Lollapalooza has been many things over its near thirty years, from touring festival to stationary, cancelled & revived, underground to mainstream. Indeed, its changing nature has been key to its longevity, as other festivals stick to their guns and get stuck in the mud, or never happen at all (this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous music festival of all time couldn’t get off the ground). But that very change also brings about criticism, of “not being what it used to be,” “following trends, not starting them,” and generally not being as good as it was when you were younger, even while younger fans are experiencing it for the first time.
The 2019 edition was, in many ways, the most mainstream Lollapalooza ever, the most leaning into today and least into yesterday or tomorrow, from all the Instagram moments to Spotify-ready line-ups. But it was also, in other ways, its most diverse, the lack of a focus becoming the focus itself, a chance to see everyone from celebrity DJs to aging rock stars to internet pop celebrities to crossover cultural phenomena, Thursday-Sunday, August 1st-4th.
The first day of Lollapalooza is usually the lightest, having only been added in 2016 (QRO recap), not even being weekend adjacent. But the festival has been doing a better job of spreading the wealth, and there was much on Thursday that was Lollapalooza ’19 must-see.
One of the things that hasn’t changed about Lollapalooza is the heat, and usually having to see all but the non-headliners under the beating sun. Only the smaller stages have any real shade, the semi-shaded side American Eagle Stage, the small up-and-comers BMI Stage, and the bonus Bud Light Dive Bar. A running promotion that Anheuser-Busch has bringing to festivals starting last year, it’s a tiny faux-dive bar located behind Tito’s Stage that has side-sets by a handful of Lollapalooza performers. It’s also almost completely in the shade, with picnic tables all around (and yes, sells Bud Light). On Thursday, it had an early intimate performance by Win and Woo, who would later headlining the Tito’s Stage next door. “We started in dive bars, so this is appropriate,” one of the DJ duo introduced themselves with, and they drew a healthy (if bro-heavy) crowd that literally shook the stage – a crewmember had to hold down the speakers.
Maybe more than any year before, Lollapalooza ’19 was a chance to see acts who hit it big on the internet and the kids love, but you’ve never heard of and can’t believe people are already singing along. Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers closed their Tito’s Stage set with his hit “Peach Scone”, first by joke-introducing it in his talk about coffee shops always having… apple turnover. After a few faux-namechecks, he finally referenced the titular food, and went into his talk-singing piece. It should be noted that artists with talk-singing hits don’t exactly have lengthy & famed careers – remember King Missile?…
By the middle of Lollapalooza, the heat has gotten to everyone, one’s initial energy has worn off, and it’s easy to question whether you’ll make it to the headliner. That’s why the festival needs energetic middle-to-late-in-the-line-up acts such as Normani, Fitz & The Tantrums, H.E.R., and Hayley Kiyoko. Whether at Lake Shore, Bud Light, T-Mobile, or Lake Shore Stages (respectively), they had the kind of big & bold sounds that worked well in the hot & sweaty part of the festival day. And that was true whether for veterans like The Tantrums (QRO photos at Lollapalooza ‘14) or newer ladies such as Normani, H.E.R. or Kiyoko – indeed, special mention has to be made of Normani & Kiyoko’s killer dancers.
For all the comments on Lollapalooza going Top 40, at least it draws from all the ends of Top 40. Where else are you going to have to choose between Chicago rapper Saba or Ireland troubadour Hozier? While the former brought out his Pivot Gang & Saturday’s Smino for his wild crowd at the American Eagle Stage, the latter on the Lake Shore Stage proved that he has staying power beyond his 2014 breakthrough single “Take Me To Church” – the one that got him impersonated on Saturday Night Live by Kate McKinnon (same Beyoncé & Jay-Z sketch that saw Bon Iver impersonated by Justin Timberlake).
Sometimes, Lollapalooza has booked & scheduled an act nearer the start of the year who got a lot bigger by the middle of it, and was playing too early at the festival for their draw, particularly young ladies who’d gotten big fast – look at Lorde slotted under the hot afternoon sun in 2014 (QRO photos). Thankfully, this year Lolla knew enough to book the big-quick King Princess second-to-last on the day, closing the Lake Shore Stage. With the backdrop of a giant cartoon couch, she played one new song for the only the second time ever, and seemed to appreciate how successful she’s gotten, without letting it faze her.
