The International Writers Magazine:Rock on

Lollapalooza: Fun, Adventure, and Dancing in the Big City
Jesse Johnson

There aren’t many music festivals that can stand side by side with Lollapalooza. The eclectic rock festival has been a mainstay of the rock music scene since the early 1990’s. Back then, the festival was one on wheels, as the acts toured across the country. This set up worked well for many years but by 1997, signs were clear that Lollapalooza was in financial trouble. After a six year hiatus, Lollapalooza reemerged in 2003 for another run at a cross country tour, but poor ticket sales proved to be too much.

Perry Ferrell, the main organizer of the event, saw that change was needed. After lots of behind the scenes reworking, Lollapalooza was reborn as a single, annual event. The new format put more emphasis on the idea of music being experienced in a particularly special location; dropping the need for a nationwide tour. In its place would be a weekend long festival in downtown Chicago that would rival any on merit when comparing the variety of music, arts and culture.

The scene: Grant Park along Lake Michigan. The time: early August, deep into summer when everyone’s looking to mix things up. Oh, and we can’t forget the weather. For Palooza 2006, conditions were top shelf: sunny and warm with a light breeze coming off of the lake.

But when it comes to such festivals, you can ask any fan and they will tell you, it’s all about the acts. No one wanted to see a repeat of 1997’s tired lineup featuring Korn, Tool, and Snoop Dogg. So did Lollapalooza 2006 bring the meat and potatoes or was it all sizzle and no steak? Well, the beauty of the new, expanded Lollapalooza is that more emphasis is put on bringing only the best of acts to the stage. And not only quality acts, but a wide variety of such acts. Everything from the veteran Violent Femmes to Coheed and Cambria to Kanye West were present.

The headliners for 2006 were the Palooza mainstays, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This wasn’t their first Palooza and if they keep putting out the sorts of records and shows they have been, it won’t be their last. 2006 saw the release of the Chili Pepper’s studio recorded double-disc "Stadium Arcadium." As the title suggests, their new album is chockfull of Chili Pepper’s esque stadium rock sure to please the masses. The important thing to remember is that they’re doing it better than anyone else right now.

But they’re the closers, lets take a look at the acts and surprises that led up to that climatic explosion we call the Red Hot Chili Peppers. All and all, there were 130 acts that played a part in the experience. While it’s only physically possible to see a fraction of these acts, I made sure to grab a peak at a wide variety of such on my mission to discover what Lollapalooza is all about. Learning what makes this thing tick was the idea.

If there is one thing Lollapalooza is about, it’s about rock and roll. And no one brought pure rock and roll better than on Friday evening when The Raconteurs took to Stage A. It almost felt like cheating. I hadn’t even been at Lollapalooza but a few hours when The Raconteurs hit. With the sun setting behind the skyscrapers, I watched as Jack White’s new band won the crowd over with lightning guitar solos, erratic and violent drums and premium vocals. There was nothing to hide in their set. They came out swinging with a pair of their most rocking, funky tracks: Intimate Secretary followed by a decidedly sexy and brilliant "Level."
Any doubters were quieted after a refreshingly rocking rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s "Bang Bang." Mr. White grabbed vocals for that track as he slashed and axed his way through the tune. Throughout the set, Brendan Benson proved he could hold his own on the guitar while Jack White did what he seems to have been created to do. They would alternate rhythm and lead, they would seemingly challenge each other on the stage, and upon rare instances, share a microphone while continuing to wail in unison on their guitars.
Late in their set, Jack White told the crowd they should sing along, as they more than likely would recognize the track. As a complete surprise to everyone, they did not play another track off of their record or perform a blatant White Stripes cover, instead, they gave a nod to fellow Lollapalooza newcomers Gnarls Barkley. Jack wailed away and possessively howled about being "crazy" to the largest crowd of Day 1 before signing off for the evening.

That first day, with other acts including Umphrey’s Mcgee, Deathcab for Cutie, and the Subways, was enough to confirm there being a reason for being present. Day two, on the other hand, only broadened my experienced and timely reminded me that there were other reasons for Palooza to be needed besides the previously mentioned "rock." If day two was a flavor, there is not doubt that it was at least two parts funk with a clean dash of carefree fun. Quality, surprise acts like Thievery Corporation and Blackilicious brought the party while headliners like the Flaming Lips brought the sing-a-long fun, making for a dangerously Palooza perfected combination.

