“Family-friendly” is a term that gets thrown around a lot at festivals, but when it comes to Lollapalooza, organizers are not kidding around. Producers C3 Presents puts a premium on making sure the littlest concertgoers have an entertaining and impactful experience every year with the “festival in a festival” area known as Kidzapalooza. It’s open daily from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and is free for kids 10 and under with a ticketed adult.
KIDZAPALOOZA When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Aug. 2-5 Where: Grant Park Tickets: Free for kids 10 and under Information: lollapalooza.com/kidzapalooza
In addition to a lineup of young-minded entertainers, there’s also drum zones and hip-hop workshops, a mini skate park and craft station, rock star hair styling and photo booths and even the chance to make a music video. It’s all the work of C3 Presents Talent Buyer and Kids Activities Manager Sarah George, who has programmed Kidzapalooza year after year since the festival took root in Chicago in 2005. “It was really [founder] Perry Farrell’s idea,” says George. “Not only did he want kids and families to be involved and to have a part in the festival, but I think we all realized early on that these kids are going to be the next festivalgoers. So, from our standpoint, we knew it was important for them not to get overlooked.”
One look around the festival grounds and the progression is evident with the 18-24 demographic continuing to grow and dominate every year. “Kids have been coming to our area from the very beginning and now they’re teenagers going themselves, so there is definitely a full-circle phenomenon,” says George.
Exposing kids to music—and music education—early on has been a part of Lollapalooza and Kidzapalooza’s success. Each day of the four-day weekend features several activities including a drum circle led by Rhythm Revolution where kids can pick up a soundmaker, shaker or other forms of percussion; a hip-hop workshop led by Q Brothers that gives little ones the chance to be an emcee or beatboxer and walk away with their own recorded track; and Berklee College of Music leads participants in the process of making their own music videos wherein they can pick out custom instruments to play on an LED-powered stage that the kids control.
“That’s one of my favorites because it also exposes kids to production,” says George of the Berklee activity. “I’m all about giving kids different kinds of exposure to music more than just the traditional options.” There are also stations for kids to express themselves — from getting a punk rock haircut from Snippets or Tattooz by KTX & Co. and then getting a photo session to bring home a memento. The Peace, Love and Magic Kidza Theater Tent is also another of George’s favorites, one because it’s air conditioned and also because it uses live theater to teach kids about spreading peace and love in their own communities.
George also puts emphasis on ensuring the music lineup is as eclectic. “Over the course of the past few years, I’ve been focused on having diversity on the stage,” she says. “This year, we have some reggae [with Aaron Nigel Smith], a little bit of jazz [Lucy Kalantari & The Jazz Cats], hip-hop with the Q Brothers, Latin music from Mister G and the folk one-man band KB Whirly. There’s also the School of Rock All-Stars that have a bit heavier music for the older kids and is played by kids. We work with them every year and I’m always looking for young talent that’s really good to put in front of other kids. It’s inspirational for children to see their peers playing on a stage.”
George hit a bullseye in 2015 with booking The Helmets, a young metal-inspired act from California that featured Tye Trujillo, the son of Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who was playing the main stage that year. Trujillo, Metallica frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich were spotted watching the band in the wings and Trujillo later joined Perry Farrell for a special performance of Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song” on the Kidzapalooza Stage.
Over the years, Kidzapalooza has been known as the hot spot for unannounced special guests like these performing short acoustic sets. Some of the most memorable appearances have been by Glen Hansard, Ben Harper, Jeff Tweedy, Patti Smith and that one time Slash showed up. Even snowboarder Shaun White’s band has made an appearance.
“I do know ahead of time,” admits George, mum on who this year’s special guest might be, though the Kidzapalooza schedule does have at least one spot reserved at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We want to be careful with not leaking that out because we’ll get an influx of people. The area is really for kids and families and parents so I always want kids to have the front-row seat,” she adds, though anyone is welcome to stop by.
The special guests just add to the environment for parents, too, says George. “There’s a lot of cheesy kids stuff out there that as a parent you kind of cringe at a bit,” she says, laughing. “I want parents to actually enjoy the kids area. We were all festivalgoers and a bunch of us have kids now, but we don’t want to — or need to — stop going.”