Last year just before the end of Lollapalooza (QRO ’22 recap) Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the festival and the city had signed a new ten-year lease, ensuring the massive musical event’s continued future (not so much a future for the Lightfoot as mayor, however…). Coming out of COVID, there was naturally a question as to whether big music festivals still had, their very size working against them in terms of being able to pull it off again. Yet Lolla has not only survived but thrived, and returned to downtown Grant Park, Thursday-Sunday, August 3rd-6th.
Of course, in 2023 it did have to deal with the weather, in twin threats: heat on the weekdays, rain on the weekends. This first weekend in August was coming off the hottest July ever, the hottest month ever, at least in records, probably since the dawn of humanity. Yet it wasn’t the crushing heat that has ruined many a festival (and even spawned some post-failure documentaries…), and Lollapalooza was certainly prepared with more hydration than you could shake a firehose at, from hydration stations to fill up your water bottle for free to the classy Hendrick’s Gin Grand Garden Bar where you feel like you were in Bridgerton while fanning yourself with their branded hand fans.
Saturday did experience the rain, though never bad enough to cancel a set or force an evacuation (like had happened just two weekends ago in Chicago at Pitchfork Festival – QRO photos). The most notable effect was the mud, particularly on the slippery hillsides & steps near the T-Mobile & Bud Light Stages. So maybe your festival outfit was ruined (hip look this year for women seemed to be bikini/bra/etc. top, but baggy pants/shorts – you could handle the heat, bring the heat, yet still sit on the ground or even the L train…), but hardly crushing.
When Lollapalooza original expanded to four days back in 2016 (QRO recap), the added Thursday was the lightest of the festival, as is usual when a festival expands. Many questioned whether a fourth day would work, noting that Lolla didn’t go the ‘two weekends of essentially the same line-up’ route of fellow fest giants Coachella and Austin City Limits. However, those questioning times are gone-by, as by now Thursday in Grant Park is as big as any day there, from massive headliners to strong undercards.
And Lollapalooza also manages to still be a great place to make new finds. Take Lovejoy, who played the main T-Mobile Stage under the hot afternoon sun, but the charming Brits managed to have their own nice young crowd (glad to see that the kids still like guitars). And bonus points for “Consequences” and it’s chorus line of, “What’s this / The consequence of my own actions?…” Of course, not ever find was so good, such as the cock-thrusting bro-metal of Austin Meade at the BMI Stage.
Meanwhile, other artists were doing new things with styles you might thought had gotten a bit stale. Joy Oladokun mixed R&B and more (including queer woman of color perspective) into her folk-rock at the Bud Light Stage, followed there later by the compelling electro-dance that is Sofi Tukker – the kind of EDM duo who play instruments, yet also have dancers and a jungle gym set, and do a “Summer In New York” that samples none other than Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” (note: there was also a cover of “Barbie Girl”, because we’re living in a Barbie world…). Over at the Coinbase Stage, Rema brought a Latin, even Asian mix to his rhymes.
There are those who love the EDM Perry’s Tent; there are those who can’t stand it. But it’s worth checking out even if you usually hate DJs. On Thursday there was Australian sensation Timmy Trumpet who, yes, played the trumpet – of course by not only standing on his decks, but had sparks fly out (but where’s Edwin Diaz?…). Meanwhile, Dom Dolla brought out special surprise guest Nelly Furtado to big cheers, and for more than just one song like a special guest usually does (can’t clip her wings, as she’s “Like a Bird”…).
The penultimate T-Mobile Stage artist this day was Portugal. The Man, who are on tour behind their new Chris Black Changed My Life (QRO review). They got a win for widest-ranging intro, as they started with local Native American woman, who encouraged the crowd to praise the air, water, and earth around them. Then there was a video introduction by none other than Beavis & Butthead, who called the group, “Even better than Silverchair” (admittedly the latter is a video they’ve been using for a few years now, but you would use it all the time too if you had it…). While their brand of psych-rock isn’t the most experimental, they do bring both styles to even a more mainstream pop festival like Lollapalooza, from segueing into Nirvana’s “In Bloom” to closing with their still-killer hit “Feel It Still”.
Oh, and there was even a place for country at Lollapalooza – and not some Red State backlash new country written by someone else, but some actual blue collar hard work with Lainey Wilson at the Coinbase Stage. And the festival had its first Latina headliner on the Bud Light Stage with Karol G.
But you and those girls you saw at the fest came to Grant Park for Billie Eilish headlining the T-Mobile Stage. It’s kind of amazing how big and how fast she’s not only gotten but stayed, with not even her stadium tour being canceled by COVID slowing her down (it later resumed, even bigger). She’s done a Bond song, and now she’s done a Barbie song, “What Was I Made For?”, which she debuted at Lollapalooza – the exact kind of event you come to a major festival for. But she also did intimate, acoustic work on the long stage plank there for her and brother/bandmate Finneas (and QRO can always say we saw her intimate a whole five years ago, before her first Lollapalooza – QRO close-up photos).
-words: Ted Chase
-photos by Pooneh Ghana, Miranda McDonald, Ismael Quintalla III, Taylor Regulski, and Nathan Zucker courtesy of Lollapalooza, save BMI photos by Erika Goldring courtesy of BMI, and Hendrick’s Gin courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin