through to to 7 p.m.
Most people needed a cleanup at this point (lets just say that dancing feet tend to fling up a lot of, uh, mud confetti) but spirits stayed high as sets from Best Coast, Manchester Orchestra, and Modeselektor drew large crowds. Perrys - the single-named, tented Lolla dance club - offered beat-focused performances during most of the main stage sessions throughout all three days, with Sunday nights headline set featuring the musical stylings of Kid Cudi.
By the time Lolla was ready to wrap up its 2011 edition, it was time for (a strangely de-hatted) Deadmau5 and the Foo Fighters to battle it out on opposing ends of the festival grounds.
Deadmau5s crowd kept moving and grooving throughout his set, if a little less enthusiastically than they might have on a drier, warmer Friday evening; and the rain dumped down yet again in the middle of the Foos performance, which only spurred the band to put even more energy into songs like Everlong and My Hero, making them the heros of the night, and wrapping up another Lollapalooza for host city Chicago, festival guru Perry Farrell, and thousands of grateful, if soggy, music fans.
Next years Lollapalooza Fest - the events 21st happening - is already scheduled for August 3-5, 2012. Keep an eye on www.lollapalooza.com for more info and performer announcements.