3:01 PM CDT, August 5, 2012
People wave things over their heads at concerts. Especially during weekend music festivals. Lollapalooza, for instance. Cigarette lighters, cell phones, hands, of course. That forked, heavy metal hand salute, for sure. And the rain on Saturday brought out umbrellas, as you’d guess (though fewer than you’d expect).
Less commonly seen?
My Pretty Pony on a stick.
An Elmo doll nailed to a cross.
A garden gnome. A Darth Vader head. A plush squid. Inflatable goal posts. A lizard head. Hulk hands. A plastic owl. A Ken doll (painted orange). A Kenny doll from the TV show “South Park.” An inflatable totem pole, held aloft, its rubber quivering at the bass thump from the Perry’s electronic dance music stage. A headless rubber bat, painted with fake blood, fluttering above the headbangers at Black Sabbath on Friday.
All were spotted floating above heads in Grant Park last weekend.
Big festivals mean big crowds. Friends can easily lose each other. Unless, say, one carries a cardboard Chewbacca at the end of a stick — indeed, thrusting it in the sky like an umbrella at a New Orleans funeral. That was Chris Sheahan of St. Louis, the guy shaking the Chewbacca above his head all weekend. He was with a small group, caught in the crush near the Perry’s stage. “You know how everyone refers to hippies as Chewbaccas now?” he shouted. “We called this the Hippie Stick, but now it’s the Wookie Stick!”
He said it’s practical, too: “If we get separated, all you do it is look for the Chewbacca, and there you are!”
The more distinctive the totem the better.
An inflatable palm tree, a doll with a mohawk, a stuffed Patrick Star from “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a Teddy Ruxpin, a Dora the Explorer, a Santa Claus, a rubber duck, a rubber banana, a cutout of a lion wearing a headband. Also spotted, however, were several pink flamingos — which is just way too obvious.
On the other hand, you can be certain no one in Dan Peterson’s group of eight friends were separated. Peterson, a 25-year old Chicago graphic designer, made a flag especially for Lollapalooza, a huge flapping square emblazed with an 8-bit mushroom from the “Super Mario Bros.” video games. He said he and his friends — who refer to themselves as “The Tribe” — travel from summer music festival to summer music festival, carting around a new, specially designed stick at each stop. At one festival, the stick was festooned with scores of LED lights; at another, the flag was a mash-up of a pirate flag and the official Chicago flag.
“We call them Whomp Sticks,” Peterson said. “And beyond the obvious reason for having them, we also like the spirit of the thing. Having a Whomp Stick kind of lends a special spirit to a festival, don’t you think?”
His wasn’t the only flag: Aside from a handful of American flags (again, way too obvious), there was an Oklahoma flag, an Australian flag, a West Virginia flag, an 18th century war flag with a canon and the words “Come and Take It.” Also, a handmade flag with the words: “I’m Sorry. I Love You. But I've Chosen Techno." (Conspicuously not seen: Earnest pitches for political candidates, despite this being an election year — particularly in Grant Park, where President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech in 2008.)
Still, the tradition of waving things over your head at music festivals doesn’t seem as strong in Chicago as other places, observed frequent festivalgoer Sheila O’Sullivan of Chicago. She carried an inflatable green alien.
She said his name was Percy Lollapalooza, and he has his own Facebook page. She’s been carrying him to festivals since 2010, after flirting briefly with inflatable guitars and those ubiquitous foam noodles. As she explained this, a pair of strangers picked up Percy, who was resting on the ground, and began playing with him. “We try to keep him with us, but people do grab him,” she said. “Inexplicably, they always molest him."
As if on cue, another stranger, a shirtless man in running shorts, grabbed the green alien, and, uh, well ...
“Poor Percy,” Sheila said.
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