On Feb. 3, I saw a Twitter hashtag in which people were sharing their #myfirstlolla stories about the first time they ever attended Lollapalooza, a pre-Coachella era “alternative” music festival started in 1991 by Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction. The show used to tour; now it’s held every summer in Chicago’s Grant Park, and the breadth of music styles has broadened from “only the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Siouxsie and the Banshees” to “this could easily turn into an unruly rave if left unchecked.”
I had been to Lollapalooza once when I was 21 in 1994 at Cal State Dominguez Hills. I bought four tickets on a whim, thinking it would be easy to sell them to friends. Between the time of purchase and the day of the show, the variations of who would attend with me shifted multiple times. I vowed to never buy tickets upfront for others again. The drama involved with early 20-somethings discussing funds and rides was ridiculous. In the end, I only remember my then boyfriend being there; I believe the other two tickets went to friends of his.
Highlights and lowlights of that day are as follows: The Breeders and the Beastie Boys were awesome. My boyfriend and I rode a ferris wheel above the crowd during the latter trio’s rendition of “Sabotage”; we drank free beer all afternoon that was passed to us through the back of a tent because of a connection to a festival employee; Perry Ferrell drove past us on a golf cart while we waited in an endless bathroom line to use porta-potties on a slant; the line outside to get into the festival was about two hours long, wrapping around campus; Green Day played while we were standing in the sweltering sun outside, and we were pissed; at one point, my boyfriend and I got into a fight about whatever; we walked out on the Smashing Pumpkins at the end of the day because Billy Corgan’s voice was painfully off-key—yet, Gish and Siamese Dream remain two of my favorite albums.
So when I saw the #myfirstlolla hashtag trending on Twitter earlier this year, I thought, That looks fun, and I posted this: “#MyFirstLolla was 1994. We walked out on the #smashingpumpkins, but #thebreeders and #thebeastieboys killed. #freebeer connection was key.”
Three weeks later, I received a private message from the official Lollapalooza Twitter account informing me they liked my post so much I had won two free four-day passes to the 25th anniversary show this summer. I never win anything, and I didn’t realize I’d entered a contest. Lollapalooza started following me, alongside bands that play their shows. I was flummoxed. I thanked them and waited for the line-up to be released; I decided I’d spend the money to travel to the show if the bands met my old lady standards—that is, if I’d heard of any of them.
The line-up came out weeks later, and I was underwhelmed, except for one bright light: Radiohead. And I had already seen them at Coachella in 2004, my second and last foray onto the Empire Polo Club field. On that day, at 31, I swore off all-day festival concerts while standing in line for a mediocre chicken sandwich for an hour. It was crowded and stifling, and I was sweaty, tired, and starving. I turned to my best friend and said, “I’m never coming back here.”
“Not even if…” she said.
That week I read a recap in the OC Weekly, where a writer said she wouldn’t attend Coachella again if The Beatles reunited.
Yep, I thought.
So, if I couldn’t handle one day at Coachella in my early 30s, I wondered how I could handle four days at Lollapalooza at 43. When I perused the line-up of back-to-back shows on eight stages, I thought, Who the hell are all these people, and why won’t the Red Hot Chili Peppers just go away already?
But, but, Radiohead.
A couple months later, I decided it wasn’t worth the money to fly out to see one band, so I emailed the kind folks at Lollapalooza and reluctantly released my grip on free passes. They thanked me for letting them know I wouldn’t be there, and I moved on with my life.
Until a few weeks before the show when I received another email from them confirming my four-day wristbands would be waiting for me on the guest list at will call. Suddenly, my attendance seemed like destiny; the words “guest list” taunted me. I started monitoring Stub Hub and determined I could subsidize my trip by selling my second wristband, and for enough money, maybe both of them. Hell, one girl on Twitter had already offered me a $1,000 for one pass the day Lollapalooza announced I’d won. So I pulled the trigger at the last minute and got on a plane.
One day I was at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles watching Flight of the Conchords, the next day I was walking down Michigan Avenue mentally running lines for my new role as ticket scalper: Anyone need a four-day pass? Anyone want a four-day pass? I have an extra four-day pass. Make me an offer. I’ll give you a deal. I won these!
I would make a terrible salesperson.