The Chainsmokers vs. The Strokes. Those were the rival headliners on Day One, and the conflict kind of summed up music today – or at least white people’s music. Do you want to see the highest-paid DJs in the world play the Bud Light Stage (and not Lollapalooza’s usually EDM stage/ghetto, Perry’s Tent), or the band that brought back rock n’ roll at the start of this century/millennium? Do you embrace whatever it is that the kids are listening to today (if not yesterday, and maybe not tomorrow), or do you go for not-that-long ago nostalgia (back when you were a kid)?
The Chainsmokers were obviously the bigger draw, and Lollapalooza basically acknowledged that EDM isn’t a niche genre by putting them on the big stage (if on Thursday). Indeed, playing against The Strokes kind of signaled just how much EDM is on the upswing, rock on the downswing, at least in popular imagination.
But there’s still life in them there guitars, and the boys from New York’s Lower East Side still had a sizable audience as they played more than just the hits – and their hits are more than just debut Is This It. While singer Julian Casablancas’ frontman charisma has dimmed along with his looks, he still had his wry side out, drunken bemusement at how big they are – and how beat-driven acts are passing them by (it would have helped if they had an album more recent than 2013’s Comedown Machine – QRO review). Instead, it was guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. who was the strutting rock star of the night, frequently stealing the spotlight, and generally seeming like the Noel Gallagher to Julian’s Liam. And yes, they did the songs you remember from your last CD or your first iPod, Casablancas even adding “boyfriends” to the “girlfriends, they don’t understand” of the seminal “Last Nite”, and The Strokes encoring with “Hard To Explain”.
As people revved up towards the weekend, on Lollapalooza Friday there was the viral video of a 100+ kids jumping/knocking down the fence to get into the festival, where the only person stopped was a guy with a prosthetic leg. Yet both the festival and the Chicago P.D. were quick to follow-up by announcing that all of those fence-jumpers/breakers were quickly caught inside the festival. And that one guy who was stopped before? He actually ended up getting in, because ’19 artist Rich the Kid got in touch with him online and gave him an artist pass (Rich the Kid himself actually didn’t perform on Friday, his time slot given to Polo G, but was squeezed into the Saturday line-up).
The hot early part of the day at Lollapalooza is when to see the up-and-coming acts, and to see if they’re actually going anywhere. Omar Apollo had a strong crowd for 1:00 PM, when he opened up the second day at the massive Bud Light Stage, as did Boy Pablo right after at Tito’s Stage. The Nude Party have been playing seemingly every festival this summer, and their Cali surf-garage did fit well under the sun at the Lake Shore Stage (bonus points for thanking the techs, “Out all day in the heat, tuning too many guitars.”).
Also just by Lake Michigan, but in the shade on the side of Grant Park, BMI Stage always has at least one act that one figures will return to Lollapalooza to play a bigger stage, like the shiny electro-pop of Against the Current. Right next-door HONNE was doing an acoustic intimate side-session at the Toyota Music Den. A member asked a fan up front who she was psyched to see, she said them, he said, “Not counting us,” so she came back, “No one,” and he laughed and responded, “Right answer, to a trick question.”
If one wanted to see both competing time slot acts DREAMERS and SHAED early on, or just didn’t get to Lollapalooza in time, or just didn’t want to stand under the sun, both artists played their own intimate side-sessions at the Bud Light Dive Bar. There was a full balcony for both danceable acts, who joked about playing the sponsored side stage – but it was #InternationalBeerDay…
You might not have heard of Conan Gray, an “internet personality” (that’s how he’s listed when one Googles him), but your kid sister or niece, or at least her friend, loves the young man, and so did a lot of young women at the Bud Light Stage. A kind of precocious pop star, his set included his YouTube breakthrough “Idle Town”, about him getting out of his “small town” of Georgetown, TX (population: 70,685, and the seventh fastest growing city in the country).
When people complain about Lollapalooza not having the alternative anymore, it’s usually older guys (you can tell because they use the nineties term “alternative”), and they’re not paying attention to all the sad songstresses that the festival books, like Japanese Breakfast at Tito’s Stage. Admittedly, Michelle Zauner did lean into her more sunny indie-pop side at the very sunny stage, but also paid tribute to Chicago by covering local alt-legends Wilco, with “Jesus, Etc.” Meanwhile, Tierra Whack spat rhymes & charmed the American Eagle Stage crowd.
The Bud Light & T-Mobile main stages, at either end of the festival grounds, had some truly odd competing performers on Friday – yet shared a special guest star. First there was Maggie Rogers vs. 21 Savage. Rogers brought really uplifting pop to Bud Light as she played her umpteenth festival this year (QRO photos at a festival two days later), while Savage had exactly the kind of big crowd at T-Mobile that you’d expect for him: wild, who went even more so when Chicago great (and last year’s headliner) Chance the Rapper joined him for “Monster”.
