Lollapooza successfully returns amid record heat; festival’s future uncertain

By Dan McDonald

CHICAGO – Thousands of fans flocked to Grant Park for the first Lollapalooza in two years this weekend, during the hottest day of the year on Sunday. With a reported high of 102 degrees Sunday, an estimated 33,000 people attended each day of festivities.

Last time Lollapalooza came to Chicago, it was part of a national tour, while this year it was a one-time festival. Stacey Rodrigues, producer for Capital Sports and Entertainment, the production company behind Lollapalooza, and Chicago Park District Spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner both called this year’s Lollapalooza a success.

“I think the chances are excellent that it will return. This destination festival format has been a great one for (Lollapalooza),” Rodrigues said. “The jury is still out (on Chicago hosting next year), but we’re having a great time in Chicago. We think that Chicago is liking it a lot… it’s definitely still in the running.”

Rodrigues said that they will have to debrief with the Chicago Park District and partners involved in putting Lollapalooza on before committing to anything.

“It’s not going to be brand new, but we’ll just look at the economics of it and look at the demographics, but right now we’re feeling very positive,” Rodrigues said.

Lollapalooza, a popular musical tour of the 1990s founded by Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell, made its name with bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, and The Prodigy headlining. Few of the bands originally part of the tours in the 90’s are still around today, but a new crop of rock bands signed on. Weezer, The Pixies, The Killers and Wide Spread Panic topped this year’s bill.

In recent years, festivals like Coachella, Austin City Limits, and Bonnaroo in Tennessee have drawn people from all over the country, while Lollapalooza had to cancel the tour last year due to poor ticket sales. This year marks Lollapalooza’s first year as a destination festival.

Lollapalooza at Grant Park was also a first for the Chicago Park District, which had to work together closely with Capital Sports and Entertainment to make Lollapalooza happen. Maxey-Faulkner stressed that coordinating between city departments was key, and that Lollapalooza shouldered some of the burden by providing seven of their own ambulances from a private event medical staffing company so city resources would not be heavily drained on such a hot day.

There was a visible city presence between coordinating public service departments, and the city received a cut of the money taken in. The Chicago Park District probably met the earning estimate of $400,000, Maxey-Faulkner said.

The weather affected crowds Sunday, moving them from the unsheltered field to shade all around the park. Saturday’s weather was mildly overcast with slight drizzling. The CTA provided air-conditioned buses that acted as cooling stations located throughout the facility, and cooling tents could be found near food vendors. Multiple water fountains were placed throughout the park.

Lines for water required a 15-minute wait that went 30 people deep. Bottled water was available from vendors for $3 a bottle or for free when Lollapalooza staffers dropped off bottles of water in the middle of the field periodically on Sunday.

Sunday’s heat did not go unnoticed by sweaty and scantily-clad concert goers. Junior in LAS Brian McCann was able to stay cool enough to enjoy the festival.

“I just keep fililng up, keep drinking, keep pouring it all over myself,” McCann said.

Others stayed in the shade, wore bathing suits or made dew rags out of shirts. Incoming freshmen Andy Leon and Daria Zelasko found another way to deal with the heat.

“Got to keep drinking and going out to Buckingham fountain,” Leon said.

Cyd Gajewski, Vice President of Entertainment Medical Services-the company contracted to provide first-aid-was pleased with first-aid at Lollapalooza. Only four people needed ambulance rides on Saturday, she said.

Figures for attendees that needed hospital care on Sunday were not available.

“We’re doing very well, considering the volume of patients and the heat,” Gajewski said.

Maxey-Faulkner confirmed that the number of people who needed serious medical attention was low and could not specify how many, but said that the low number attested to how safe people were being.

Medical staffer John Chartrand said that after two days, things were going well. On Saturday, most people who came to the first-aid area were looking for bandages.

“Everybody that comes in here, we tell them to drink lots of water and stay in the shade,” Chartrand said. He also said that the first-aid tent had not seen many alcohol-related problems.

Tickets were priced on a sliding scale, ranging from $80-$125 depending on when the tickets were bought. Tickets bought closer to the time of the festival gradually became more expensive. Leon and Zelasko won their tickets from popular Chicago radio station Q101, while McCann bought his when first available and cheapest. Leon and Zelasko thought that the final ticket price of $120 would have been too much to pay. Zelasko said $70 might be better.

But despite ticket prices and the heat, McCann thought everything was worth it because of the musical acts he saw, and he liked how a multiple-day concert could draw more bands.

“I think this works a lot better. Instead of touring, they could move the venue around, so next year they could move it to another city. This is a lot more fun for two days.”

For extended coverage of Lollapalooza 2005, see the Aug. 4 issue of Buzz.