Lollapalooza – August 2009
Close your eyes. Imagine standing outside, a driving rain hitting your face as you look up to the sky. You look down and see your favorite pair of Chucks covered in mud. The used to be blue, didn’t they? As the rain continues you bob & weave as you walk from one end of Grant Park to the other. Welcome to Lollapalooza 2009.
This is my second visit to this Chicago-based festival. I’m afraid to say that I’m old enough to have attended this festival when it was a traveling tour. As festivals go, this is one of the top three in the US. The organizers do a nice job of utilizing the massive space of the lakefront park. The two main stages are located almost a mile away from one another – although when walking in the rain and trying to avoid the massive puddles and drunk hipsters it seems more like 5 miles.
OK, so I’ve had better festival experiences than I had this weekend. Something was missing for me here. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Somehow the festival lacked a certain energy. Don’t get me wrong, there was certainly a lot of energy and excitement in the crowd but I couldn’t help but to get the feeling that the special nature of the music festival is losing a bit of steam. I saw some great bands and I heard some good (and not so good) music this past weekend. When I wasn’t trying to navigate my way to one of the stages through the VIP tents, the merchandise tents, the beer lines, lines for free water, and the general traffic jams that are customary with these kinds of events. Maybe I am just getting old. It’s a definite possibility.
Chicago doesn’t have the same requirements on their cabbies as cities like NYC have. In NYC or London you can name almost any street and they will get you there right away. In Chicago, when you ask to be dropped off at Grant Park, our cabbie told us he didn’t know where it was. Grant Park. Um, it sits on that big lake just over there. You do know there is a lake here, right? He looked at us with a blank look and said he didn’t know where it was. So, after a short ride and a stop at a red light, we jumped out and started walking. I travel quite a bit. I know that a lot of places count on the dollars from business travelers, conventions, festivals, and other tourist related activities. If I were you, I’d teach your cabbies how to get around your beautiful town. I’ve always thought that Chicago was a nice place. It is beautiful, especially in the summer. I do think however that it has a bit of a chip on its shoulder that it isn’t as cool as NYC, LA, San Fran, Boston, or a few other places. OK, back to the music……
The musical highlight of the weekend for me was the Saturday afternoon set delivered by Gomez. They started off a little slow with a few sound problems. Once they got a song or two into their hour long set and their sound team adjusted a few things it all fell into place. These guys are still considered by some to be one of the best mid-sized bands out there. I saw them years ago at Music Midtown in Atlanta. I believe it was their first visit to the states. They’ve come along way since then. These guys are on the verge of the next level, I think. They’ve put in the time on the road, built a fan base, and their music is interesting.
Other highlights for me included Fleet Foxes, Santigold, and Arctic Monkeys. These three artists are a great example of some of the outstanding music that is out there right now. Santigold (formerly Santogold) is in a class of her own. She brings a style and energy to the stage that’s unique. Fleet Foxes, one of the bands changing the scene in Seattle, were also solid. The Pacific Northwest music scene is thriving. I also picked up a bit of the Decemberists set. In my mind, they are the crème of the crop coming out of the PNW.
The Arctic Monkeys blew me away. These guys stepped up and delivered a good old fashioned rock show. These guys are young. They have an edge. They’ve channeled their youthful energy, angst, and anger into their music. These guys are for real and have a bright future as long as they keep their eye on the prize. Too many of these bands these days burn out too quickly. They put out a good record, begin to believe the reviews, party their brains out, and then fail to remember what got them there to begin with – the music.
For some reason though, I think these guys are going to be around for a while. They are the real deal.
The best part of the weekend for me was seeing Tool. I know very little about them. I’ve heard their music along the way but have never had the opportunity or desire to see them live. Had they not been playing Lollapalooza this weekend I’m sure I would have never seen them. These guys are a big-time rock band. Their set was powerful and their fans enjoyed every last minute of the show. Their video show was deeply disturbing. I have no idea who did it for them or what the hell they were thinking when they created it. This stuff is simply disturbing. Having said that, it all worked so well together. It was exactly what it was supposed to be. I don’t understand it, but I loved it.
The most disappointing performance of the weekend for me was Depeche Mode. Full disclosure, I never liked these guys to begin with. I am a child of the 70’s, graduated high school in the early 80’s, and was in my final year of college as these guys started to dominate their space in clubs all over the world. I was always more of a jeans and t-shirt guy, hanging out at the local dive bar drinking beer from a can. These guys come from a different place. Their set was boring. It had no energy. The guys in the band seemed old and trying to act young. I was standing in one of the VIP Cabanas during the show, after a full day in the mud and rain. I decided to go with the crowd and forego the Kings of Leon show at the other end of the park. So, I stood there and watched Depeche Mode’s set. Shoot me dead if I ever have to watch another one of their shows. As far as I am concerned these guys need to go away.
Music can unite us. Music separates us, makes us into individuals at the same time it makes us a part of something bigger than ourselves. Music is subjective. One person’s favorite concert is another’s worst ever. That’s a beautiful thing. Standing in the mud, feeling the rain hit my face, bobbing and weaving to avoid the masses, I was reminded why I love music so much – even when I hate it at the same time. I have my fingers crossed that the music festival scene doesn’t lose the magic. There need to be fewer of them. They need to be special again. Each of them need to maintain their own sense of identity.
A parting thought – I plead to the festival organizers – keep these things alive and fun. Celebrate the sense of freedom. Fire your jack-ass, power tripping, walkie-talkie wearing manager of the merchandise tent who was an absolute jerk to a group of us when trying to buy a hat. Whether or not he was right or wrong, he didn’t need to be such a jerk. As someone who manages a fairly large marketing budget , and spends a great deal of it to support the music world, I can tell you that dollars coming your way will dry up if your people keep biting some of the hands that feed the process. There’s at least one in every crowd, I realize that. Just ask your people to treat the fans with a little more respect than they treated a few of the sponsors.
Be nice. Remember why we came to begin with. We came to escape. We came to belong. We came to experience. We came to be free. We came to let go. We came for fun. We came to be with our friends. We came to meet new ones. We came for the music. We came because we love it more than anything else. When we come, we bring our hard earned money with us. In case you’ve missed the recent news reports, a lot of us don’t have as much money as we once had. So, our dollars are precious. We spend them on things that will help us forget. We spend them on things that will inspire us. We spend them on things that will transport us, physically, spiritually, and mentally.
We come because we want to hear the music. We come because we want to feel the music. We want you to remember these things. We thank you for creating the space and providing the experience. We ask that you don’t ever forget why we come. Please keep these things in mind as you calculate your wins and losses from the weekend.
If you forget why we come, we’ll stop coming.