Later on was Death Cab for Cutie vs. Janelle Monáe. Monáe is the kind of performer perfectly suited for Lollapalooza of today, big, energetic pop lady with an incredible stage show at T-Mobile, including so many great dancers. Meanwhile, Death Cab are the kind of successful alt act with a big discography who used to more populate Lollapalooza line-ups, but they still sounded great with their great songs. They did lean more towards their old classics, and weren’t earplug loud like so many ’19 artists, making it the right kind of performance to sit on the grass and watch on the big screen. Indeed, they added the beautiful oldie “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” because a “prominent Chicagoan” had asked them to play it – none other than Chance the Rapper again, who made it over to the Bud Light Stage (imagine the backstage golf cart smuggling him up the festival grounds in secret) to do his “Do You Remember” live for the first time ever (after practicing at the soundcheck to Death Cab’s after-show the night before). Chance just dropped The Big Day, and Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard sang on the song. The crowd went suitably wild for the hometown hero, and the piece sounded great, but DCFC still closed with their own great, “Soul Meets Body”.
If you didn’t want to deal with the massive main stages and the sun beating down, there was Bishop Briggs at the American Eagle Stage. In her return to Lollapalooza, she brought for full church choir, white robes and all, for “Champion”.
The T-Mobile vs. Bud Light headliner conflict on Day Two was Tame Impala vs. Childish Gambino. Tame Impala are massive Aussie psych-rockers who have had astonishing success, even headlining Coachella earlier this year, and even without their usual confetti cannon at Bud Light, they didn’t shirk in the face of the competition. Frontman Kevin Parker dedicated “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” to the recently released A$AP Rocky, saying, “Get home safe, dude.” However, it should be noted that Tame Impala have been headlining a slew of festivals this year (QRO photos headlining an early ’19 festival), and haven’t released a new record since 2015’s Currents. If you haven’t seen them recently, by all means do, but they do need to get back to the studio in order to keep their momentum going.
Meanwhile, there was Childish Gambino, a.k.a. actor/rapper Donald Glover. He set out to make his Lollapalooza headlining set at T-Mobile an event, and certainly did so, fireworks included (though if you only heard them, you might have thought they were gunshots, because that’s what people always say, that gunshots sound like fireworks…). Even right after he asked people to put their phones down, he took time out of his set to take selfies with fans up front. And all the photographers were griping because he didn’t allow anyone with real cameras to shoot him, even from the crowd, because Troy from Greendale Community College has gotten a big head since he went to Atlanta and piloted an early Millennium Falcon.
Also, please make note of Bring Me the Horizon going up against both of those at the smaller American Eagle Stage. If you don’t want to endure the massive headliner crowds, that space under the trees is a great alternative, and Horizon likewise didn’t wilt.
The actual weekend brought the hottest day so far, with less of a breeze off Lake Michigan. Considering the heat wave that had struck much of the United States two weekends before, including cancelling New York’s Ozy Fest (QRO preview of what would have been), one hopes that global warming won’t do in the outdoor music festival. Not the biggest worry about climate change, not by far, but a definite First World Problem that brings it all a little closer to home (like the avocado shortages…).
Under that sun were the smooth, sweet sounds of Men I Trust at the Lake Shore Stage. They are a fast-rising female fronted act at a festival that had a lot of them. It’s long been the case that music festivals tilt XY (just look at the line-ups of the supposedly forward-thinking nineties Lollapalooza…), but perhaps the music industry is finally giving up the idea that, while women will listen to male act, men won’t listen to female ones. It’s a fallacy across the entertainment industry (has been holding back female movie stars for generations), but it’s never been less true than it is today, a credit to the open-minded & much-derided millennials. Just look at the gender diverse crowd for Bea Miller (the American Eagle Stage’s shade did help, something else with universal appeal), who brought her great girl power, including talking about “rubbing one out” and being called a slut, to great cheers.
While Fantastic Negrito brought the funky to Tito’s Stage, Aaron Aye was rapping all over the Bud Light Dive Bar, including calling himself, “The greatest since ’96,” presumably when he was born, making him younger than Lollapalooza itself.
Unless you’re the headliner, your festival set is going to be shorter than a usual gig, so it’s often tough to pick what to play. But you’re also playing in front of lots of people who don’t know your music, don’t even know who you are, so it’s still a good idea to slip in a sweet cover. Mondo Cozmo got bonus points at the T-Mobile Stage for covering “Spread Your Love Like a Fever” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the kind of band that used to play Lollapalooza, while at American Eagle Stage the charming Jade Bird did The Bangles’ eighties pop classic, “Walk Like an Egyptian”.
