No flower crowns, no underbutt, no stepping on smushed piles of uncertain provenance as you rush to a stage. Is it really Lollapalooza without sunburn, sore feet, the incessant thump of Perry’s and a weekend of human pinball are questions you will have to answer for yourself, but virtual Lolla is happening.
There are lots of twists, but the biggest thing about this year’s event, scheduled to take place over the same four days — Thursday to Aug. 2 — is that it’s free. All of it.
It’s a “four-night broadcast event” exclusively on YouTube that will include more than 150 performances and appearances. There will be fan favorite sets from previous festivals (including international editions), original performances and classic sets. Yeah, you were there for LCD Soundsystem, Chance the Rapper, Metallica, OutKast and Paul McCartney, to name a few. But maybe your vantage point was all backs and butts, or maybe you were dog tired and heading for the exits.
This year’s virtual Lollapalooza will feature new sets from the likes of H.E.R., Kali Uchis, Kaskade, Louis the Child, Vic Mensa and other artists. What will be interesting is the presentation. We have seen in the live from Lincoln Hall sets by AudioTree that virtual shows don’t have to be some performer in their living room, plinking and plunking away. A virtual show can be, in its own way, engaging, but production values are paramount. Seeing an artist, as we saw from Lincoln Hall, in HD and proper stereo sound, is quite a different experience.
When Lollapalooza 2020 was called off in June, along with the rest of the Chicago summer festival season, the event’s organizer, C3 Presents, promised a slate of virtual events to do something to manage the absence of four days in Grant Park. Though some people snapped up advance tickets very early, tickets never officially went on sale, nor was a lineup announced.
It will be impossible for any virtual event to capture the feeling of being at Lollapalooza. For all of the issues that people have with the event, it’s a four-day celebration of music featuring 100,000 fans per day. The quality of the lineup in recent years has left much to be desired, a situation not helped by the addition of a fourth day.
At the time the 2020 event was called off, Tribune special contributor Britt Julious suggested that the event could use the year off to raise its game, She wrote in June, “Will it solely cater to the uber-young festival goers who flock from the far suburbs and other parts of the Midwest, or will it try experimenting with music (like more black and female headliners) or length (like a return to fewer days)?”
This virtual event, in effect, stakes out the fest’s psychological and calendar space. Mayor Lightfoot, in her event announcing the cancellation, said that Lollapalooza would be back in 2021. C3 promised a “spectacular” return. For now, though, we have what are in effect a bunch of music videos, hosted on a space that doesn’t usually give of its best, in video or sound quality. But YouTube is the biggest game in town, it always works, and everybody is there. What will be interesting to relive is the feeling of a show with fans, even if you’ve seen most of it before, and you can’t be there.
Those clamoring for a Chicago stage at Lolla won’t get their wish, but this year’s event will feature four performances from Chicago artists, recorded at local venues. The lineup includes Jamila Woods, KAINA, Heavy Steppers with Jamal Smallz, Peter Cottontale, Rebirth Poetry Ensemble, Emon Fowler, Linda Sol and The Era Footwork crew. These shows, programmed by DCASE, seek to highlight the ongoing Year of Chicago Music, a celebration of local sounds put on hold due to the pandemic.
And it might have taken a pandemic to transform Lollapalooza from a lost weekend with 100,000 of your closest friends, to something that feels more like Pitchfork Music Festival from an activism perspective. The festival is partnering with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote organization, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, which is working to provide financial relief to a local arts scene shuttered in the face of COVID-19. Obama will make an “appearance,” and there will also be links so that people can register to vote.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot will be popping up as well throughout the weekend, for conversations with Perry Farrell and LL Cool J. But no kidding, this is going to be weird. The event that has been a summer fixture and rite of passage for seeming ages, isn’t happening. The challenge will be for the event to build some sense of anticipation, fan engagement and excitement.
The full lineup and schedule of performances will be announced on Wednesday. Visit lollapalooza.com for more information.
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