A Walking (and Eating) Tour of Lollapalooza 2014: Day Three
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.
Rachelle has elected to stay home today with another sandwich from our local Goddess and Grocer, so I walk up to the street level from the Jackson Street El station by myself and right into a driving rainstorm. It ends shortly after I’ve purchased and wrapped myself in a six-dollar poncho from a souvenir store; I don’t know it yet, but deciding whether or not to wear this poncho will become the major theme of the day.
Once I’ve made it into the park, I opt for the only food that tastes as good soaking wet as it does under optimal conditions: pad thai. Star of Siam has been in Chicago for as long as I’ve been alive, and they hand over a steaming pile of noodles that they could’ve charged twice as much for. There’s a bit too much tamarind sauce, which makes the noodles almost sickly sweet, but the comfort is welcome. I use about 1/3 of the amount of sriracha that I normally would, because I know I’m going to put pictures of this on the Internet and I don’t want to be judged.
I’m not even hungry when I wander over to the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams booth, but the opportunity to eat what must be the best ice cream in the U.S. for $5 doesn’t come along every day. A pint of the stuff costs more than twice as much at my local grocer, and allow me to preempt your outrage by saying that Maseratis cost more than most sedans, too. I consider my time with this $5 cup of salted caramel a good opportunity to reflect on fiscal responsibility and how well I’m doing as an adult. The salted caramel is frozen hard as a rock, and it forces me to eat slowly. I savor the sweet-and-salty interplay, and as I notice the bright taste of cold milk, I contemplate how good life can be.
In the meantime, Killer Mike and El-P are getting all worked up on the Palladia Stage. They play the same way they have the night before—just two best buds hanging out and having fun!—and it’s no less charming. At one point, El think he sees security roughing up a female fan and brings the show to a halt to call out the bouncers. When they realize that the offender is a particularly hirsute dude—and one who seems to have had it coming, given how quickly he sprints away from the stage area—both El and Mike apologize to the security guard profusely.
If you don’t live here, you probably think of Chicago as being a pretty standard megalopolis, maybe New York with paradoxically high rates of niceness and violence. And we are. We almost got the 2016 Olympics. We have the country’s second-tallest building, the continent’s second-longest road, and not one but two of the Major Leagues’ worst baseball teams. But we don’t have food trucks. Well, not really. Chicago’s food-truck laws are some of the most restrictive in the country, and with so little real estate to vie for, few are willing to take up the mantel. Puffs of Doom are among the handful you see at every event around town. Their puffs are the size of a bisciut, and the texture falls somewhere between there and a particularly hearty croissant. POD offer no less than nine varieties, both savory and sweet, and I opt for the sausage pizza. What I get is more like a lasagna on a bun, which isn’t really a complaint. It’s hearty and filling, though a bit anonymous, which isn’t something you’d typically associate with the phrase “sausage pizza puff.”
I’m filled with noodles and ice cream and Italian food, and I have a conundrum. The Prince acolytes in Chromeo are getting set up over on the Bud Light Stage, and getting down will be in high order, poncho and all. In a kind of sodium-driven daze, I make my way to Seasons Soda, where I’m presented with a question I hadn’t anticipated: Is there ever a situation in which I’d pay $5 for a soda? The answer turns out to be yes. The mint and honey — and lack of artificial sweeteners of any kind—make this taste more like the base of a craft cocktail than anything you’d ever call “pop.” More importantly, it offers something that I’ll pay just about any price for at this point in the weekend: legitimate refreshment. Without it, I’d be stranded on a curb in my misery. With it, I’m out there doing an awkward weight-shifting dance to “Sexy Socialite,” poncho flapping in the breeze.
As the day begins to wind toward its end, we reach a strange kind of mania in Grant Park. It’s a collective exhaustion fighting hard against the impending end of the weekend, and — perhaps this is the sodium talking — things are starting to feel perfunctory. We’re now partying because we have to party. If we don’t take this chance to party, we won’t have another until next August. The lines for local deep-dish kingpins Lou Malnati’s are so long that they’re extending into the walkway in front of the Grove Stage, and as we try to move around, we’re packed in from all sides. I’m young enough to remember how exhilirating that feeling used to be, of completely losing your agency to the crowd and finding a strange freedom within the anonymity. I see kids like this all weekend, kids who, truth be told, are trying to have a good time, and it takes all I have to not grouse constantly about the unrelenting choke of weed smoke and the babbling throughout sets by quieter artists. Old dude complaints, sure. The truth is, at twenty-nine I’m no longer within the median age range at most music festivals, and I’m not yet old enough to stop being disappointed about that. This isn’t my festival.