After the Bad Suns brought their upbeat guitar pop under the hot sun of the Bud Light Stage, nearby St. Louis’ Smino brought out the most versatile Lollapalooza ’19 attendee, Chance the Rapper, for yet another guest spot, doing “Eternal” at Tito’s Stage. Less impressive very local was BJ the Chicago Kid, who was going to be a big draw at the small Bud Light Dive Bar, but hadn’t begun by a half-hour after his scheduled start time, because no one told the Kid that it’s a dive bar and the sound isn’t going to be perfect. Though people definitely left because of the delay, he did eventually go on to a good crowd at the small space (including his own cousins, because BJ’s so local he’s got Chi-Town right in his name), which had a sing-along to his “Church”.
Also doing favorites was 6LACK at the Bud Light Stage, such as Grammy-nominated “PRBLMS” and “Pretty Light Fears”, while the new Yaeji played the American Eagle Stage. Meanwhile, everything was of course crazy when Lil Wayne hit the T-Mobile Stage (at least he appeared & played a full set, unlike some other times), where the original ‘Lil’ did a remix of Lil Nas X’s crossover hit “Old Town Road”.
Standing out on the Lollapalooza ’19 line-up was Tenacious D, because The D always stand out. Jack Black & Kyle Gass, or JB & KG, or Hollywood Jack & Rage Kage put out their animated rock opera Post-Apocalypto (QRO review) last year, and had been touring doing the whole album while behind a projection sheet (QRO live review of first Apocalypto show). They obviously couldn’t do that at a festival, so just started with a few from that record, before going into the way back machine for earlier D greats like “Pick of Destiny”, “Low Hanging Fruit”, “Roadie” (dedicated to their own, who got to bow at the end of the song), and more. They danced to a “sax-a-boom,” got the crowd to chant, “When I say ‘Chi-Town,’ you say, ‘D’!” (then admitting that it didn’t make any sense), and battled their devil-possessed guitarist, pointed out that they’re one of only five rockers to beat Satan (Robert Johnson in “Crossroad”, Ralph Macchio in the movie Crossroads, Jimmy Page, Charlie Daniels in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, and The D – “Five-finger death punch of rock!”). Kyle quit the band, only to be brought back by Jack in “Dude, I Totally Miss You”, and they ended with original classics “Tribute” and “Hard Fucking” – and yet another bow.
[special note needs to be made of the active sign language interpreters at Lollapalooza 2019. A regular for a few years now, one stands on a side platform and not only does the sign language & lips of the lyrics, but does the music as well, including drums, bass, and guitar. If you’re one to sneak up the side of the crowd to see a band on a big stage by the side, they might be very prominent in your eye line – same with the guy on the video camera, or the guy spooling the camera’s cord that is just standing there, right between you & Jack Black, oblivious to all the people he’s blocking, when he could at least kneel. Unlike that guy, the active interpreters are great fun to watch, giving it their all & knowing the songs; indeed, each one has to switch out multiple times in a performance, because they get tired, but are usually a punk rock girl with a mohawk. And they were never better than during Tenacious D, from using the ‘devil horns’ hand symbol for “rock” (a word The D use a lot) to miming the “hard fucking”…]
In 2015, Twenty One Pilots played the main Samsung Galaxy Stage at Lollapalooza (QRO photos), as the act before the headlining act there (Florence & The Machine). In 2019, Twenty One Pilots headlined the now-T-Mobile Stage (Samsung’s brand has been blown up since then…), still wearing their skeleton shirts. Whatever you think of them, Twenty One Pilots put on a show, including the drummer appearing in the middle of the crowd during the performance. And they’re still more Strokes than Chainsmokers. Plus they just had QRO favorite Bear Hands (QRO spotlight on) open for them on tour, which earns major bonus points.
The final day of Lollapalooza was overshadowed by the tragic mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. Even for all of the talk of America becoming numb to mass shootings, two together hit hard. At Lollapalooza, the idea of a mass shooting at the mass festival comes right to the fore of one’s mind, particularly after both the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting a week ago, and particularly the shooting two years ago at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas – and word that that shooter had initially planned on targeting Lollapalooza, but couldn’t get a hotel room that looked out over Grant Park. Country star Kacey Musgraves spoke out about the issue on Sunday at Lollapalooza, thanking the crowd for braving to go to a music festival, and urged the crowd to yell, “Somebody fucking do something!”
