A Walking (and Eating) Tour of Lollapalooza 2014: Day Two
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 arrive on site as two broken people. There’s a mysterious bruise on my foot, I can barely speak, and my head is pounding. I feel like Flanders in Vegas. We head back to the Farmer’s Market in the hopes of securing a breakfast that won’t punish us any further, and I make my way to La Boulangerie. This is the Chicago bakery, but your town probably has a place called La Boulangerie, too. I order the French Dog, which the man behind the counter tells me is a hot dog on a baguette, and take it to The Grove Stage to watch blues-punk Benjamin Booker.
Booker is originally from Tampa but calls New Orleans home these days, and he’s a pretty excellent representation of what the city is like. He’s a virtuosic, reverent guitarist, respectful of his history. But he’s also grimy as hell and just as content to keep his bluesy feedback stuck in the mud. As for the French Dog, the baguette is excellent: fresh, crispy exterior and a chewy center. Et le chien? Well, it’s a jumbo, and all-beef at that. It’s definitely not hot, but that wasn’t in the name, either. The condiments are disappointing, too: plain old mustard and standard-label ketchup. Some caramelized onions, some cornichons, some grainy mustard—that’s what you’d want here. Quelle dommage.
Rachelle opts for a smoothie from Seedling. Because you have to mix that vodka you smuggled in with something, there are several spots at Lolla selling fruit smoothies, but this South Haven, MI, farm makes them with their own handpicked fruit. It’s too chunky to fit through the straw, but you can practically taste the earth on the blueberries, and a shot of green tea bursts through the murky blue. This is probably the most responsible way to start what is going to be a very long day. I take precisely two sips.
Soon, we find a spot on the slope of concrete that runs to the edge of the Palladia Stage, where we see Parquet Courts for the second time in twelve hours. The stylistic shifts of Sunbathing Animal provided physical relief and some serious art-squall thrills the night before, but the set comes across as languid in the midday sun, at least until the closing one-two of “Light Up Gold” and “Sunbathing Animal.”
All weekend, people are walking around with giant sports bottles filled with Thorny Rose wine. It seems impossible that anyone other than Eddie Vedder could be drinking an entire bottle of red wine out here. But they have shade, and they have hammocks. We flirt with the idea of usurping our duties as festival attendees and lounging in Thorny’s vineyard all day, but we don’t pay more than $3 for a bottle of wine in our family, and the Shaws are nowhere to be seen.
Nas, meanwhile, has been relegated to a second-tier stage, which seems criminal. If he’s on his way out, the crowd doesn’t care, and getting a spot in the same city block as the stage proves impossible. It’s getting hot, too, and there’s an, ah, interesting fog taking up residence among the trees. Tomorrow, around the same time of day, weed smoke will seed the clouds, opening a rainstorm while Killer Mike and El-P run their jewels.
We make a break to the clearer skies on the south side of the festival grounds, stopping at Graham Elliot‘s booth along the way. Sure, he’s got three Michelin stars and plays the foodie Randy Jackson on TV, but in Chicago Elliot is best known for one thing: Lobster corndogs. They are synonymous with Lollapalooza. You mention them in your advertising if you can’t afford to license the festival’s name, the same way people call The Super Bowl “The Big Game.” I can tell you that they are very, very, very good. A thick drizzle of creamy hollandaise-like sauce threads across one side, along with micro-cut chives and a boil mix that’s been sprinkled on like it’s Tony Chachere’s. The lobster itself is a touch overcooked, making it a bit chewy, but so what? You’re eating lobster on a stick.
Rachelle, whose vegetarianism puts her at odds with most music festival offerings, opts for a thai veggie wrap from local heroes The Goddess and Grocer. These guys have a few delis scattered around town that generally make the prepared-food section at Whole Foods look like the greased rollers at a gas station. Halfway through her first bite, Rachelle declares the veggie wrap the best thing she’s ever eaten at a music festival. “Decadent, but filling and healthy,” she says. The flavors are expertly balanced, and the peanut sauce is thick without being overwhelming. The tofu is lightly fried, making it crispier and more satisfying than you’d expect while still being light enough to keep you from hurling in the grass at Perry’s, where we happen to be sitting.
There’s an incredible flow of people moving around us on either side as we eat our corn dogs and veggie wraps on the curb. There are blurs of color everywhere — from fluorescent tank tops to headbands to the pulsing flash of the Perry’s sign. We’re tired. And it feels like we’ve reached the end of consumption. The two of us can’t take in anything else. But there’s nothing else to do here. Everything around us encourages us to overconsume — see every band, grab every freebie. Even if we were able to command one of the hammocks that Samsung have set up, I know I would be wracked by the pressure see what else I can see. This is an experience made up of hundreds of potential mini-experiences, and trying to have them all will kill you. By sundown on Saturday, the only person around who looks healthy and fit and not yet on the verge of physical explosion is festival founder and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, who is skinnier and better looking at 55 than I ever have been or will be. Even the sun has gotten in on the act, growing overripe and bursting over the festival in a ball of humidity. Grant Park has become a miserable place to be.
So we pack it in, assuring ourselves that Outkast will be no better (though certainly no worse) than they had been when saw them in Milwaukee in June. We leave the park and head home, where we watch the livestream in our bedroom. I eat half a bag of tortilla chips with an entire tub of Trader Joe’s kale-and-spinach dip, and I rap every word of “Bombs Over Baghdad” to the dog.
Later, somewhat recovered, we make it to the Double Door in time to see glitchy New York hip-hop duo Ratking and the carnival of delight that is KIller Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels. It’s a lesson in compelling opposites. Ratking’s Wiki explodes on the mic, ratcheting his tiny frame like a water sprinkler and spitting verses in a voice much deeper and angrier than his height would suggest. Meanwhile, his partner Hak sings his raps with one hand in his pocket and a hangdog look on his face. It’s hard to imagine that these two would even acknolwedge one another on the street, much less form such a strong artistic partnership. Conversely, watching Killer Mike and El-P rock the stage moments later is like watching two dogs chase each other around a park. Andre 3000 isapparently in the room, but it’s impossible to take your eyes off the two dudes on stage trading hugs and high-fives and generally boasting of their friendship in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen any musicians do — and I saw Springsteen with Clarence. It all makes the crowd’s joyous chant of the “Do dope/Fuck hope” refrain in “DDFH” that much weirder, sly commentary on the pharmaceutical industry notwithstanding. Between tallboys of Old Style and Dos Equis (which tasted weirdly like Red Man chewing tobacco), I wise up and select Revolution Brewery‘s Local Hero IPA. Hoppy, a little sweet, and excellent. We close the night with slices from late-night pizza geniuses Dimo’s: one mac and cheese, one bacon-cheddar-chicken-finger-ranch. Guess who had which. FL