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Lollapalooza 2012 Day 2: Festival experience weighs heavier on the mind than the music

Was this really the plan? To rely on an emergency communication system that, for one, assumes festivalgoers have smart phones, and for two, can get service? But in a day defined by an evacuation, a few musical acts managed to drive away any non-musical memories.

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The Weeknd, seen through another lens. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)

Day two of Lollapalooza was really a day split into two. But I suppose there’s no way around that; an evacuation that forces the cancellation of some of the most anticipated acts (i.e. Alabama Shakes) can’t be expected to not shake people up.

Before this weather all went down, the day was starting out to look a lot like Friday had; hot and slightly dull. I caught a few minutes of Aloe Blacc, who had reinterpreted his song “I Need A Dollar” (which you may recognize as the theme from from the now cancelled HBO show How to Make it in America) to the point where it almost sounded as though someone else was performing it.

Blacc was preferable to Neon Indian though; during their set, I heard someone remark “Who the f*** is this?” But, let’s cut Neon Indian some slack; perhaps they were too affected by their act being cut short due to the oncoming weather. “Apparently we have to walk offstage in 10 minutes, so let’s make it count,” said lead singer Alan Palomo, before launching into their only particularly recognizable song, “Polish Girl.” Unfortunately, all I wanted was the Hood Internet version.

“We will make it up to you we swear,” added Palomo. “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a very long time.” I’m not sure how they planned to do that, and we’ll probably never know; the evacuation from Grant Park that followed was anything but organized.

It’s pure luck that things went as smoothly as they did -- one moment, I was watching Neon Indian; the next, a random man came onstage to ask us all to leave. There was no mention of where to go or when things might be getting back up to speed, if at all. The city and Lollapalooza officials may have had a plan, but few were privy to it (see Annie Minoff’s explanation below). It’s difficult to chalk up the relative calm that followed to anything other than a lot of people who just didn’t want to ruin the day they were having.

Mud. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)

I got back around 6 pm, just in time to see my most anticipated act of the weekend: The Weeknd (cue joke). Considering the canceled shows Abel Tesfaye has under his belt, I was pleasantly surprised by the sounds of nothing but smooth, smooth vocals and an impressively talented band coming from the Red Bull stage. “Man mother nature’s a f***ing bitch,"said Tesfaye. “We’re still going to rock out though right?”

Calvin Harris was less moving, despite his clear intention to be, through the common refrain “Let me see you bounce!” Don’t get me wrong, I love pop music, but there was something almost scary about the trance-like vibe he had all of Perry’s stage and what seemed like half the park under.

Night was falling, and things had begun to get wild, which meant there was mud everywhere and a young man who appeared to be on drugs had to be physically restrained for multiple minutes by security, before they managed to get a total of six people to cart him away. Zip ties were involved. There’s nothing weirder than watching someone look as though they’re having a seizure trying to escape from several someone’s sitting on them, while thousands surrounding the scene dance to Rihanna. In security’s defense, it appeared that he had done something and was running away from the crime.

Oh yeah, and then there was Red Hot Chili Peppers, though from the little of “Snow (Hey Oh)” I heard, it seems I didn’t miss much. Better yet, to cap the day off, I got to take in Frank Ocean’s set, which soothed any sore wounds I had from a surreal festival experience.

Ocean started off with an acoustic version of Sade’s “By Your Side” -- no joke. He also touched on Coldplay and Kanye West, all successfully woven into the set list, as well as a reinterpreted “American Wedding,” of which Ocean said, “I got into a little trouble over this song. I made a couple changes; hopefully you’ll agree with them” (it samples The Eagles’ “Hotel California”).

Ocean took the vibe coming after The Weeknd’s amazing R&B vocals one step further, as the Google Play stage made me feel okay for missing Santigold. He took time, engaged with his audience (“I fux with Chicago. Some of the flyest architecture I’ve seen in my tour so far”) and left us all feeling just fine.

-- Kate Dries

There’s nothing like a forecast for “domes of heat,” lightening, and squall lines to get you really jonesing to see some rock n’ roll. Sure Tom Skilling’s morning weather report left me feeling a little queasy, but when I arrived at Grant Park around noon, things seemed normal. Blistering heat was my only complaint.

Stop, and pet some police horses. (WBEZ/Kate Dries)

Well that and Chief Keef. What would have been an obnoxious set under any circumstances was doubly so thanks to oppressive humidity. Keef took the stage with what seemed like a fifteen-person crew to rap about all the things he “don’t like.” Among them: imitation shoes, ugly women, and snitches. Call me fussy, but I just wasn’t in the mood to sweat in the sun listening to rhymes about “b****s” punctuated by sounds of gunfire. I headed over to Doomtree in need of aural and spiritual cleansing. (For the record, Doomtree’s Dessa could wipe the floor with Keef any day.)

Around 2:45 the clouds moved in. Worrywart that I am, I asked an S3 security guard about the contingency plan. Where should I exit if we need to leave the park?” Aside from directing me to Lolla’s main entrances, he couldn’t really say. In his words, “they didn’t really tell us an exact route.” This would not be the last time I heard this.
I got wind of the evacuation by overhearing a woman say she’d seen staff escorting handicapped festivalgoers out of the park (a good move). Moving toward Jackson, I noticed the trickle of fans being shooed out by security and joined the mass on Michigan Ave.

As a reader of Jim DeRogatis’s blog, I knew the contingency plan, such as it was: in case of evacuation, get to the Grant Park garages. But as for all those Lolla staff and CPD who supposedly “directed [us] to pre-established underground evacuation and shelter sites” per Lolla’s press release? That’s total bunk. I encountered no festival staff beyond the Lolla gates. An OEMC traffic officer I asked about the evacuation site had no idea such a site existed. Even the festivalgoers I found leaning up against the garage entrances had no idea they were supposed to be there. When I asked why none of them were moving underground, I was told it was hot down there. Lolla did eventually send out a notice via Twitter alerting readers to the garage evac site (not that many took them up on the offer). But as literally anyone at the fest this weekend could tell you, service is not reliable. Was this really the plan? To rely on an emergency communication system that, for one, assumes festivalgoers have smart phones, and for two, can get service?

(WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)

Let’s give credit where credit is due. No one I talked to quibbled with Lolla’s call to evacuate. And the fact that they made the call early - before the black clouds moved in - was crucial. People were calm. The most pressing concern seemed to be which bar to spend the next two hours in (Lolla post-evacuation was significantly drunker than Lolla pre-evacuation). It was a boon to local business. The cashier at the Fine Arts Bulding’s Artist’s Café said that it had been a very very good day. And two hours later the park was filling back up and we’d achieved a new, soggy normal.

So back to the music already. If EDM “won” last year’s festival with breakout performances from Skrillex and Deadmau5, I’m going to nominate R&B as this year’s gold medalist.

The Weeknd and Frank Ocean were spine-tinglingly good. Fans picked (or slid) their way across Lolla’s new mud flats to get a better look at The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye. This guy’s falsetto is so unbelievably beguiling, you almost miss the current of self-loathing running underneath (this is beautiful music, but it packs a punch). Ocean created instant intimacy with the huge crowd huddled around the Google stage with his opening cover of Sade’s “By Your Side.” Ocean has resisted the R&B label on the grounds that it’s racialized. Maybe so, but at the very least, these songs proved it’s too narrow a category to contain him. Backed by two acoustic guitars on “Summer Remains,” Ocean sounded folk – on “American Way,” a tinge country. And that voice! It was all soul.

-- Annie Minoff

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