I pick up a tamale from Dia De Los Tamales, who, besides Lou’s, have had the most consistently long lines of the weekend. It’s not hard to see why: With semi-sweet cornflower packed dense as a Powerbar and stuffed with black beans, and then slathered with a salsa that tastes no more than three minutes old, Dia’s vegan tamale was the edible equivalent of that Seasons Soda. Plus it leaves a nice little burn on the lips that lingered for the rest of the evening. Perhaps this is where I take my risks now.
The Avett Brothers have been playing for no less than three minutes when the rain begins again. Then it keeps coming in sheets, turning the infield in front of the Samsung Galaxy Stage into the kind of mud pit that a certain type of festivalgoer is always hoping for. I find myself right on the pit’s edge, wedged into the guy in front of me lest I sully my Vans further back. Incredibly, sunshine permeates the rain for the entirety of the set, and people here are deeply and genuinely delighted in a way that I haven’t seen all weekend. The three-day flow of Bud Light and the Avetts’ standing as the festival’s most earnest and winsome raconteurs send everyone into a frenzy. There is a couple dancing in the mud — a shirtless guy and a woman in a sports bra. Neither has a grain of clean skin or fiber on their body. The guy, with bright smile popping from among the mud on his face, slips and falls, sending mud flying. Everyone cheers. He gets up, still smiling. On stage, the Avetts are covering George Jones’ immortal “The Race is On,” and Grant Park momentarily feels like an SEC tailgate party. This I mean as the highest of compliments.
The mud bacchanal has restored me. For maybe the first time in three days, the constant mill of people around me doesn’t feel like a source of impending disaster, or at best an incredible hassle. It feels fun. It feels good, and necessary. It feels like the whole point, really. There will be plenty more opportunities to stand cross-armed and quiet in a club.
Suddenly amped, I make what I know to be a ludicrous vow: I will see three of the four headliners of this festival. I will walk north to the Bud Light Stage to catch Skrillex. I will then move to the Grove, where DARKSIDE will be performing. Then, I will end the night with the last few moments of Chance the Rapper at Perry’s. I will, I will, I will with a grin.
I stop at the Buckingham Fountain on my way and snap a picture. The orange and purple sun is setting behind the neon signs to the west, and above the skyscrapers it turns a rich blue. In the end, I’m so excited about my new plan that I end up bouncing from stage to stage quickly and impatiently. Skrillex—Like playing the sounds of a computer’s birth through a jet engine. Darkside—They’re bathed in light, and their slowburn would’ve been the perfect cap to the weekend had I been able to sit still. Chance the Rapper — Apparently that’s not a recording of R. Kelly I’m hearing as I walk up. By the time I’m within sight, Chance is positively screaming the chorus to “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” mistakenly believing that the charm of his words isn’t in some way tied to the way he says them. No matter. I stand far away from the stage and eventually find myself holding a double turkey burger from BJ’s Market and Bakery. It’s not exciting. Its only innovation is its second patty. It’s without question the healthiest thing I have ordered for myself all weekend. It’s also the only reason I make it out of Grant Park with something like my sanity in tact. I finish it and leave the park before the crowd, then hail a cab home. I have finally fed myself well. Never underestimate the beauty of utility.
I took nearly 74,000 steps this weekend, which nets out to about 39 miles of walking. That’s further than Michael Bradley ran during World Cup. I didn’t see Malia Obama, who was apparently doing her best Zoe Bartlett routine. I missed — voluntarily missed — seeing one of my favorite groups of all time on Saturday night in order to keep my wife and myself from physical exhaustion. And there are so, so many things I didn’t eat; I sometimes find my thoughts drifting to the prosciutto sandwich.
But I did see some things. And I did eat some things. And I wore out a good pair of Vans.