International Writers Magazine:Rock on
Fun, Adventure, and Dancing in the Big City
arent 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 1990s. 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 everyones looking to mix things up. Oh, and we
cant 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, its all about the acts. No one wanted to see a repeat
of 1997s 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
The headliners for
2006 were the Palooza mainstays, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This wasnt
their first Palooza and if they keep putting out the sorts of records
and shows they have been, it wont be their last. 2006 saw the
release of the Chili Peppers studio recorded double-disc "Stadium
Arcadium." As the title suggests, their new album is chockfull
of Chili Peppers esque stadium rock sure to please the masses.
The important thing to remember is that theyre doing it better
than anyone else right now.
But theyre 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 its 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, its 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
hadnt even been at Lollapalooza but a few hours when The Raconteurs
hit. With the sun setting behind the skyscrapers, I watched as Jack
Whites 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
Any doubters were quieted after a refreshingly rocking rendition of
Nancy Sinatras "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 Umphreys 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
days 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 whos
most commercial success is probably a track on the Garden States
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
I hadnt necessarily committed to watching Thievery Corporation,
but before I could move away from the Lips 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 cant be said for Day Threes 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 its 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 Peppers 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
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 wouldve felt confident
enough in the weekend results. Thank God I didnt though, because
my results would have been erroneously skewed. The Chili Peppers
show was something to behold, something I hadnt 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 Peppers 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
Peppers had even finished their opener "Cant 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 Farrells dream being realized too: 70,000
rock and rollers snuggled in between Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline
raucously answering the Chili Peppers 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 & Garfunkles,
"For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" was also performed solo
by guitarist John Frusciante. That didnt 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 youd find come Monday morning
in Grant Park. Dont worry though, theres always 2007.
© Jesse Johnson
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