They rolled into the Loop in waves on buses and trains from city and suburbs, teens and young adults of every size and shape, wearing T-shirts, tank tops and cutoffs, walking east on Monroe toward Grant Park, ready to party at this summer’s end-of-July musical mega-fest: Lollapalooza.
I’d never seen this invasion before because my wife and I are out of town most weekends.
But we happened to be around for Lolla this year — in and out of our Downtown high-rise to negotiate sidewalks packed with hordes of determined revelers, and to wonder how the adults in charge of the event would be able to manage so many young people pumped up on music and contraband.
Our building was on high alert, with additional lobby staff, limited pool hours and no access to a 15th floor garden terrace. Even the planters outside the main entrance were brought inside.
The Lollapalooza venue was fortified by a small army of Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics, park district personnel, private medical and security workers, volunteer med students, federal agents and concert organizers.
So how did it go?
Pretty well, from everything I saw, heard and read.
An estimated 400,000 people attended Lolla over four days — one more than last year — and there were only 12 arrests, compared with 34 in 2015.
Another 268 concertgoers were transported to hospitals for minor drug and alcohol-related problems, a few more than last year, but there were no shootings or stabbings, only a few fights, and thankfully, no tragedies.
By comparison, seven people were killed and 45 wounded around the rest of the city over the weekend.
Maybe I’m jaded by Chicago’s mind-numbing crime statistics — the deadliest July in a decade, and more murders and shootings this year than New York and Los Angeles combined — but my conclusion is that Lollapalooza was remarkable for its relative equanimity.
The head of a Grant Park watchdog group even tells DNA Info the park apparently sustained less trampling than the previous 16 Lollapaloozas.
Rich Guidice, from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, credits smart planning and tight safety and security measures, including: Bag searches, pat-downs and random wanding at entrances, an elevated mobile surveillance unit, medical tents, mobile assistance teams and high barricades around the perimeter of the 115-acre site.
“We were very satisfied with this event,” says Guidice, who applauds First District Police Cmdr. Bob Klich for masterfully overseeing the Command Center.
One emergency room physician also gives an assist to the cooler-than-usual weather.
Whatever the factors, $2 million in event revenue will go toward park improvements around the city — that’s $500,000 more than last year — and another four-day fest is confirmed for 2017.
So here’s my takeaway: It’s been a bad year-plus for our Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, which have forfeited the trust of many city residents by mishandling multiple excessive force tragedies and failing to confront decades of misguided law enforcement practices.
And while Lollapalooza is just one big fest in a city facing numerous daunting challenges, it’s worth a shout-out when public officials manage an event of that size the right way — keeping people as safe, secure and happy as possible.
The mayor called it “a remarkable event … a successful long weekend … of great music and fun,” and I agree.
Lollapalooza, even at a distance, left me with a good feeling about Chicago, and that’s nice, even if it’s only fleeting.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: Follow @Andyshawbga