At Lollapalooza, prevailing mood is excitement, despite health worries
As COVID-19 cases rise and monkeypox looms, fans kept their focus on Metallica and other festival draws.
Throngs of enthusiastic music fans made their way back to Grant Park for the opening of Lollapalooza — the 16th edition of Chicago’s largest festival — amid lingering threats to public health.
Thursday marked the second Lollapalooza to kick off in the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, with cases on the rise again — statewide and nationally — and contagious subvariants posing a threat to an event expected to draw more than 385,000 attendees.
Yet the atmosphere inside the festival grounds was buzzing with a feeling of celebration and excitement, with attendees walking briskly to catch some of the more than 170 artists playing this year.
It was clear that, for many attendees, any outside concerns were left there and the weekend was meant to be enjoyed.
Within 30 minutes of the gates opening at 11 a.m., Guy Sausedo successfully secured himself a front-row spot at the T-Mobile stage, where he planned to wait until Metallica’s start time at 8:15 p.m. For Sausedo, traveling here from his home in Los Angeles was a no-brainer, saying he asked himself, “Why am I gonna be at home and just wish I were here, you know? I might as well make the trip out here and do it.”
It would be Sausedo’s 15th time seeing Metallica — an experience he said was always fresh and filled with fans that felt like family.
In addition to the usual music-festival attire, such as bathing suits, jumpsuits and jerseys, Thursday’s most ubiquitous fashion feature was Metallica gear. Legions of fans in black shirts and hats bearing the band’s logo roamed the festival grounds,
Waiting at the front of the Bud Light Seltzer stage was Latifah Lillie and her 13-year-old niece Cinya McKinney, both of Olympia Fields. At Cinya’s request, they would be waiting all day for Lil Baby’s 8:45 p.m. set there, Lillie explained with a smile. She was there to see Jazmine Sullivan perform songs from her latest album, 2021’s “Heaux Tales.”
“I feel like she tells the woman’s story — a young Black woman, or just women in general’s story — how we have the freedom to do whatever we want and we shouldn’t be ashamed of what we do within our early twenties up to our thirties,” she said of Sullivan. “And how we should also empower ourselves as women.”
Just south of the stage at Buckingham Fountain, Phoenix natives Murphy and Darshini Yazzie snapped photos and videos by one of Chicago’s most iconic tourist attractions. They said they were there for Metallica, noting they traveled to the city to catch the band’s last headlining set in 2015. And even though temperatures peaked above 80 degrees Thursday, it was the Chicago weather and breeze from Lake Michigan that made Lollapalooza an enjoyable contrast to the Phoenix heat, Murphy said.
Similar to last year, Chicago public health officials, in the weeks leading up to the festival, expressed confidence that the festival would not be a superspreader event. A series of tweets Monday from Chicago Department of Public Health urged Lollapalooza fans to wear masks indoors, get vaccinated and boosted and stay home if they’re experiencing COVID symptoms.
On its website, Lollapalooza’s COVID-19 recommendations largely mirrored local and national standards, simply cautioning fans to stay home if experiencing COVID symptoms and to wear a mask if unvaccinated.
It was a bit of a departure from the show Lollapalooza made last year of having its contracted security companies check proof of vaccination at the front gates. Despite a few attendees being turned away for not providing adequate proof in the beginning, vaccination checks throughout the weekend proved to be relatively arbitrary.
A report from the Chicago Tribune revealed that Lollapalooza warned the city that it wouldn’t closely inspect vaccine cards, and the festival successfully requested to loosen its COVID testing standard. Yet in the weeks after Lollapalooza 2021, Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady doubled down and insisted that Lollapalooza was not a superspreader event.
Another threat looming over this year’s iteration was a nationwide monkeypox outbreak, with Chicago health officials reporting Wednesday that more than 320 people have tested positive for the virus while vaccine supplies remain limited.
Health officials said that while outdoor events are less risky, to prevent the spread of monkeypox, people should limit skin-to-skin contact when possible. People can also lower their risk by avoiding sharing items like bottles and cigarettes, officials said.
Citing monkeypox and COVID-19, River North couple Ciera Williams and Bobby Claypool said they were a little concerned, but planned to be cautious.
“We’re trying to distance as much as we can, but within reason,” Claypool said.