How disturbing that a Lollapalooza made for television has a perfect, unforeseen confluence of real-life events and art? As Chicago rapper Vic Mensa spat bars during an incendiary two-song set on Saturday, the first song in the rap protest anthem was slow to produce; a mass protest took place in downtown Chicago.
It was a perfect moment for a virtual festival forced into an alternate reality due to a pandemic and the kind of luck that lit a red flame during an erratic event. More like a nighttime festival infomercial than a music event, in many ways, this virtual Lollapalooza felt like an idealized notion of a music festival: music, commercials, propaganda, and voila. It was graceful (mostly) and smooth, even in the shower in Perry Farrell’s selfish and creamy video segments “remember how cool that was.”
Virtual Lollapalooza looked a lot like the real Lollapalooza, except your feet didn’t hurt, and you didn’t get sunburned. And yet there were some incredible moments on a busy weekend – big names in brackets for lots of filler, some quality, some not. Whether a festival or music videos replace a special event (yes, it does) depended on your willingness to suspend disbelief. On the first day, the YouTube view count was almost half a million, and you can’t beat the price, which was nothing. Lollapalooza festival 2021 tickets are available now.
However, in the first three nights reviewed here, the producers lost a moment. This virtual event was an opportunity to show that Chicago is more than a paying host, especially in a city celebrating a year of music. Two conversations with Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood out, and there was hope when four exhibitions of Chicago artists, produced with the Department of Culture and Chicago Special Events, were announced. The lineup included some of the best artists the city had to offer, including Kaina, Jamila Woods, and Peter Cottontale.
Reality looked more like cold water on the face. Kaina has three songs. Woods and Cottontale each received a piece on Saturday, in a ten-minute segment featuring Heavy Steppers. And the only Chicago artists to appear in new performances are from DCASE sets. For a host city with one of the most vital stages in the world, this was a glaring lack of a generally smarter group.
The event was intense on social activism, a nice touch that made Chicago fail even more. In this time of massive protests and clamor to raise black voices, virtual Lollapalooza was on the right track. He didn’t even care about the ads for the Equal Justice Initiative and When We All Vote social justice causes. LL Cool J had a daily function; there were interviews with black photographers and creative. One of the highlights was a great chat with Atiba Jefferson about the September issue of Thrasher magazine and the history of black skateboarding. When watching Virtual Lollapalooza, you might almost forget that the artist roster and live event demographics are incredibly white.
Lollapalooza’s Time Warp was also odd in which the oldest set of records was Lupe Fiasco in 2008 history, ignoring a host of shows dating back to when it was more of a music festival than of adolescent debauchery. Tickets4festivals reports that Brazilian Pearl Jam was featured in 2018, rather than the 2007 top in Chicago or the Miami crash in 1992. A trip through history would have been amazing to see.
Broadcast sets were considered “fan favorites,” but how was this selection made? Would fans have chosen, given their demographics, the careful and dusty exploration of Paul McCartney’s successes? But not the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Post Malone, which had the biggest crowd of all the Lollapalooza sets in my memory. Bruno Mars? Rage against the machine? Kanye West?
The attractiveness of the event, for me, depended on how it was consumed. Among cellphones, tablets, laptops, and big-screen TVs, the latter was by far the most fascinating. The audio and video quality was excellent, mainly when you chose the 1080p setting on YouTube. The lights off, the TV on and surround sound, and a possible future of music festivals were great fun.
But this virtual event also attempted to delimit the cultural space. It would have been weird not to have a Lollapalooza 2020, even though all we had of it was done for TV, where a Taco Bell commercial was playing when I called the show. The Struts performed a live acoustic ensemble in a charming, park-like setting, with the only intrusion of reality occurring in the presence of masked, socially distant spectators. And of course, you were watching on a screen instead of Grant Park.
There was brilliant music, discovery, and DC Fontaines’ creative presentation of “Life Is Not Always Empty” was memorable. But the sets were too short, including some single song segments. The only performances of adequate length were the headliner.
A better balance between the old and the new could have found. Much more HER or Kaina or DC Fontaines or Monsieur Perine, let alone McCartney and Outkast, would have been welcome. Like the real Lollapalooza, you had fun, but you also have complaints.
But the best Chicago music festival this year was still the one that turned out to be a predictor. On April 10 and 11, Meg Memes Fest, produced by Chicago music lover of the same name, hosted such figures as Tenci, Girl K, Snail Mail, Beach Bunny, and Soccer Mommy, to name just a few highlights. It all happened on Instagram Live. It was fun, serious, a bit tricky, and had some technical issues. But each artist during the two days of the virtual event had a performance and an interview segment with Memes. It was pure and appealing, this cool little home for Lollapalooza’s chic McMansion.