Come for the Outfits, Stay for the Music: Friday, Lollapalooza 2014

Lollapalooza is one of the best places for people-watching. Festival goers include college kids back in Chicago for the summer, young parents and their children who will be visiting Kidzapalooza and sitting on blankets while listening to the headliners, older men and women who may or may not be bikers, and, of course, the ever-present teenagers, either freshly in or out of high school.

Teens are some of the most interesting to see at the festival, even if most of them closely resemble each other in what they choose to wear. One favorite among the teenaged white boys this year were basketball jerseys and mid-calf socks. If you considered yourself to be better than said jerseys, you might choose a Hawaiian-print button-up, and forgo the snapback or baseball cap for a bucket hat.

Concerning the girls, both the “festival look” and the “show me less” look were popular. The festival looks were fashioned with pieces found at stores such as Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters and were similar to outfits seen at Coachella. Think gauzy skirts, lacy tank tops and bralettes, thick-soled shoes or sandals and flower crowns, because what outfit is complete without one? The “show me less” look is based primarily on the amount of skin shown. High-waisted shorts are a must. Tops are belly-baring. Feet are usually covered with Converse, though TOMS and sandals make appearances as well. Body glitter isn’t unusual. A majority of the “show me less” girls maintain an aggressive attitude, not just in the way they dress. They walk quickly and with purpose, determined to get where they need to be.

Lolla isn’t just about the clothes, however. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Chicago every August to listen to a variety of artists, old and new. The three-day fest was started in 1991 by Perry Farrell, singer of Jane’s Addiction, and originally toured North America before settling in Grant Park, Chicago. Since then, artists of all genres have come to play at the festival. This year’s headliners included Arctic Monkeys, Eminem, Outkast, Calvin Harris, Chance the Rapper, Kings of Leon and Skrillex. The festival is set up so ideally each attendee can hear as many artists as they want, hopefully justifying the somewhat steep price of attending (if you don’t manage to buy your ticket on the Lollapalooza website the day they go on sale, tickets soar to prices upwards of $150 for single-day passes and upwards of $350 for three-day passes).

On my excursion into the festival this past Friday, I arrived with the intent of seeing Iggy Azalea, Lorde and Arctic Monkeys for sure. One of the things I truly enjoy about Lollapalooza is listening to all the artists I haven’t heard before, even if it’s just from the curb outside their stage while I eat my burrito. I was looking forward to Iggy like nobody’s business, but was also moderately excited for Lorde and AM.

My day started with Temples, a British band that sported glitter around their eyes and a curly mop of hair on lead singer James Edward Bagshaw’s head. The act of procuring lunch followed Temples’ set, so my friend and I headed for the long avenue of food vendors located inside the festival. Food at Lolla is actually quite incredible. There are basics like deep-dish pizza (because hello, Chicago) and hamburgers, as well as specialty tamales and sushi. The coffee kiosk even had organic half and half. While eating, we listened to Courtney Barnett, a singer-songwriter from Melbourne.

After our late lunch was the trek to Perry’s stage, named for the festival’s founder. We caught the end of the Perry and Etty Farrell vs. Joachim Garraud set before waiting for Iggy Azalea to begin. As someone who has acquired a strong appreciation for female rappers, I expected great things from this particular set, and let me be clear when I say Iggy herself was wonderful. She rapped incredibly well live. At points it was difficult to fully comprehend was she was saying, but that’s understandable due to her accent and the speed at which some words exited her mouth. Unfortunately, parts of the crowd just weren’t as into it. I think some, along with myself, expected the immersion into the music many inevitably feel when they hear “Fancy” on the radio. It’s reasonable to expect that when seeing an artist live. It’s also reasonable that a live set is not going to be as finely-tuned as a song you hear in your car. I think as you got closer to the stage, the atmosphere became more enjoyable, but in the end, I was somewhat let down by Iggy’s performance.

Chvrches was next, and their crowd was almost the complete opposite of Iggy’s. Everyone was into this band. As someone who didn’t know anything by them, I still felt like I was part of the fans’ atmosphere. The crowd extended for what felt like miles from the stage, yet people were still packed together, dancing and singing together. Although we didn’t stay for the entire set, I think I can say I’ll be checking out their stuff further.

Lorde began at 6:30 that evening and in order to secure a good spot, we got to the stage around six. I was curious about what she would be like “in person”, after hearing so much about how she was weird and acted funny. She was an absolute blast. She had incredible stage presence and looked awesome as well, in black overalls and a Calvin Klein sports bra. Of course, her hair was out in all of its lion’s-mane glory and she had no qualms about whipping it back and forth. She made sure to ask the crowd multiple times how they were doing and between songs took a little break to talk about how happy she was to be performing for so many people. She came across as the sort of girl who would be popular in high school simply because she was so nice.

Arctic Monkeys began at 8:30 on the same stage and from the moment they opened with “Do I Wanna Know”, the crowd was hooked. Seeing the band live was even more incredible than I could have imagined. Alex Turner sounded so much like he does on their records that it was almost too good to be true. He was a bit cocky, but as part of the show, it was enjoyable. The transitions between each song almost went unnoticed, even when Alex would ask the crowd how they were doing. When they finally ended with “R U Mine?”, I think it’s safe to say that I couldn’t quite believe I had just seen the Arctic Monkeys perform. While this was actually the second performance I’d seen, (the first being when they opened for The Black Keys at a 2012 concert) it was like I had been listening to them for the first time ever. Every chord, every note, every word was so sharp and exact that it made my Spotify playlist seem like a scratched CD that skips every time you hit a pothole. I was more than glad my Friday ended with Alex Turner’s voice in my ears.

There’s something about being at a concert or music festival, surrounded by thousands of strangers you don’t know. There is a sense of community at each individual show and throughout the entire venue, even if you and that one girl over there are silently judging each other’s outfit or bag choice. I remember thinking during Iggy’s set that I would trust strangers at a music festival much more than I would trust strangers at a party, or any other public setting, really. After seeing enough groups of friends lead and/or carry a friend out of a crowd because they were too faded or too claustrophobic or too already-covered in their own vomit, I’d like to believe that strangers would act the same way towards an individual who clearly needed help and was without a designated group. I think I can honestly say this is part of what will keep me coming to Lolla year after year, though the music isn’t half-bad either.

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