Here’s Why Lollapalooza Is Such a Big Deal Every Year

Take a brief 8-year tour of the festival’s most noteworthy moments since 2005.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune 

Crystal Castles diving into the crowd at Lollapalooza 2011. Ah, memories.

In 2005, Lollapalooza—the formerly touring alternative arts and music extravaganza—took root as a weekend-long music festival in Grant Park, where it’s brought together wannabe-alternative preteens, costumed scenesters, critics, tourists, and casual drug users ever since.

Settling down hasn’t turned Lolla into a potbellied dad in a stretched-out Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, though. If anything, this city’s made the festival even weirder. Ever-growing crowds, strange performer stunts, and Chicago’s notoriously histrionic summer weather have all made for some memorable Lolla moments.

Here’s what you missed—or may hazily remember—from the last eight years.

 

2005: Rain and Billy Idol welcome Lolla to Chicago

The first of the festival’s runs in Grant Park had a little bit of everything it’s since become known for: heat, rain, huge crowds squeezed into half the space the festival occupies today, and enlivened performances from rockers twice the age of many festival-goers. Billy Idol’s set on the first day included all of the above, but it became a highlight of the year. Attendees young and old rebel yelled and fist-pumped as the shirtless Idol jumped around the stage.

 

Photo: Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune

2006: Kanye yells a bit, but everything is okay

As the year’s headliner, Kanye—dressed simply in a monogrammed polo and backwards baseball cap—invited the 60,000 fans at his set to “Touch the Sky.” A far different image than the cultural anomaly that the Chicago native is today, but Kanye’s performance was no less exciting for it: Technical troubles plagued the rapper and his guests, and he threatened repercussions on the responsible parties for screwing things up “in my city.” A guest appearance by a skateboarding Lupe Fiasco went off without a hitch.

 

2007: Daft Punk brings the party

Daft Punk hadn’t yet released their Grammy Award-winning album “Alive 2007” when they hit the Lolla stage that year, but crowds fueled by buzz over the band’s 2006 Coachella performance poured in to see the duo at Grant Park. Their pumped-up set felt more like a house rager than a concert, especially once the sun went down and the strobe lights reached their maximum effectiveness.

 

Photo: Ariel Uribe / Chicago Tribune

2008: Mysterious fireworks and rowdy crowds

Both of 2008’s highlights were accidental, but the fireworks that happened to go off somewhere behind the stage as Thom Yorke reached the chorus of “Fake Plastic Trees” during Radiohead’s two-hour set were much more uplifting than the fences collapsing on attendees in the middle of Rage Against the Machine’s performance. The crowd, pumped over Rage’s return to Lolla after a 12-year break, crowded the stage so forcefully they prompted a rebuke from frontman Zach de la Rocha when he noticed people getting injured. Luckily, fans got their act together, and the intense set continued without further injury.

 

Photo: Megan Lovejoy

2009: Lou Reed is late and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s accidentally headline

After starting his set 15 minutes late and dragging the crowd through extended arrangements—he got through just seven songs in an hour—Lou Reed played into Band of Horses’ set time, meaning the indie rock band started at the same time as Jane’s Addiction. Pretty much everyone else at the festival started on time, so crowds were understandably upset. Before the show, people questioned Lollapalooza organizers’ judgment in adding the Velvet Underground star to the lineup. By the end, the chants of “F— Lou Reed” were hard to ignore.

The year found a pleasant surprise, though, in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs headline performance. The Brooklyn band was swapped in to the lineup at the last minute after the Beastie Boys’ MCA (Adam Yauch) announced a cancer diagnosis, canceling the Beasties’ show. YYY frontwoman Karen O took the stage in a crazy technicolor headdress and cape and frolicked her way through an energetic set that made several people’s highlights lists for the year. 

 

2010: Lady Gaga does normal Lady Gaga-type activity

Lady Gaga has actually performed at Lolla twice (in 2007, before she was famous, and in 2010, arguably at the height of her fame) but her 2010 invasion of the Semi Precious Weapons set (link NSFW) would have been desperate even for her early career. Wearing nude panties, gold pasties, and two sets of ripped fishnet stockings—one on her legs and the other ripped into a shirt—Gaga joined the band’s drummer and even contributed a few screams into the mic before making out with lead singer Justin Tranter and launching herself off the stage into the crowd. Not ten seconds after handlers pull her back onto the stage, Gaga led Tranter back to the waiting crowd, which actually kind of sweetly cradled her until the song ended and security could get her back on her feet.

After the stunt, Tranter took the mic and assured the crowd he and Gaga had secured the future of rock and roll. His defense of his makeout partner was as sharp as his sparkly silver stilettos: “If anyone ever calls Lady Gaga a [expletive] pop star, I will kill you.”

 

Photo: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune 

2011 and 2012: Rainapalooza begets Mudapalooza

The last two years have seen Lolla turn into a muddy mess. The festival occurs rain or shine, but it seems to get much more fun in the rain, when people uproot fences and grab tables to create makeshift shelters or jump, limbs flailing, into the giant mud pit in the field. In 2011, afternoon showers lulled crowds into a false sense of security before reemerging in full force just after the Foo Fighters began their headlining set.

2012 saw more rain-soaked chaos, as the warning of severe weather prompted a mid-afternoon evacuation of Grant Park. When attendees returned to the grounds around 6 p.m., the Alabama Shakes, the Dunwells, the Verve Pipe, the Temper Trap, and B.o.B. had all been nixed in order to salvage the remaining lineup. The Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage as planned, and, as with the Foo Fighters the year before, an enthusiastic crowd happily braved ankle-deep mud to sing along during the set.

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