First, the unsurprising news. There were a lot of Caucasians at Lollapalooza. A LOT of Caucasians. I did notice one African-American, but he was wearing a Steely Dan t-shirt, so I’m not sure if he counts. Attendees were mostly young (late teens to early 20s) and skinny and full of enthusiasm that could only be adequately expressed with shouting. In the 22 years since the first Lolla, the festival is still providing ample incentive for white guy “whoo-hooing.”
The costumes at this year’s event are worth noting. (Worn by the audience, not the performers.) I noticed a significant percentage of attendees wearing headbands, which gave a certain “Let’s Get Physical” vibe to the proceedings. Also, sailor hats. There were numerous women in sailor hats. Because…. I really don’t know. Girls today fetishize Popeye? A teenager I spoke with (let’s call him “Spencer”) was more distressed by the staggering number of tube-tops on his fellow festival-goers, both on women and men. But we both agreed that the single most egregious fashion staple at Lollapalooza 2013 were the exposed female abdomens. There were a lot of bellies in Grant Park, and those bellies were shared with extreme prejudice.
As an experiment, I counted every navel I saw at Lolla in a 20 minute period, somewhere around 6pm on Sunday. I counted exactly 134 navels. That breaks down to approximately 6.7 belly buttons per minute. That’s a fucking lot of navels. If that’s an average for the festival, and let’s assume it is, if you had a three-day pass and were at Grant Park each day, from noon to ten P.M., you could have potentially seen 12,060 navels. And that’s not including after-parties and secret shows around town.
Forget the bands. That’s what you missed if you weren’t at Lollapalooza this year. You missed a fucking blitzkrieg of 20 year-old pierced belly buttons.
I was pretty cynical going in about the food and drink options at Lolla, but I was mostly pleasantly surprised. Beers were between $6 and $8, so pretty much exactly what beer costs in any Chicago restaurant or non-dive bar. The food was also reasonably priced, given the location. My only complaint is with some of the name choices. Most glaringly, the “Big A$$ Brat” for $8. Why the unnecessary dollar signs? Are you trying to make us think of Ke$ha? Because that’s just a terrible idea when naming food. The last thing I want in my brain as I’m about to fill my mouth with phallic meat is Ke$ha.
Here’s a tip if you’re planning to visit Lollapalooza next year. Bring your own allergy medicine. I was at the Kill the Noise set, which was kinda awesome, if you love Dubstep and skinny white guys with unblinking eyes who really, really, really want to push and be pushed. The latter of which kicked up a lot of dust. Like a ridiculous amount of dust. So much dust that at one point I was like, “Hey, Gary Sinise, enough with the Dust Bowl, dude,” which didn’t go over so well. I guess people who like Dubstep don’t also enjoy Grapes of Wrath references.
Anyway, the dust was so thick that it made my allergies start acting up. So I went to the Lolla gift shop and I was like, “Do you have Claritin?” And the guy behind the counter said no. So I was like, “How about Benadryl?” And he’s like, “No, we’ve got t-shirts.” And then he just stared at me, and his expression was like, “You’re too old to be at this festival, old man.” And I stared back at him with an expression that was like, “I’m too old? Nine Inch Nails is headlining this fucking festival, and Trent Reznor is 48. He’s way older than me. You’re telling me Trent Reznor has to bring his own Benadryl for his allergies? Which I know he has because all guys in their 40s have allergies, or at least sneeze a lot when there’s too much dust.” And the counter guy didn’t say anything, because he knew I had a point.
I have another costume question. I made it to the SKATERS show just in time for their final song. I’d heard them compared to the Strokes in their prime, so I definitely wanted to check them out. They were playing “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which was kinda cool, but nothing about it reminded me of the Strokes. Maybe that was the non-Strokes portion of their set? Or the “let’s try to sound like the Offspring trying to prove their punk street cred but not doing a very good job of it” encore? Anyway, I noticed in the crowd not one, not two, but three different guys wearing horse masks. Is that a thing now? Is it something that happens exclusively at SKATERS shows, because I didn’t see horse-men anywhere else at Lolla? Is this like one of those planking things where kids take pictures of themselves being delightfully irreverent and then post them on Twitter? Or is like an Equus fad, because kids today are like “Peter Shaffer plays are the bomb, yo! Who in the house gonna fuck a horse tonight? Holla!”
I didn’t ask. I’d already made an ass of myself by bringing up John Steinbeck to guys with glitter in their hair. NEVER AGAIN!
