Lollapalooza 2023 Recap

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...
Lollapalooza 2023
Lollapalooza 2023
Lollapalooza 2023

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.

Hendrick’s Gin

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.

Lollapalooza 2023 - Day One Recap

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.

Austin Meade

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.

Nelly Furtado
Dom Dolla & Nelly Furtado

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”.

Karol G

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.

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish

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).

Finneas & Billie

Lollapalooza 2023 - Day Two Recap
Sudan Archives

Lollapalooza has been criticized (usually by old fogies who still remember when it was a traveling festival) for hewing too much to the mainstream, focusing on the most popular styles to sell all those tickets. Yet Sudan Archives rocked her violin on the T-Mobile Stage, while there was actual punk from Japan’s Band-Maid on the Coinbase Stage. They and Ekkstacy at the Bud Light Stage gave punk a younger edge, showing that it’s not dead, while Sueco announced defiantly at his Bacardí Stage set, “Hold on a second! You thought you could go to a Sueco show and not get in the pit?!? Open that shit up, both sides!” (he later crowd-surfed on a board).

Emo Nite

Since long before EDM was a thing, DJs were themselves criticized for just playing other people’s hits, but it might as well be Emo Nite “calling a cab” at Perry’s Tent. Though one wonders if any of Chicago’s finest there as extra security took note of the new, unintentional, subversive meaning The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” has taken on in recent years…

Isabel Larosa
Sabrina Carpenter

It’s 2023, so you knew there was gonna be some sad girl music at Lollapalooza! beabadoobee played her sad girl pop-rock for the happy ladies at Tito’s Bandshell (yes, there were also some XY, but yes, it was mostly XX…). At the small bonus set Toyota Den, Isabel Larosa celebrated playing her first huge festival with an excited crowd that knew all the young artist’s songs. Meanwhile, and the shady, smaller, hidden gem BMI Stage, Charlotte Sands had a rocking, enthusiastic emo-rock set that was as active as anything on one of the main stage. And Sabrina Carpenter had her own massive crowd at Coinbase Stage, where she advocated for all those who have been sued – and all the sluts out there. “How slutty is Chicago?” was asked to raucous cheers.

Charlotte Sands

Sometimes DJs can light up at a non-exclusively-EDM festival, and sometimes not. You wanted to see Diesel, a.k.a. the Round Mound of Rebound Shaq, do a DJ set, but he was a little too removed from the crowd at Perry’s Tent, not able to full appreciate the signature personality (he did later get up close with the fans – and the Active Sign Language interpreter). And god bless Ninajirachi for doing the ‘last Tito’s Bandshell DJ slot’ – for some scheduling reason, every year, every day, that last performance before the nearby Bud Light Stage headliner is filled with a DJ, but she was doing her best. At least Subtronics were able to bring their big EDM show to headline Perry’s.

Thirty Seconds To Mars

It’s easy & fun to make fun of Jared Leto. He seemingly takes himself so seriously that you can imagine it hurts, but he’s also so successful, attractive, and even a good actor that it can’t hurt that much. His faux-weird persona gives plenty of material to work with. He gave us “Morbin’ Time”. And his Thirty Seconds To Mars can seem like a celebrity vanity project, with the rest of the band in the shadow of his Jesus pose (“I’m the Jared Leto to you the rest of Thirty Seconds To Mars” Hollywood Jack once said to his Tenacious counterpart of lesser renown Rage Cage).

Jared Leto

Yet the man knows how to put on a show. He invited fans up multiple times, including to intentionally dance badly, and demanded fans on shoulders. He even brought back photographers (usually actors-as-musicians are too scarred by paparazzi to be friendly to concert photogs) – and then invited them on stage! It all culminated in him crossing the mid-stage grounds divider and going all the way over to the soundboard at the other end of the crowd, and climbing the tent atop it (great work by the drone cameraman to boot). He even opened up his own pit. And his brother/drummer Shannon Leto made every Rage Cage proud. It was Morbin’ Time.

Kendrick Lamar

The headliners were interestingly divided: The pop-rock of The 1975 over at the Bud Light Stage, and Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar at T-Mobile. Instead of doing the big production that headline slots by massive stars at massive festivals are known for at this point, Lamar went more restrained, which only highlighted both his music and what production there was (such as dance crews playing out his verses of “Money Trees”).

The 1975

Meanwhile, 1975 frontman Matt Healy has been getting more known for controversies than his band’s music this year, from his break-up with the last star anyone should ever break-up with, Taylor Swift, to getting called out by Noel Gallagher after Healy said the ever-feuding Gallagher brothers should get Oasis back together, not to mention the more serious issue of his anti-Asian micro-aggressions to causing a Malaysian music festival to be cancelled due to him kissing a male bandmate in protest at the country’s anti-LGTBQ laws (he’s since been sued by local acts who never got to play). Yet at Lollapalooza he was nothing but professional, his biggest emotion being his regular jump into the crowd that this time included a hug with blink-182’s Tom DeLonge. “We’re unified by the things we don’t like, and yet look, there’s hundreds of thousands of people unified by what they do like!”

Matt Healy

Lollapalooza 2023 - Day Three Recap
Arcy Drive

And in the end, the rain came down on Saturday. While hardly a deluge, and a break from the heat, the showers may have ended in the afternoon, but the overcasts skies and muddy grounds continued for the rest of Lollapalooza. This didn’t stop Arcy Drive from having fun, both at BMI Stage (where they finished their set list early, so added two more on the fly) and Toyota Music Den, with some aughts indie feel.

Danielle Ponder

The BMI Stage did well throughout Lollapalooza – being the only fully-shaded stage was an advantage in both the heat and the rain. Yes, you’ve probably never heard of any of the acts, and likely never will again for most, but one or two will have a career or even become Lady Gaga. Other acts there included the emo-indie of Windser, the revival of Danielle Ponder, and the soulful Ari Abdul.