Also on Sunday, a twenty-four-year-old Lollapalooza attendee collapsed at the festival and was taken to hospital, where he died, the second year in a row that a Lollapalooza attendee has died.
A more sedate final day of Lollapalooza saw young Ryan Beatty at Bud Light Stage and (Sandy) Alex G sing through his clenched teeth at the Lake Shore Stage; the parenthesized Frank Ocean guitarist has new album House of Sugar coming out next month. Meanwhile, there were the smooth sound of NoMBe at a shady & packed Bud Light Dive Bar, with the performer going through the crowd to stand on the back bar, then back into the crowd, as his set’s end.
The American Eagle Stage saw the excitable Aussie pop of G Flip asking, “Why am I always acting stupid?” from her new song “Stupid”, and her own album About Us out at the end of August. Illiterate Light at the BMI Stage brought the guitar-and-drums rock duo to Lollapalooza, including the drummer right up front.
There was another internet star you’ve never heard of, but the kids most definitely have, at Lollapalooza ’19 in Joji. Once upon a time YouTube star ‘Filthy Frank’, he had a massive crowd at Lake Shore Stage for still in the hot afternoon, singing along from the start. Coming home was Chicago’s own DJ duo Louis the Child at the Bud Light Stage, though by this point, the young pair are old enough that their hometown high school buddies have graduated college & moved back in with their parents like every other millennial. T-Mobile Stage saw the nice country twang, without being too country, of The Revivalists, who dedicated a song to their long-time fans (because they ain’t some Gen Z internet personality…).
If Sharon Van Etten didn’t have as big an audience as Joji had at the Lake Shore Stage, it was still a respectable turnout for an artist more in line with older Lollapalooza, and years away from being the Brooklyn ‘it girl’ (as well as miles, as she recently moved to Los Angeles and even starred in Netflix cult series The OA). Playing off of this year’s wonderful Remind Me Tomorrow (QRO review), she not only rocked great songs like “Seventeen”, but even the wind chimes.
While the ‘rapper in jail’ controversy at the moment was A$AP Rocky in Sweden, it’s a bigger celebration that Meek Mill was playing the Bud Light Stage. He’d been in jail or on parole his whole adult life, but between recent overdue criminal justice reforms and his own high-profile advocates, he was able to travel outside of Pennsylvania to perform at Lollapalooza. He in particular paid tribute to those who were lost recently, including Nipsey Hussle, XXXTentacion, Lil Snoop, and Mac Miller.
A performer more in line with the smaller Midwestern city hard rock festivals was Slash featuring Miles Kennedy & The Conspirators on the Lake Shore Stage. But this is Slash, and you’ve always respected Slash, you’ve always wanted to see Slash, and this was your chance to without having to pay for Guns n’ Roses tickets. The seminal guitar god with the possibly the greatest one-name ever (sorry Bono & Madonna, but you don’t have your own key on the keyboard…), he most definitely can still shred & wail. And special props to Miles Kennedy – it’s a tough job being the singer for a guitarist-fronted act, but Kennedy did his best as semi-frontman.
Ariana Grande closed out Lollapalooza ’19 at the T-Mobile Stage, because this is the world we live in today (earlier this year, Miley Cyrus played Barcelona’s supremely artistic Primavera Sound – QRO recap). Were there people scoffing (and not just the photographers, who were all pissed because none of them were allowed to even look at the mega pop star)? Sure, but she had a giant crowd filling all the way up to the side stairs of the main stage. And Grande brought her full show, including expert dancers.
But if you wanted old school Lollapalooza, none other than founder Perry Farrell closed out the American Eagle Stage (note that he didn’t play his eponymous ‘Perry’s Tent’, because he reportedly doesn’t think much of the EDM acts that play there– indeed, a an act that would have fit Perry’s, electronic Flume act, closed out the Bud Light Stage in the unenviable task of headlining against Grande). The lead singer of Jane’s Addiction & more recently released his first solo album, Kind Heaven (QRO review), and brought his ‘Kind Heaven Orchestra’ to his festival. Farrell also played a surprise early set by Buckingham Fountain – hopefully the kids there knew who he was & what he’s done.
Lollapalooza was never going to be like it was, but nothing is in this new millennium. But it has become what it is now, a giant festival drawing from all four corners of the musical world. It’s also super-professional, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. One can see all sorts of acts, and some of the strangest overlaps, all just an L ride away from home (or your Airbnb).
-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Andreas Braz