I consider myself a music fanatic. I need to hear music every day and I’m invested in the music world daily thanks to my writing. So, some may consider it a little weird I’ve never been to Lollapalooza despite living in Chicago all my life. Several things have kept me away from the iconic event, but it comes down to money. It’s also intimidating. I never considered myself a festival version. I have enough trouble with people at concerts. The thought of attending something with thousands of people in attendance was scary. Not to mention I’m also claustrophobic. But when I was asked to cover Friday by New City, I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone and see what I’ve been missing out on all these years.
Friday’s big headliner was Radiohead, but since I already had plans for that night, I had to miss them. It’s fine since I’m not a big fan of them anyway. I showed up at Grant Park early and waited for the gates to open. I couldn’t help but get excited seeing the looming “Lollapalooza 25 Years” sign in the distance. After waiting for the gates to open, we had to wait in the security line, which wasn’t so bad. Once I was cleared, I wandered around the festival grounds a little lost. I saw the different shops and stalls, none of them particularly interesting, but I was most excited to see beautiful Buckingham Fountain up close. It’s something I’ve seen in the car, but never up close. I probably looked like a tourist taking pictures of the landmark, but I didn’t care. I actually enjoyed walking around in the morning. There were a good number of people, but nothing compared to what it would be only a few hours later.
Since I wasn’t seeing Radiohead, I had no idea who to check out first. I didn’t most of the artists who were playing during the day. After doing some research I picked out a few bands, the first being Con Brio. I got turned around a few times looking for the Lakeshore stage, but I managed to find it. I got a good spot close to the stage and waited. While waiting I actually met some nice people and we started chatting. I loved meeting new people with similar interests because music brings people together. But when it comes to concerts, you only connect with the person you came with. Very few people strike up conversations with others anymore and it’s a shame. I glad I finally got to experience it, even if it was only for an hour.
It was time for Con Brio and let me say this: they are fucking amazing. They’re a soul/R&B/pop band from California and they probably had the most energetic set of the day. As soon as they opened with “Paradise” there was non-stop dancing. I loved that everyone on stage, from the guitarist to the saxophone player, was dancing their asses off. They all had a great stage presence pumping up the crowd, and actually being excited about playing, but you couldn’t take your eyes off frontman Ziek McCarter. Everyone in the band is insanely talented, but he carries most of the show. He’s Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson rolled up in one. He not only has serious vocal chops, he has the sickest dance moves. He shuffled across stage, shimmied and gyrated uncontrollably, and had perfect spins. He couldn’t stand still for a minute. It was hard not to smile seeing him move like that.
Their set was nothing but a huge party. As they kept playing, more and more people pushed closer to the stage to catch a glimpse of McCarter. There were a few slow jams, but for the most part, it was non-stop dancing. What I loved most about their songs like “Money” and “Liftoff” is they were full of positive messages, something the world desperately needs right now. It’s clear Con Brio wants to make people happy with their upbeat, vibrant music. It didn’t take long for people to start singing along even though they didn’t know the words two minutes before. They even did a cover of “It’s a Man’s Man World,” but switched it at the end to become “This is a woman’s world.” That made me love McCarter even more. At the end of their set, McCarter bid farewell by pulling off three flawless backflips getting huge praise from the crowd. As everyone left the stage, it became clear we witnessed something great. Everyone who decided to get hammered early clearly missed out. It was so good me and the guy next to me high-fived three times.
After Con Brio and saying goodbye to my new friend, I planned to hit up the BMI stage, but a soulful voice caught my ear. I sauntered to the Bud Light stage to hear Lewis Del Mar, another act I knew nothing about. Though I didn’t like them as much as Con Brio, I did like Danny Miller’s vocals. They were powerful and passionate. Every word hit like he was making a call to arms for a cause. Lewis Del Mar is a folk-pop duo and I recommend checking them out. They won’t get you pumped up or excited like Con Brio, but they have a unique sound that’s worth a listen. I stayed for two songs and left for the BMI stage to catch some of Horse Thief‘s set. They weren’t bad, but a little too soft and dull for my tastes. I dipped out earlier to walk around and see some of the random stands.