Ari Abdul
Suki Waterhouse

Earlier in the day was another soulful artist in Tom Odell, even when just solo on piano up on the big Bud Light Stage (plus the Active Sign Language interpreter, always great with any act). Early at the Bacardí Stage, the rising Mavi was a strong hip-hop presence, while later the risen model-actress-musician Suki Waterhouse had a huge crowd, Morgan Wade brought country sounds, and Alex G brought modern indie-rock.

Sylvan Esso

One issue with festivals and their big headliners is there are often fans of that headliner camped out at the front of the stage, who might be something less than receptive to the other artists playing that stage before. Yet the Tomorrow x Together army who’d camped out before doors even opened to get front row were nothing if not excited for Sylvan Esso at the Bud Light Stage – but that duo’s electro-pop never stops starting.

The Revivalists

There are some styles & artists who are going to work at any festival. The soul-jam revival of The Revivalists works well anywhere, including at the T-Mobile Stage behind their new Pour It Out Into the Night (QRO review). Meanwhile, there was no one who couldn’t be charmed by Maggie Rogers at the Bud Light Stage, and her super excitement at playing there.

Maggie Rogers
Tomorrow x Together

The headlining situation on Saturday was a bit strange. Tomorrow x Together was the clear big draw, the K-pop boy band the latest to conquer the States (which started last year when they headlined the same stage – QRO photos at ’22 Lollapalooza) – no rain could stop their diehards (just . Yet instead of Perry’s Tent closing with some EDM DJ work, that was moved over to the Bud Light Stage with ODESZA, who did have their customary festival light show. Meanwhile, Perry’s closed with Pusha T laying down rhymes to go with his beats, “Yayopalooza” that included some Kanye West collabs without mentioning Chicago’s controversial son.

Pusha T

Lollapalooza 2023 - Day Four Recap

The overcast skies, drizzly afternoon, and muddy grounds continued on the final day of Lollapalooza, but so did the music. Of note early on were the high hits from women. Ingrid Andress started it off with some upbeat country-pop that the crowd knew at the T-Mobile Stage (and even gave a shout-out telling everyone to check out Holly Humberstone later on – always a nice move for a musician to remind the crowd that they’re also a music fan just like the attendees). Meanwhile, UPSAHL was an electric stage presence over at the Bud Light Stage, the two women commanding their massive main stages despite their low spots on the bill.

Neil Frances

New York’s MICHELLE brought big girl-group indie-pop and dance presence to the Bacardí Stage, while later at that stage it was time for some Aussie pop out of Holly Humberstone (who seemed honestly shocked at the healthy size of her crowd on the other side of the world). Meanwhile, there was some genre-crossing on the main stages with the sort of hippie-disco Neil Frances at Bud Light, and alt-folk out of Mt. Joy at T-Mobile. And sweet indie-rock still had a place at Lollapalooza ’23 in surprise hit Alvvays (with singer/guitarist Molly Rankin announcing that it was bassist Abbey Blackwell’s birthday).

The Red Clay Strays

But the search for drier shade brought folks to check out the smaller stages. BMI had country sad-twang from Alabama in The Red Clay Strays, followed eventually by the kiss-off rhymes of Big Boss Vette (who started almost 20 minutes late, despite a brief chant of her name, and the short set time scheduled there). Umi didn’t need the tent & trees of the Toyota Music Den to pack it, but didn’t hurt…

Big Boss Vette

Of course, you’re still gonna get the rhymes, like Joey Bada$$ at Tito’s Bandshell, then A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie at T-Mobile Stage. The former even got Chicago’s own superstar Chance the Rapper to come out (no stranger to guest-spotting at his hometown festival), as they did both their collaborations “No Problems” and “The Highs & Lows”.

Chance the Rapper & Joey Bada$$

Those who can remember when Lollapalooza traveled in the alt-nineties, or even the festival’s earliest years in Chicago, can lament that alt-rock has faded away from the festival. It’s true that it’s not Hullabalooza anymore, just as it’s not the nineties anymore (and Lolla has gotten a lot more diverse). But there still was The Backseat Lovers playing to a big crowd who knew their songs at the Coinbase Stage, touring off of this year’s Waiting To Spill (QRO review).

The Backseat Lovers

And there was at least one headliner who could remember the nineties, who played the festival back then: Red Hot Chili Peppers. With so many newer hits, even just twenty-first century hits (which is almost a quarter done…), still could use an act that’s been topping bills since there was a “19” on checks (and there were still checks…). Yes, they’re an oldie (singer Anthony Kiedis was rocking the walking boot), and maybe both not your favorite and the favorite of someone who’s not your favorite, but you still know classics like “Under the Bridge” by heart (of course, they didn’t actually play that song…). It’s 2023 and the world is ending – give us this. Give us Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Lollapalooza '23

Given everything from Lollapalooza’s own alt-beginnings to the general state of the music industry (and the music festival industry in particular), it can be kind of hard to imagine that it’s managed to become a reliable staple of the summer, up there with Major League Baseball and travel fails [QRO’s photographer’s car broke down on the way to Chicago the day before the festival, and the writer missed his flight out of Chicago the morning after…]. Yes, it’s changed over the years, just like all of us. But it’s still the big event that you’ll be talking about all the way into next summer.

Lollapalooza '23

-words: Ted Chase
-photos by Brandy Fik, Pooneh Ghana, Roger Ho, Miranda McDonald, Greg Noire, Ashley Osborn, Ismael Quintanilla III, Taylor Regulski, Dusana Risovic, and Nathan Zucker, courtesy of Lollapalooza, save BMI photos by Erika Goldring courtesy of BMI, and Hendrick’s Gin courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin