Confessions of a moron who went to all four days of Lollapalooza for her first music festival

Before this weekend, I had somehow gotten to age 25 without ever going to a music festival. I have weird, focused taste in music, preferring lyrics to beats and songs to artists. I have my headphones in wherever I go but am usually listening to the same song on repeat rather than broadening my horizons. When my friends were flying to Coachella or camping out at Bonnaroo, I didn’t feel like I was missing out.

Except what if I was? Fests seem to have become a universal young person experience, and I have one of the biggest within a couple of miles of my apartment. So, like an idiot, I decided to jump into the deep end of music festivals, committing to four days of Lollapalooza.

Day One: Fear and Confusion

There’s something about Lolla that reminds me of “Lord of the Flies.” Secluded from the outside world, its inhabitants are tribal and primitive survivalists. The crowds are overwhelmingly young, and with the Chicago skyline rising magnificently behind them, it feels like a city of children pretending to be adults for the first time. I would see a person whom I was certain was a grown woman, but then she would smile and expose a row of braces.

I would like to say that the fear of Lolla was worse than the actual madness of Lolla, but that’s not true. All my fears were founded. Grant Park is sprawling, there are too many people, personal space is not a thing and making the schedule work is exhausting. The geography of the stages is simple once you figure it out, but in the beginning it feels like someone spun you around three times and said, “Go forth, and try not to get puked on.” 

The highlight of the day was a great show from The 1975, but my brain was so preoccupied with anxiety over having to make this work for four days in a row that I was not living in the moment, as the kids say.

Day Two: Irritation and Music 

I’ll admit I was of two minds regarding the drunken teens. Sometimes, when I saw a pair of them holding up a barely conscious third between them, I felt the strong urge to help. I could have been like a WWII nurse of Lolla, running around with cups of water to assist the fallen. But mostly, their constant shoving and squealing and making out and fighting (Breaking Up at Lolla: The End of a Love Story) made me resent their existence. Never mind that I was once a teen too and people had to deal with my self-absorption.

I think once you get the hang of Lolla, it makes you meaner. You realize that in this world, being polite gets you nothing. If you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to put your bitch face on not care if you bump into people.

But something clicked for me in the golden hour, watching M83 at the Samsung stage. The rain had finally cleared and people were dancing, but groups weren’t up on each other and the music filled the open space. Oh, I get it! This is why it’s fun!

Day Three: Caffeine and Love

If I could graph the weekend, my enjoyment level was a constant battle between exhaustion and anxiety. I had all the energy on Thursday but was terrified. By Saturday, the fear had left me, but fatigue was starting to set in.

That said, Saturday was probably peak Lolla, and I envy the people who came before me and got to experience its three-day version. I discovered the life-giving powers of Red Bull (this is not sponsored, I had just never had one before, OK?) and committed to staying through the end of the night.

And make fun of me all you want, but Red Hot Chili Peppers was the perfect band to stay for. It felt like the act that united everyone in the Lolla universe. Parents, 20-somethings, teens—everyone knows that band and they’re not too cool for anyone. If I’m going to go to a music festival, I want to feel bonded to everyone, not elitist and above it.

Day Four: Exhaustion

If there are people out there who think Sunday is for going hard and finishing strong, I salute you, but that was not me. Sunday was a battle. Sunday was about survival. Don’t fight it; just go with it. Don’t swim upstream; just let the rivers of people carry you where you need to go.

Sunday felt like attending my own funeral. Like I could look back at the happy life I had lived, the good times and the bad, recognize the mistakes I had made, and say, “Yeah, that was a cluster, but it was worth it.”

Lolla was terrifying and a marathon. In the aftermath, I feel like I did after that one time I genuinely tried to work out: exhausted and very self-congratulatory. I’m way too proud of myself. But that’s OK. I get it now. On Friday I was wondering why anyone would do this to herself. Now I’m thinking about next year.

@lchval  |  laurenchval@redeyechicago.com

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