Lollapalooza fans optimistic as 2021 festival kicks off amid COVID-19 precautions

With COVID cases on the rise nationally and growing concerns about the virus’ Delta variant, Lollapalooza organizers recently introduced added precautions for entry to the festival grounds.

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Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station Thursday afternoon at the main entrance on Michigan Avenue on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station Thursday afternoon at the main entrance on Michigan Avenue on day one of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Thousands of fans streamed into Grant Park Thursday marking the return of Lollapalooza after COVID-19 halted last year’s iteration of the 30-year-old music festival.

With COVID cases on the rise nationally and growing concerns about the virus’ Delta variant, Lollapalooza organizers this month introduced added precautions for entry to the festival grounds.

Concert-goers were asked via the festival’s website and social media accounts to present a copy of a COVID-19 vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the festival’s gate if unvaccinated.

Ahead of Lolla’s 11 a.m. kickoff, dozens of fans lined up outside the festival’s Ida B. Wells Drive, East Harrison and Monroe Avenue entrances off Michigan Avenue, wearing outfits featuring cutoffs, jerseys, body glitter, cowboy hats, tie dye and more. Festival volunteers stood nearby offering masks to anyone interested.

Passersby going down Michigan Avenue glanced at the small crowds as Chicago police officers began to position themselves in different locations around the perimeter of the festival.

And while some fans said they were slightly worried about COVID-19, many expressed confidence in Lollapalooza’s new protocols.

Clutching physical copies of their vaccination cards, 20-year-old J.D. Lopez and his friends waited at the front of the line on Harrison Street, ready to make a run for the T-Mobile stage where Miley Cyrus would be performing the Day 1 closing set at 8:45 p.m. The group said Lollapalooza couldn’t have been more prepared in terms of safety protocols.

“We’re glad the festival is doing everything they can to be safe by checking vaccination cards and tests, Lopez said.

Once the gates opened, fans steadily made their way to where security personnel quickly checked printed papers and phone screens — a process taking less than 10 seconds in most cases.

Devin Parham (from left), Hayden Ford and Danielle Polk of Chicago pose in front of the Lake Shore stage Thursday on Day 1 of Lollapalooza. Polk said the lines to enter the festival grounds were moving quickly Thursday morning.

Devin Parham (from left), Hayden Ford and Danielle Polk of Chicago pose in front of the Lake Shore stage Thursday on Day 1 of Lollapalooza. Polk said the lines to enter the festival grounds were moving quickly Thursday morning.

Matt Moore/Sun-Times

“It was super easy — there weren’t even any lines and there were a lot of stations for people to get through, so there wasn’t any backup,” said 24-year-old Chicagoan Danielle Polk. She and her friends said getting into the festival felt surprisingly easy and efficient — a far cry from previous years, where it could take an hour to get through.

But for 18-year-old Lake Villa resident Damon Sagel and his mother, the process was not so smooth — the two were turned away because they were not vaccinated. They said they did not know they needed to be and were angry that they potentially wasted nearly $500 on tickets.

Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station at the main entrance at  Lollapalooza on Thursday.

Festival-goers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they pass through a health screening station at the main entrance at Lollapalooza on Thursday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“I didn’t go to get a vaccination, so we can’t get in — we weren’t aware that you need to have a vaccination card,” Sagel said.“They didn’t say anything about a refund, but we’re still going to try going over there and get one,” he said, following his mother who bolted to the box office. “She’s not in a good mood.”

Inside the park, maskless fans ran to stages where they planned to camp out for headliners, while others stopped for food and selfies at the many Instagrammable sets set up throughout the park.

Also walking the park were staff members from the Chicago Department of Health, who also staffed an informational table. Their goal they said is to connect with unvaccinated fans and show them where they can get the jab, whether at home or at a nearby downtown location.

Sitting on the grass in front of the T-Mobile stage, 23-year-old Christine Tuscano surveyed the festival grounds and smiled.

J.D. Lopez (center) holds a photo of him and Miley Cyrus as he and his friends wait at the Harrison Street entrance of Lollapalooza on Thursday. The group planned to run to the T-Mobile stage and camp out until Cyrus’ nighttime set.

J.D. Lopez (center) holds a photo of him and Miley Cyrus as he and his friends wait at the Harrison Street entrance of Lollapalooza on Thursday. The group planned to run to the T-Mobile stage and camp out until Cyrus’ nighttime set.

Matt Moore/Sun-Times

“It hit me here,” she said, explaining the feeling of being at a large-scale event for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“I sat here at the T-Mobile stage and was like, ‘Wow, we’re back!’ It seems so surreal. I didn’t feel like we were ever gonna get to this point.”

The festival will continue through Sunday.

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