There were stalls from Pepsi, Samsung, and Toyota, but none were that interesting. Samsung had a VR experience booth, but I wasn’t sure if you had to pay for it or not. And I didn’t feel like standing in the lengthy line. I did manage to score some from popcorn from Garrett’s, which was amazing. I would’ve paid for it, but free is always the right price. Thanks to the caramel and cheese blend I was ready to head back to the Lakeshore stage to catch some of Saint Motel’s set.
Saint Motel is another band I looked up before the festival and their bouncy, upbeat sound convinced me to check them out. And it seems like I wasn’t wrong. I mean the frontman’s keyboard was shaped like a tiger. What more do you want? When I got to the stage, it was already packed with tons of people. I stood on the sidelines to catch the action instead of pushing to the front. All their songs were energetic, light, and just fun. The crowd was obviously having a good time as they freaked out for every song they played. Though they weren’t my favorite act of the day, I still enjoyed the happy-go-lucky nature of their set. Plus, they did a slick cover of Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady,” which was weird, but delightful.
I left Saint Motel’s set early to get a good spot for The Struts. I knew very little about this band, but when I heard songs like “Put Your Money on Me” and “Kiss This” I knew they were going to have a killer performance. And I was right. They had a ton of energy, sounded great, and Luke Spiller is my new favorite frontman. A combination of Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, he knew how to work the crowd. He easily won everyone over with his insane vocal range, wild moves, and sexy demeanor. Think of a stereotypical 70’s era rockstar and you’ve got Spiller. It was hard not to be infected with his charisma, which is why everyone got down on the floor when he commanded them too. It was thrilling to jump in unison with thousands of other people. There were also great call and response sections where he would scream out “B-b-b-b-b-baby!” and wait for the crowd to sing it back. Plus, he pulled off some sweet costume changes.
What makes songs like “Could Have Been Me” and “Dirty Sexy Money” so infectious is it brings fun back in rock music. The Struts aren’t trying to be introspective or serious; they’re just having a good time. It’s very party-esque, carefree music that just makes you feel good. Their set was a blast and I am now a Struts fan. I was originally torn between seeing them and Modern Baseball. While the latter band sounds good, I think The Struts were far more fun.
Right as their set ended, the sky opened and it rain. Sweet, glorious rain! My entire body was shouting at me to go home. Before I left, I decided to wander around parts of the festival I hadn’t been yet. Leaving the Samsung stage I heard the start of MØ‘s set. I don’t really have a reaction to it since I don’t care for her music. I stopped by the BMI stage once more and caught a bit of Muddy Magnolias. From what I could hear, they sounded pretty good. But this area of the festival seemed largely ignored. I could barely see them on stage since there was no lighting. The sound was also pretty bad. I didn’t stay very long, but someone said they liked my style and gave me a flower! It was a random, yet cool moment.
I missed whoever was on the Pepsi and decided to walk around the Lolla Time Warp. It was lame. It was an empty section of the park with pictures of notable headliners and some old gig posters. It would’ve been cool to have something interactive, like actual videos or anything aside from pictures. Anything else would’ve been better to commemorate 25 years than this. None of the other shops or booths were interesting and the FYE pop-up was over priced.
I headed to Perry’s stage just to see what was going on. What a mistake. It was filled with people everywhere. I could barely move even though I was all the way in the back nowhere near the crowd or the stage. I stood there for a few minutes watching Audien – a pretty standard DJ. But what was freaky were people running to the stage right before the drop. I left before I got trampled.
Tired and achy, I made my way towards the festival gates. I stopped by Buckingham fountain for one more picture and slowly lurched on. There were far more people at this time; they were preparing for the headliners after all. I reached the exit and said bye to Lolla. My first Lolla was a success. I conquered a strange fear; the festival no longer seemed so intimidating. I only wish the booths were more interesting. Riot Fest had some cool exhibits and booths that you didn’t have to pay for. Lolla felt like they only had food and beer, which I wasn’t interested in. I still had a great time, though. There’s something exhilarating about walking around the grounds hearing music drifting through the air. I was happy to be going home; I wanted to take a shower. But part of me wanted to stick around and see what other low key were playing. I wanted to meet more people, maybe make some new friends. But there’s always next year.