Eric Stupnitsky, Reporting from Chicago for HorizonVU Music

Eric Stupnitsky is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is majoring in Marketing. He’s an afficianado in the world of rock, alternative and folk with a  passion for both music and travel. While in London earlier this year he had the opportunity to follow exciting artists such as Matt & Kim, Mark Ronson & The Business Intl, and Skrillex. Although he does not know what the future will bring, music will definitely be a mainstay. This year’s Lolla is number 5 for Eric!  Who better to bring us the story?

Twenty is a milestone birthday. The teenage years are over, and adulthood is looking you square in the eye. There is no turning back, which may seem daunting to some. But for Lollapalooza, Chicago’s biggest music festival, turning twenty was an excuse to throw one of the wildest parties the city has seen.

It’s hard to believe it has been twenty years since Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell conceived Lollapalooza as a

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

two-stage, mainly punk rock music festival in the summer of 1991. It was envisioned to serve as a platform for a Jane’s Addiction farewell tour. Today, Lollapalooza’s multitude of stages takes over the entire 300+ acre Grant Park in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Lollapalooza has stayed true to its rock origins, but like every other twenty-something, the festival’s tastes have diversified. In fact, this diversity has helped Lollapalooza sell out all three days weeks in advance, a record for the festival. With 270,000 people anticipated to gather in Grant Park from August 5th-7th, the festival had a lot to live up to. This year, the lineup included an eclectic mix of rock, rap, and electronic music – the latter of which has experienced a major surge in popularity over the course of just one short year. As a fan of all these genres, I could hardly contain my excitement for the upcoming weekend.

To me, Lollapalooza is not just another concert. As a music lover and (conveniently) a Chicago native, this festival is a chance for me to see my favorite artists, discover new bands, and enjoy the hyper-organized chaos of Grant Park for three days. Although flanked by the gorgeous Chicago skyline, once you are inside the festival grounds, it is easy to forget that you’re in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities. As you

Lollapalooza, Perry Farrrell, Chicago 2011 Photo: Steve Wruble

Lollapalooza, Perry Farrrell, Chicago 2011 Photo: Steve Wruble

walk from stage to stage taking in the varied mix of people, fashions, and activities, it all focuses back onto one thing – the music.

Day One

One of my most anticipated acts of the entire festival was also the first performance I saw. I had heard Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” back in May, and instantly fell in love with their debut album, Torches. With its catchy melodies and danceable beats, it is no wonder that the group has been receiving some well-deserved attention this summer. Lollapalooza was no different, as the up-and-comers played to a packed crowd on Friday afternoon. Foster the People is a shining example of a festival band with great promise. Frontman Mark Foster’s natural stage presence made him seem like a seasoned music veteran as he bounced around the stage during the band’s performance of “Helena Beat”. The crowd around me ranged from loyal fans to people who just stopped to listen – yet the band’s energy was contagious, and everyone could be seen dancing along.

Next up was a trip to the Perry’s tent, Lollapalooza’s haven for electronic music. This year, Perry’s capacity doubled to 15,000 and the tent spanned an entire city block to accommodate the incredible rise in electronic music’s popularity. This was definitely the most booked stage throughout the entire weekend. Here, I saw massively popular DJs Skrillex and Afrojack. Having studied in London for the first half of 2011, I know how big electronic music is in Europe, but it has only just spread to the States. It is hard to believe that less than a year ago, I saw Skrillex open for Deadmau5 (another DJ who happened to headline Lollapalooza this year) to a basically empty arena in Madison, Wisconsin. Since then, he and countless other DJs have been spending the year traveling across the globe from concert to concert, festival to festival with their music. I can’t say I am a die-hard fan of the genre. To be honest, I can’t even tell where “house” changes to “dubstep” or any of the other electronic sub-genres. But while I won’t be sad to see the electronic fad go the way of disco and Latin pop, I can say that these DJs put on quite the spectacle. For anyone who loves to dance, this is a genre for you. The bass, the lighting, the visuals – they are all part of a show that relies on each of your senses to truly feel its power. For people that otherwise would not attend Lollapalooza, these DJs are no doubt a major contributor to the festival’s three sold out days.