Everyone knew what the Flaming Lips were bringing: haphazard crowd interaction. Flaming Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, kicked the show off by jumping in a giant bubble and rolling out into the crowd. As the show progressed, it became clear that Wayne was creating a show that put as much faith in the crowd as his crowd put in him. With a little coaxing from Wayne, the crowd was able to pretty much jump into the show and enjoy it all at the same time. Before the show was over, nearly everyone had sang along about Yoshima and her battle against the Robots. Wayne Coyne emphasized on numerous occasions his ambitious goals for the day: stopping the traffic on Lake Shore Drive and getting Israel to "stop bombing Lebanon," via crowd sing-a-long.

Traffic may have had just as good a chance of stopping for some of the day’s other acts. One of the most beautiful things about Lollapalooza is the lesser known acts who show up and literally build a fan base right in front of your eyes. One of the biggest successes of the entire Palooza was the Stage B act following the Flaming Lips. A duo who’s most commercial success is probably a track on the Garden State’s soundtrack. Their name? Thievery Corporation. What do I know about them? Only that they kicked ass, took names, and made people of all ages get a bit scandalous on a Saturday night. Thievery Corporation clicked their amps on about the same time the Flaming Lips turned theirs off. Whoever scheduled these cats did a heck of a job, because it just happened to also be the same time the sun was setting and people were ready to start cutting loose.

I hadn’t necessarily committed to watching Thievery Corporation, but before I could move away from the Lip’s campsite they had my full attention. They were out in full force with erotic, jumbly bass lines and a sexy, sleek sitar to match. Their music was all over the place: reggae, Middle Eastern and hip-hop influences all seemed to be thrown into the pot. Within a few minutes, the entire crowd was a buzz with dancing, promiscuous ways, and an all around party. I was expecting Moses to descend at any moment, furious at our having too much fun. But maybe he decided to join the party too, as Thievery Corporation left the crowd no choice but to move our feet and throw dirty, possibly illegal stares at one another.
The same compliments can’t be said for Day Three’s first big act, The Shins. Maybe it was because "the breeze was hurting their sound," as one fellow onlooker suggested. Whatever the cause, you know it’s not necessarily a good sign when your stale standing crowd launches a plea for you to "turn it up." These chants seemed to go unanswered, as an uninspired looking band fumbled around with beach balls and suggested their problems lie in the need for "one of those marijuana cigarettes."

An hour later, that same stage served as a launch pad for the hometown heroes, Wilco. Wilco brought everything that the Shins had failed to do: passion, fun, dancing and one of the best performances of the entire show. In fact, while a Chili Pepper’s fan may grow red in the face, I would stand by and say that Wilco had the best show of the entire weekend. Besides excellent renditions of favorites, Wilco went ahead and played some new, never-before heard material from their recent studio sessions.
So there I was, knowing only one act to go and the jig was up. Had I discvered what I had set out for in the first place? I thought I had. If I had left and headed for the early train, I would’ve felt confident enough in the weekend results. Thank God I didn’t though, because my results would have been erroneously skewed. The Chili Pepper’s show was something to behold, something I hadn’t come across before, and a necessary conclusion.

You see, if Lollapalooza were sex then the Chili Peppers were The Release. By the time the Chili Pepper’s were ready to take the stage, a crowd of over 70,000 had amassed itself. All of the other stages were shut down and all eyes shifted to the AT&T stage. An ominous, nearly full moon hung just to stage left as thinly stretched clouds whispered past. The crowd had an energy running through it that I recognized as one of a rare and potentially dangerous breed. I had found myself a good spot off to the right atop a hill of sorts. The stage was set. As soon as the music kicked on, the crowd erupted into what resembled a volatile sea of confusion and dance before my very eyes. Before the Pepper’s had even finished their opener "Can’t Stop," a steady stream of refugees began to evacuate from the front of the crowd. Each one that passed seemed to look more erratic and stressed than the previous. Wide-eyed, cussing, and/or injured, they struggled past. This, of course, frazzled many of my neighboring onlookers and confrontations were unavoidable. Instead of fighting the chaos, it quickly became clear that it was best to just go with the flow and dance. This was the final gushes I was witnessing.

And maybe this was Perry Farrell’s dream being realized too: 70,000 rock and rollers snuggled in between Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline raucously answering the Chili Pepper’s every call. Front man, Anthony Keidis commended the crowd for their "kinetic energy" before settling them with one of their new, chilled tracks "Snow (Hey Oh)" An unexpected and inspiring rendition of Simon & Garfunkle’s, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" was also performed solo by guitarist John Frusciante. That didn’t last long though, as they pushed the crowd to the end of their wits with their encore performance of the classic "Give it Away."

On the walk back to Union Station to melt away again into the suburbs, I realized that I had just left the nervous system I had been searching for the whole weekend. The bomb had been dropped, exploded on impact, and only tattered remains would be all you’d find come Monday morning in Grant Park. Don’t worry though, there’s always 2007.
© Jesse Johnson
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