If you’re at Lolla and happen to get one of those “Artist Guest” wristbands, which gives you access to the artist lounge areas, don’t get too excited. Yes, there’s a lot of free booze and food, and yes, you are rubbing shoulders with actual Lollapalooza musicians, or people sleeping with Lollapalooza musicians, or people to whom Lollapalooza musicians owe favors. But it’s not as cool as you think. Because you’re sitting there the whole time thinking, “Is that one of the guys from Vampire Weekend?” And the realize that when they’re not onstage, most people in popular or semi-popular bands don’t have distinguishing features. If Matt Berninger walked in the room, sure, I’d recognize him. But the rest of the National? There’s very little aesthetic difference between one of the Dessner or Devendorf brothers and somebody I’d see at Target and think, “Did I go to college with that guy?”
Also, during the hour that I drank free booze in the artist lounge, a shirtless dude who looked like Henry Rollins emptied the porta potties with an industrial hose, which vibrated furiously from all the indie-rock poop. This all took place just over seven feet away from me, as I sipped on Bud Lights and frozen bananas and sat next to a guy I’m 50% sure was either a Killer or a Lumineer.
I was only at the festival for one day, so I missed a lot. But it’s amazing what you can learn by standing dangerously close to 20-something girls and pretending to text while you’re actually eavesdropping on them as they jabber about what they’ve seen and heard. This is how I learned that a guy in a wheelchair was crowdsurfing at the 2 Chainz set. And that one of the guys from the Postal Service looks like this girl Amy’s dad. Tera and Sara gave a great show, and they may be lesbians, or possibly sisters, nobody knows. There was some debate about whether to see Reignwolf, a blues guitarist from Canada, because this cute guy Tory said it was totally worth it, which led to a discussion about whether Reignwolf is black. I mean, he plays blues guitar, so he’s probably black, but he’s also from Canada, and they were pretty sure Canada doesn’t have any black people. Also, Amanda has been such a slutbag lately. What the fuck is wrong with her? Stupid slut.
Amanda, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
Lollapalooza is about choices. Painful, soul-searching choices that reveal more about your true nature than you likely wanted to know. For example, the Sunday night options included three very different acts, which I wanted to see for three very different reasons. First there was the Cure, a band I love because I grew up listening to them in high school, and their music still reminds me of being a virginal teenager full of poetic anxiety, and for some reason that makes me nostalgic. (Just wait till you get to 40! You’ll see! You’ll see!!!) The second option was Cat Power, an artist I pretended to love in the mid-aughts but if I’m being honest I couldn’t even name one of her songs. The third option was Phoenix, a band I was told by no less than three teenagers is hands-down the best act of the festival, but I’ve never heard of them. So what do I choose? The band I loved in high school, the artist I pretended to love eight years ago because I thought it gave me indie credibility, or the band I didn’t know existed until five minutes ago, but people with fathers in my age range say they’re cool?
I went with the Cure. And I stand by that decision. Not just because they were amazing, and not just because it was cathartic to stand in a crowd of several thousand strangers and have a very personal musical experience. And not just because seeing how old and puffy Robert Smith has gotten is weirdly comforting. (Right on, Robert! Me too!)
It was the right choice because it reminded me how music – good music, anyway — changes with context. When they played “Just Like Heaven,” it’s a completely different song now. It sounds the same, sure, but the lyrics feel different. A beautiful waif-like emo boy in his 20s singing lines like “Found myself alone, alone, alone above a raging sea” is very different from a pudgy man wearing makeup in his 50s singing those exact same lines. The old man version is sadder, like he’s being wistful for his youth or a dead partner. “Stole the only girl I loved/ And drowned her deep inside of me.” A 20 year-old sings that and it’s romantic. “Aw, he’s got a crush on a girl.” A 50 year-old sings it and it’s tragic. “Aw, he’s probably a widower.”
That may be why Lollapalooza keeps surviving. It’s still terrible, and people avoid it for many good reasons, like the allergy-irritating dust, and the Big A$$ Brats, and the kids in horse masks and tube tops and sailor hats, and Amanda being such a slutbag. (Enough, Amanda!) But if you’re patient enough and you walk to enough stages and hold your ground among the sweaty, pushy throngs, you just might find something that changes the way you think about music.
Or as more than a few people I couldn’t avoid yesterday put it much more eloquently: “Whoo-hooooooooooo!”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MTVHive.com.)