Your guide to the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago

lolla skyline

My first two visits to Chicago were both for the Lollapalooza music festival, so it seems appropriate to provide a guide to Lollapalooza for those who will be attending the three-day event in August.

More than a hundred bands playing at a weekend festival in one of America’s most exciting cities? Yes, please.

Guide to Lollapalooza: Festival basics and music

The festival runs on the first or second weekend in August, which in 2012 means August 3-5. It takes place in Grant Park in downtown Chicago.

This year’s lineup features a handful of great bands and a number of mediocre ones as well. I’m most excited about Florence + the Machine, Sigur Ros, M83, Of Monsters and Men, Tune-Yards, Amadou and Mariam, Neon Indian, and Dum Dum Girls.

Because there are so many stages, typically five or six bands are playing at once. That means you often won’t get to see all the bands you like, which can be a bummer. The fest runs from 11:30 am to 10 pm daily.

lollapalooza matt & kim

A member of pop duo Matt & Kim - that would be Kim, in case you weren't sure - crowd surfs at Lollapalooza.

 

If you have a three-day pass (and therefore a wristband), you can come and go as you please. This means that instead of overpaying for food inside the festival, you can slip out and walk to the nearest downtown McDonald’s or Arby’s, then come back inside to see more music.

The food at Lolla isn’t super-expensive, though. It’s sort of like airport prices, so unless you’re on a super-tight budget, you might as well stay inside the gates and enjoy the music.

Guide to Lollapalooza: Dealing with the weather

Unlike some fests, Lolla offers a decent amount of shade. I’ve learned after a couple Lolla experiences that when I don’t really love a band and therefore don’t need to get close to the stage, the best thing to do is scout out a spot in the shade under a tree, even if it means I’m farther away.

Bottled water, a necessity when it’s hot, is fairly affordable ($3, if I recall correctly). And you can take in your own water bottle and refill it for free at one of the water fountains on the premesis. If you plan to do this, be sure to study the festival map, because the water fountains in high-traffic areas tend to have big lines, while the fountains on the periphery of the park typically have no wait.

storm clouds lolla

Storm clouds set in before a massive storm at Lollapalooza '11.

 

Make sure to stay hydrated, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Personally, I’ve never had a beer at Lolla and never plan to; drinking in the sun in the middle of a 90 degree afternoon just doesn’t sound like fun to me.

Wear lots of sunscreen, and make sure to arrange a spot to meet your friends if your cell phone service cuts out (which is quite possible given the overloaded networks with so many people in the park.)

Guide to Lollapalooza: About Grant Park and stage distances

How long does it take to walk from one end of Grant Park to the other? Between 12-20 minutes, depending on how fast you walk and how far back from the stage you are. Even though many Lolla-goers tell you not to bother trying to see competing acts playing at opposite ends of the park at the same time, it is absolutely doable, and in fact, I recommend it.

You can see 40 minutes of one act, walk fast to the other end, and catch the last 35 minutes of the other band. For my money, I’d rather see two partial sets from good bands than get stuck missing one band entirely.

perrys stage

Perry's stage is where to go for an all-day dance party.

 

Here’s the Grant Park map. The full grounds cover 115 acres.

Among the items allowed into the park are non-professional cameras, Flipcams, blankets, umbrellas and soft-sided coolers. Among the prohibited items are glass containers and all food or drink except factory-sealed water bottles. Check out the Lolla FAQ for more.

Guide to Lollapalooza: How to find lodging

There’s no on-site camping at Lolla, and camping near Chicago is not an option unless you want to drive at least an hour out of town, so you must find your own place to crash. I stayed at hostels when I attended from out of town. They’re cheap, and one of them is even located downtown, just a couple blocks from the park.

Just do your homework, because some have had bed bug reports, and you definitely want to avoid bed bugs while traveling.

You can always get a fancy hotel and split it several ways. Other cheaper options include Couchsurfing, AirBnB, and Roomorama. These will allow you to stay with local residents at reasonable prices.

Guide to Lollapalooza: Things to do after the music ends

Unlike Bonnaroo, where you’re stuck camping on-site all day and all night, the music at Lolla ends at 10 pm, which means you have the rest of the evening to experience the city.

tv on the radio

TV On the Radio roar through their set at Lolla '07.

 

You can attend one of the Lolla after-shows, but I always avoid those, because they tend to be expensive and hard to get tickets for, and I like getting away from the music just a little bit to experience the rest of the Windy City.

There’s plenty of nightlife in various neighborhoods. Lincoln Park is a college and young professional neighborhood. Wicker Park is also young but skews more alternative. Wrigleyville is a sports bar paradise surrounding Wrigley Field, while Lakeview and Logan Square also have a lot going on. All of these neighborhoods are easily accessible by train.

And don’t forget the Wiener Circle, where you can get yelled at as your order your late-night hot dogs!

lolla chalk logo

Make sure to pace yourself. When I first attended Lolla, I got there when the gates opened everyday at 11 am, which meant I had little energy left for nightlife. Now, I tend to head into Grant Park around 2 pm or so, depending on which early acts catch my eye. That makes me less exhausted by the end of the weekend and helps maximize my enjoyment of Lollapalooza.

Have you ever attended a music festival?

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10 Responses to Your guide to the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago

  1. Christy @ Technosyncratic June 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I’ve never been to a music festival like this, mostly because crowds tend to overwhelm me (maybe it’s because I’m so damn short so it feels like I’m being suffocated?) and I’m not on the cutting edge of music. I don’t even recognize ONE of the bands you mentioned! I can see Lollapalooza would be a blast for others, though. Great guide.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Is Visiting Halong Bay (Vietnam) Worth it When the Weather is Terrible?

  2. InsideJourneys June 10, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    I was thinking as I read through that I’ve never been to this festival or any of this type mostly because of the crowds. Also, I’d hate that two of my favorite bands could be playing at the same time. Still, it sounds like a lot of fun, especially if you go with a group.
    InsideJourneys recently posted..#TPThursday: Falling for YS Falls

    • Scott June 12, 2012 at 12:38 am #

      The crowds can be rough, but then again, every concert in Chicago is packed, even at small venues.

  3. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista June 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I’ve never done a large festival like this either. I love music and can only imagine how good Florence and the Machines are live but I do really prefer small venues!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Catalonia – Spain’s Best Kept Secret?

    • Scott June 12, 2012 at 12:42 am #

      Music festivals are such a great bargain, that’s one of the main draws.

  4. Tasman July 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    Thanks for the guide. sounds good!

    i’ll be in Chicago for the first time during Lollapalooza!

    And couch surfng… anyone got a couch i can surf? ha

    Can’t wait for At the Drive-in!

  5. Tricia July 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks for the guide. Sounds awesome! I will be in Chicago for the first time during Lollapalooza, from Texas! So Excited!!

    • Scott July 24, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Awesome, it’s only nine days away. See you there!

  6. Inma January 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    wow! sounds like so much fun! J’adore the stormy pic!!!!
    Outdoor music and showers should get higher ratings.. We love to go crazy under the rain.. :)
    Inma recently posted..Paredes de Coura, the coolest festival in Portugal

    • Scott January 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      Rain can be great, but not at Lollapalooza… it turned the whole place into a disgusting muddy mess and made it impossible to walk around!

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