My final act of the night was another favorite, Coldplay. With their booming sound, the band never fails to impress. I have only seen them in outdoor arenas, and there is something special about watching a band as mellow yet lively as Coldplay while relaxing on a lawn. To top it off, Lollapalooza attendees were treated to a nice surprise. As the band completes their long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, they treated the crowd to new songs including the current single “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “Hurts Like Heaven”, a track that pleasantly strays from the soft-rock sound for which the band is so well-known. My personal favorite, however, was Coldplay’s touching tribute to Amy Winehouse. The “Rehab” segue into the band’s heart wrenching classic “Fix You” was a proper nod to Winehouse’s lasting effect on today’s music. The set concluded with fireworks above the stage, and Day One of the festival literally went out with a bang.

Day Two

Saturday was another beautiful, sunny day in Grant Park. Local Natives’ set was much more impressive than I had anticipated. I worried that

Lollapallooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

Lollapallooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

their spectacular debut album, Gorilla Manor, would not resonate on such a large stage. Maybe it was due to the fact that I had spent months solely listening to the band through my headphones, but their stage presence was very refreshing and drew an enormous crowd. Their performance was reminiscent of Mumford and Sons’ Lollapalooza appearance a year ago, full of love – both for music and life. Their “Sun Hands” finale ended on such an energetic note that I can’t imagine someone leaving the show without becoming a newfound Local Natives fan.

On the other side of the park, Ellie Goulding finished up her Lollapalooza performance. Riding high on an impressive year of genre-spanning hits, Goulding has proven that she has the soulful voice and charming persona to easily transition from small venues to large festivals. Having been chosen to perform at the recent Royal Wedding due to her stunning rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song”, Goulding wowed audiences at Lollapalooza. During her performance of oft-remixed “Lights”, Goulding was joined on stage by a surprise guest – a stage crasher. Showing her good spirits, Goulding blew a kiss as security whisked the overeager fan off stage.

The star of Saturday, however, was undoubtedly Eminem. While many say rap is not suitable for large crowds, this stereotype cannot apply to Detroit’s most successful export. Whether you are a fan of goofy Slim Shady, troubled Marshall Mathers, or megastar Eminem, you were treated to a hearty helping of all three on the main stage Saturday night. Joined by artists like Bruno Mars, Eminem performed songs off his most recent album, Recovery, as well as a plethora of classics that have helped the rapper become the powerhouse he is today. Similar to Lady Gaga’s performance on the same stage last year, people flocked in droves (some reports count as many as 60,000 people at this show alone) to catch a glimpse of the major superstar. Eminem, while arguably the most popular commercial artist at the festival this year, is also majorly reclusive. His past few years have produced some CDs, but have also been filled with turmoil. Only playing the occasional concert, it is no wonder that even the least interested Eminem fan would want to see what all the fuss was about. Eminem’s gritty, remarkable headlining performance did not disappoint.

Day Three

Any meteorologist could tell you that Sunday in Chicago was not going to be pleasant. I am not a meteorologist, however, and apparently am also

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

not one to check weather reports – I was unaware it had rained at around 10am that very morning. But the afternoon was sunny enough, so I seemingly had nothing to worry about. The key word here is seemingly. I entered Lollapalooza prepared for a smooth finale to a so far fantastic festival.

To start, Noah & The Whale brought their UK success overseas. As a folk band, they are not known for their crazy performances, yet still managed to play an hour-long set that had the audience singing along the entire time. Lead singer Charlie Fink has a stage presence that reminds one of 1960s folk singers, where the band’s simple lyricism takes on a life of its own. This can be seen in their performance of “5 Years Time”. I love the way Noah & The Whale can make any song sound happy and hopeful.
Afterwards, I had a little time to check out Lissie, an up-and-coming folk artist whose debut album Catching a Tiger has been earning praise since its release in 2010. Just by listening to her performance of “Bully”, one can feel the passion and soul in her voice. Her quintessential 1970s rock ‘n’ roll sound proves that sometimes a great voice and good music can truly carry a show. I anticipate good things for Lissie’s future.

