A Walking (and Eating) Tour of Lollapalooza 2014: Day One
Lollapalooza is a big, nasty, three-day feast. And like any good party that lasts that long, it will carry you through all the emotions you forgot you had, and it'll do it with all the subtlety of a Skrillex bass drop. That's a compliment.
Everything around you is designed to drop your jaw and hit your gut: the leaping spray of Buckingham Fountain, the nearly pornographic view of Chicago’s impeccable skyline, the surge of bands, the hordes of people. It’s not enough to stand near second base on a baseball diamond and watch what may be the greatest musical group of the last twenty years; you have to remember that, six years ago, President-elect Obama stood where Outkast are performing right now.
And, like any party worthy of this city of excess, there is plenty to eat. Chef Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot, Grahamwich, TV’s MasterChef) personally curates the Lolla food selection, which is balanced between local favorites, tour-guide staples, and the delightfully out of place. Elliot’s musical feast is the only (sanctioned) fuel that keeps this party’s fire burning. But it’s no byproduct. Consumption of every variety is at the center of the Lollapalooza experience, integral as it is to what music festivals have become. What follows is Lollapalooza by mouth, a three-day culinary journey up and down Grant Park’s lakeshore and ultimately into the gut of America’s biggest music festival. Some bands played, too.
We begin with a roast beef sandwich with wasabi mayo and yellow mustard on whole wheat bread. This is technically my first meal of the weekend. I eat it at my desk shortly before walking over to the festival grounds a few blocks away. I notice halfway through eating it that the roast beef has turned. Not a promising start, but I’m still proud that I bought wasabi mayo.
Finally on the festival grounds after waiting to have our bags checked, my partner in crime (and marriage) and I head straight to the Farmer’s Market, where all of the food is locally sourced.
I’m a veteran of the music-festival scene, but this is my first Lollapalooza. I come from Louisiana, where food and music and public gathering are all essentially inseparable (it’s often said, whether true or not, that people go to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival just to eat). I’ve spent weeks now reading up on Lolla’s food offerings, smacking my lips as I consider the prosciutto and arugula sandwich with smoked mozzarella that’s purported to be on offer. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand that makes the majority of top-tier music festivals in the US book the same acts. What interests me is the festival experience, the question of what how Lollapalooza and Coachella and Governor’s Ball choose to differentiate themselves. Here, to my delight, it is the food.
Brunkow Cheese, a Wisconsin cheesery, is serving up fluffy white queijo de coalho in the Farmer’s Market. The Brazilian beach treats are basically barbecued slabs of cheese the size of an ice cream bar. They stay firm, but it’s light in texture, and the char marks give them a nice brûlée. Mine is slathered in pineapple chipotle sauce and chopped bacon and tastes like a high-concept omelet. I feel confident that I would pay $11 for this at brunch if it came with potatoes. Rachelle’s is drenched in garlic butter, which I try not to get in my beard as we find a spot under the leafy canopy of the Grove Stage to see Courtney Barnett. The charming self-effacement that makes her Sea of Split Peas such an excellent record is no affectation. She comes across the same in person as she does on record: a little shy, a little brainy, a little aware of both. She coaxes some noise from her guitar, and it expands outward and off of the Beaux-Arts facade of the adjoining Art Institute of Chicago. We have begun.
Grant Park is bordered on the west by a run of historic hotels and neon signs and to the east by Lake Michigan. The views to the south are less inspiring—think recently built high-rise condos—and to the north, where Interpol are now playing on the Bud Light Stage, supertalls reign. The 83-story Aon Center hulks overhead, a grooved white monolith noteworthy only for its size. Oddly, the dimming of the group’s critical star seems to have served them well. Freed of the responsibility for carrying us where Ian Curtis couldn’t, they play most of Turn On The Bright Lights with a swagger that certainly isn’t present on the record. It’s a good look for them, though, here in the public park with the big city looming and the rain determining whether or not to fall. They’ll be the best surprise of the weekend.
As the sun sets on day one, I struggle through the human river flowing toward Eminem and the Samsung Galaxy Stage. On the way, I pick up the only thing that sounds like it won’t hurt my stomach. Burrito Beach‘s chicken burrito ain’t proper—the tortilla has the texture of a thin donut, which is surprisingly delicious, and a few bites in I realize I’ve inadvertently ordered mine with very spicy chorizo. I consider this a bonus and let a bottle of Topo Chico wash the burn down my throat. Then I watch Eminem from the media area, where an increasingly humorous number of uniformed Chicago police officers are also gaping for a view. I wonder whether Eminem thinks punk is dead.
Late that night, we both use up all of the goodwill and strength we have fighting our way through Parquet Courts at the Empty Bottle. As the Brooklyn quartet tear through their tightly structured set, the packed crowd thrashes and shoves and does things neither of us have considered doing to music since we were in high school. It is wonderful. In the chaos of the show-closing “Sunbathing Animal,” someone pours most of an ice-cold Old Style down my back. This, too, is wonderful. No cops are present, and, from what I can tell, neither is Eminem. FL