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The Longevity of Lolla

by Emma Parkinson

Photography by Maclay Herlot and Reagan Hackleman

Photography by Maclay Herlot/Lollapalooza 2016

Photo by Maclay Herlot/Lollapalooza 2016

From July 28 to July 31, over 400,000 people flooded Chicago’s Grant Park to celebrate the 25th year of the annual music festival Lollapalooza. Home to the festival since 2005, Grant Park transforms every summer to accommodate hundreds of musical acts, dozens of food stalls and thousands of fans.

The traditionally Friday-to-Sunday festival added a full day of music this year for its anniversary. Over 170 musical artists played throughout the weekend. Headliners included Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and LCD Soundsystem.

Boston University student Jessie Levinson (COM ’19) stressed that the festival works better as a four-day affair.

“Last year, while I did have some down time between acts, it didn't allow for much exploring of new bands,” she said. This year I was able to wander the grounds with my friends in between shows and discover new and amazing music.”

Lollapalooza did not always seem this put together. Founded by Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Ferrell in 1991, the festival was supposed to be a six-week farewell tour for the band. However, Ferrell found himself with a desire to keep the festival going, and it retuned in 1992 with 28 bands.

It fell apart for a while in the late ’90s, only to attempt a return in 2003 and fail again in 2004 due to low ticket sales. It was in 2005 that the festival planted itself in Grant Park as a two-day festival that attracted about 67,000 people.

Lollapalooza has only grown from there. Bailey Knowles, 19, a student at Illinois Wesleyan University, has attended the festival for seven years and is satisfied with the evolution, noting the increased efficiency and security.

“This year and years before there seems to be more and more security personnel and procedures out in place, especially with the weather,” she said. “I was very impressed at how well they were taking care of the people attending the festival and really appealed to make everyone's experience more enjoyable.”

Photo by Reagan Hackleman/Lollapalooza 2016

Boston University student Mitchell Appell (Questrom ’19) thinks the festival has improved music-wise as well. He has attended the festival for the past three years, but insists that this year was the best.

“I feel like [Lollapalooza] did a better job on getting a lot of good artists rather than just a few huge artists,” he said.

Appell was pleased with the range of music available to fans.. “It was cool that you are able to see artists like Future and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the same music festival.”

Despite the praises that come from many festival goers, there are some who feel that Lollapalooza has lost its touch. Chicago native Jessica Ray, 26, says that this Lollapalooza changed her perspective.

“In my 11 years of going to shows and festivals, not once have I ever had to leave early because I felt uncomfortable,” she said. “Lollapalooza was an absolute joke. The crowd was terrible, people running into you and not saying excuse me. The worst part was more than half the people at the stages weren’t even enjoying the music.”

Ray remarked that the problem seemed to be the younger crowds. Teens doing drugs and drinking seemed to litter the festival grounds, making it hard for her to really enjoy herself. She suggested making the festival 21 and up in order to eliminate these groups.

In fact, numbers from festival partner C3 Presents reflect Ray’s observations. Nearly 40 percent of ticket buyers are under the age of 24.

While the grounds might be messy, patrons who are willing to spend significant amounts of money might see a nicer side of the festival. Lollapalooza offers VIP and Platinum passes, giving these ticket-buyers access to backstage viewing, air-conditioned lounges and even golf cart rides up and down the mile-long stretch of Grant Park.

Photo by Maclay Herlot/Lollapalooza 2016

Adam Bieda (CAS ’19) secured a job for the weekend as a driver of one such golf cart. He was able to chat with some of the people he drove around as well as use some of the VIP/Platinum amenities.

“This year was a much better experience than my Lollapalooza last year,” he said. “I had awesome opportunities to meet writers, artists, actors, publicists, ambassadors…very nice people to talk to for four minute drives down Lake Shore Drive. When business was slow, I had chances to slip away to the VIP viewing platform and watch some of my favorite performers.”

Because of his job, Bieda was unable to experience some of the added attractions for the 25th anniversary, including an art installation outlining notable performances from past festivals, and a new merchandise tent offering hundreds of items for purchase.

It’s clear that a quarter of a century later, Lollapalooza has grown in way that Perry Ferrell never imagined back in 1991. The festival has had a positive impact on the city of Chicago in the long run. Studies show that in 2015 the festival contributed $155 million to the city’s economy, as well as sponsoring more than 50 after-show concerts at 21 local clubs across six nights.

The weekend brings people together form all across the country, allowing them to make friends and memories. And despite the growing concern that youth and drugs and alcohol are causing the festival to lose its luster, it remains about the music.

Lollapalooza will return to Grant Park August 3 to August 6 for another four days in 2017.

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