As soon as Danny Burke turned 18 and his mom let him “do what I wanted,” he and a group of friends from high school headed to his first Lollapalooza.
Now 29, Burke has been to all but three days of Lollapalooza since 2007. The Chicago accountant has missed being there only because of weddings those days. “People like to get married in early August on Saturday,” he says.
Lollapalooza — which opens Aug. 2 at Grant Park and goes through the weekend — has grown in the time he’s been going. It’s now a four-day festival attracting almost half a million people. And each year, fewer of Burke’s friends are willing to pay upwards of $400 for the full weekend of music.
Burke is one of many for whom the festival is a sacred affair. Here’s some of the Lolla wisdom they’ve picked up over the years.
Are the crowds getting younger, or is it you?
For some who have grown up with Lollapalooza, it’s hard to tell whether it’s just because they’re getting older, but they say the crowds seem to be getting younger.
“I am getting older,” Burke says. “But it is getting more and more high school. When I was going in high school, I never heard of people going.”
Burke says that he’s noticed “the money’s in the younger generations right now,” especially with rap and electronic music.
The EDM-themed Perry’s Stage — which started out “super tiny” — is now packed with younger audiences, says Lisa White, 32, whose first Lolla was in 2005, when the nomadic festival settled in Chicago. White, now a music writer, says she still sees people her age but thinks she has aged out of the festival’s target audience.
“It’s funny because you’ll see people with the ’94 Lollapalooza shirts, old grizzly dudes, and they’re mad about it,” White says. “Well, things change. There’s still a business at the end of the day.”
In addition to the high prices, White says festival fatigue is an issue. After more than 10 Lollapaloozas, she plans to sit this one out, saying she has seen certain bands one too many times. And for those she wants to see again, “I’d rather just wait and see them indoors.”
Necessities, tips, tricks
When Foo Fighters headlined in 2011, its set was overrun by a giant storm, “as usually happens at Lollapalooza,” White says.
White, who was covering the festival as a reporter, says, “The sky just suddenly opened up,” and “it looked like the end of the world.” Things were looking grim — until lead vocalist David Grohl commanded the crowd, “F— it, everyone sing!”
“The entire field just started singing along to ‘(There Goes) My Hero,’ ” White says. “Journalists don’t really get into it, but we were all screaming along because we thought we were gonna die. And it was one of the coolest live things I’ve ever had happen.”
Kelly Ferrari, who’s 33 and gearing up for her eighth Lollapalooza, recommends bringing a Ziploc bag in case of rain.
White says she would prepare a “festival kit” to take along, complete with sunscreen, a plastic bag for her phone, a poncho and a backup phone charger — and toilet paper.
But this year, as the festival plans to amp up security with stricter rules about bags that limit them to “small purses, totes and drawstring bags” and ban backpacks or bags with multiple pockets, it might be harder to come so well-equipped.
One Lolla regular who asks to go by just her first name, Abigail, says she usually takes a backpack to hold necessities such as ponchos and water bottles. Last year, she says, she noticed security consistently took longer and was more thorough in inspecting bags. She says she’s still figuring out this year’s strategy.
Ferrari agrees that security has gotten stricter: “I used to be able to take in a book bag and carry tons of crap with me.”
The most important thing, according to Ferrari, and this is echoed by others, is to wear the right shoes.
“Comfortable shoes is the biggest thing,” she says. “Obviously you want to look cute, and I get it, but I see so many girls on the second day with literally bleeding feet.”
White agrees: “It’s not a fashion show.”
Be organized — and definitely hit this spot
This will be Blake Landa’s tenth Lollapalooza.
“Go to the set that you want to see,” says Landa, who lives in Champaign and usually makes the trip to Chicago alone, then meets up with friends. “Pick one spot and say, ‘All right, this is where we’re gonna meet up if we get separated after the show.’ ”
He also advises Lolla newbies to run to the Toyota Music Den — a smaller performance spot — as soon as possible for the free bandanas, of which he now has an extensive collection.
The den is one of Ferrari’s favorite spots, too. It’s where she saw the Glass Animals do an intimate set “a foot off the ground” for about 30 people after after playing to a huge crowd elsewhere at Lollapalooza. That’s the kind of performance you might find there.
“A lot of times, people don’t even know it exists,” Ferrari says. “It’s hard because I like the fact that it’s kind of hidden. So I’m always torn: Do I want to share this information?”
Even after seven years, Ferrari is aiming to make the most of the weekend by being organized. She prepares a color-coded spreadsheet beforehand, going through every act on the schedule. But she also has learned to be flexible.
Abigail gets that: “Sticking to a rigid schedule stresses you out more than you need to be. Just be flexible — nobody you see there is gonna be bad,. And if they’re bad, who cares? It’s 45 minutes.”
She says she has stopped forcing herself to the front of sweaty crowds, instead sticking to the side: “You’re gonna hear the headliner the same as if you’re right up close as if you’re 100 yards back.”
’It almost gives you goosebumps’
Now 26, Abigail already is planning to splurge on VIP tickets with her friends when she turns 30. And she plans to keep going long after that.
“I will go to Lollapalooza until I can’t go anymore, until I can’t walk in to Grant Park,” she says.
Unlike some music festivals, where camping out is involved, Lollapalooza boasts an accessible urban appeal, according to Landa, that keeps people coming back.
And when it added urinals to portable toilets last year, cutting way down on lines, Landa says it “completely changed the game.”
Other Lollapalooza aficionados say the festival is one of the cleanest and best-planned. And being downtown isn’t bad, either.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to be watching an artist, be in this huge crowd — and then it’s night, and you look up, and you see the Chicago skyline,” Ferrari says. “It almost gives you goosebumps.”
This year, Burke plans to see Vampire Weekend for the fourth time and St. Vincent for the seventh. He isn’t sure whether he’ll buy another four-day ticket next year — but says he’ll definitely be back.
Part of the magic, Burke says, comes from being open to the unexpected.
“Feel free to split up from your friends,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to go alone. You’ll find someone that loves a band as much as you.”
And don’t forget, he says: “Stay hydrated.”