Then came the rain. By rain, I mean downpour. The dramatic may attach the adjective “torrential” while the non-dramatic may just use “a lot of”, but any way you skew it, it poured. Seeking shelter seemed to only delay the inevitable soaking that Lollapalooza attendees were going to endure. My one preparation for bad weather was a flimsy umbrella, which I quickly learned was not about to shield any part of my body. The rain was here to stay, though, so many chose to embrace it. With the ground already squishy and wet from the previous night’s storms, this round of rain turned grassy field into muddy swamp.

Due to the weather, Arctic Monkeys’ set was delayed for half an hour. That didn’t stop the crowd from waiting by the stage until it was safe to perform, though. The sky finally cleared and the band began to play. The combination of this and the full rainbow next to the stage caused the crowd to erupt in excitement. I assume the set list was chosen ahead of time, but it makes me wonder if the band was forewarned about the weather. Songs like “She’s Thunderstorms”, “Brianstorm”, and “Crying Lighting” all had an underlying weather theme. Coincidence or not, being able to see a band that was clearly having so much fun despite the unfortunate weather situation only pumped up the crowd more. All across the park, baseball fields turned into makeshift mosh pits, where dirty Lollapalooza attendees had fun in the mud doing dances, play fighting, and overall making the most of a bad situation.

With the rain seemingly over (there’s that key word again), we waited for the Foo Fighters set. About ten minutes into it, you can only guess what happened. To avoid redundancy, take all previous descriptions of rain and multiply them by 10. Then add sound-bites like “THERE IS NOWHERE TO GO!”, “IT’S COMING DOWN IN SHEETS!”, and “I CAN’T FEEL MY FINGERS!”, all the while picturing yourself running through mud that is inches deep. After fleeing Foo Fighters, we made our way to the exit. Cell phones were damaged, every layer of clothing was soaked, and spirits were far from high. However, as we were about to leave, the storm turned into a drizzle. With only an hour of Lollapalooza left, we had time to check out one more band.

While huge names like Foo Fighters, Deadmau5, and Kid Cudi were all headlining tonight, I was most excited for Cold War Kids. I’m

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Mandy Dempsey

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Mandy Dempsey

a big fan of theirs, especially their impressive previous Lollapalooza performances. This was their 5th time at a Lollapalooza festival since 2006, including a headlining gig at this past spring’s inaugural Lollapalooza Chile. If I had to say one thing about the Cold War Kids, it’s that they put on a great live performance. I love the gritty sound of lead singer Nathan Willlet’s voice, and the way that he can transition from indie to pop to hard-rock seamlessly. Cold War Kids are an amazing addition to any festival line-up, and I was glad to have had the chance to see them again.

A Year to Remember

It was clear to see that C3 Presents, the company behind Lollapalooza, had pulled all the stops to ensure the festival’s 20th year would be its best yet. At every turn, Lollapalooza seemed to be telling festival goers, “Relax and enjoy, we’ve got it covered.” If you wanted something, chances are it was available. There was a diverse assortment of reasonably priced festival food at Chow Town, with everything from lobster corndogs to

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

Lollapalooza, Chicago 2011 Photo: Eric Stupnitsky

locally grown organic meals to Chicago staples like hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. Unlike most concerts where bottled water can cost as much as the ticket itself, Lollapalooza attendees could purchase $2 eco-friendly bottles and refill them for free at one of the many filling stations.

There were even charging stations for your electronics, as well as a long-awaited bag check for bulky belongings. And when staff realized how hot the Perry’s tent become after 15,000 bodies danced around it for hours on Friday, half of the roof was taken off by Saturday to provide festival goers with more of a natural breeze. Even the wristbands were extra special this year. Three-day pass holders received a high-tech, fabric wristband that came with a built-in computer chip for added security.
With all of these perks in addition to the music and the unexpected storms, I know I cannot be alone when I say that this past weekend at Lollapalooza is one that I will remember forever. For those who can’t wait to see how Lollapalooza throws a 21st birthday celebration when it returns to Chicago in 2012, don’t worry! Perry Farrell just announced that the festival will return to Santiago, Chile on March 31-April 1, 2012, quickly followed by the brand-new Lollapalooza Brazil in Sao Paulo on April 7-8, 2012. Talk about turning 21 in style…

HorizonVU Music has been created to support the independent music community by working with emerging musicians iin the global world of rock, alternative and folk. www.horizonvumusic.com