The idea of selling one or both of my free wristbands caused me anxiety, as did the thought that perhaps terrorists would target a 25th anniversary show that was expected to draw hundreds of 1,000s of scantily clad kids pumped full of Ecstasy. Lollapalooza must have had the same fear because when I reached the entrance, the park was surrounded by a skyscraper-high fence, the holes not large enough to get a foothold, and police officers swarmed the street on horses. I wanted to hug them all, but then I saw a sign on the fence warning ticket scalpers they’d be prosecuted.
Signs like this deter rule-followers like me.
So I decided on Plan B: Pick up the wristbands, find a quaint Italian restaurant nearby, order a glass of vino, Tweet that I had an extra wristband or two available, and then wait for the offers to roll in from desperate LCD Soundsystem fans who no longer cared how much money they forked over to get into the sold-out event. As I ate my tasty linguine and clams, nothing happened. Crickets chirped on Twitter. One person liked my Tweet. That’s it. I checked Stub Hub again. Plenty of tickets were still available, and the show had already commenced. Now that I’d made the trip, it seemed I couldn’t give my extra wristband away, which was now safely nestled in plastic in my purse. And I had yet to put my own wristband on in case I ran into anyone who wanted two passes for the right price.
I struck up a conversation with a server and explained my predicament.
“Do you know anyone who wants a four-day pass to Lollapalooza?” I asked.
“I do! But I have to work,” he said. “How much are you asking for it?”
“Good question. I won them, so I kind of wanted someone to make me an offer.”
He stood there for a second scrolling his mental Rolodex for possible friends who’d want to go. He came up with nothing.
“If you wait to sell it after tonight’s show is over, you probably won’t get very much for it. The big draw this year is that it’s four days instead of three,” he said. “I have gone for the last 13 years in a row, but the crowd is getting so young.”
I stared at him. He looked 29.
YOU’RE so young, I thought.
“I’ll probably be the oldest one there,” I said.
“Nah,” he batted me away.
I asked him if he knew any good cocktail bars within walking distance. Maybe I could sell my pass there. He suggested a bar with a bunch of beers on tap. I thanked him and headed in that direction. Halfway down the block, I stopped and looked at my watch. It was only 8:30. I realized if I went to the show right then, I could still catch the last act.
What am I doing? I thought. I should go to the show!
So I did a 180 on the street and headed toward the front entrance. I was the only person entering the show at the end of the day; plenty of exhausted, sticky tweens, however, were leaving. I overheard a girl proclaim, “Boring!” about Lana Del Rey, who was currently performing. I wasn’t familiar with Del Rey’s music, but I’d heard positive feedback, and now that a snotty teenager had called her boring, I definitely wanted to check her out.
Once inside, it was immediately apparent Lollapalooza had improved its organization since the last time I attended 22 years ago. Everything was spread out. It didn’t feel crowded, at least not then. The Married with Children fountain was the eye of the Mollypalooza storm and was lit up with blue and green lights. I admired it while I looked at the map on my Lolla app to find the right stage.
Walking toward Lana’s show, I figured I would get nowhere near the stage. I was wrong. What young concertgoers haven’t figured out yet is if you walk to the right or left of the stage, instead of packing in dead center, you can move up much closer to the artist. Fucking rookies. I skirted around small groups that formed the swaying masses. I couldn’t tell if they were rocking back and forth because they were drunk and stoned or because Lana had moved them; I gathered it was both. The piercing screams between songs from the front of the crowd sounded hollow and canned, but her fans were rabid.
Lana Del Rey looked like a flower child throwback, with her short, white lacey dress with long bell sleeves, chunky white heels, and daises in her lengthy bang-less brown hair. She was straight out of the Manson family. The two mini-mes who flanked her fanned themselves with white handheld fans. Lana’s immobile stance suggested she was either two valiums in, or she couldn’t be bothered to exert energy.
“It’s hot up here,” she droned into the microphone.
But here’s the thing: Her singing voice is fucking beautiful. I was entranced. I was a new recruit into her undulating minions spread across the grass. She didn’t have the edge of Fiona Apple, but I didn’t care. I was in.
I got that summertime sadness too, baby.
Maybe it was the enthralling, gloomy tunes, or maybe it’s because I’m a generous person, but it was then I thought, I’m going to find someone cool to DONATE my extra wristband to. Most people at the show sported one-day wristbands, so I figured I’d make someone’s weekend by providing them with an additional three days. I left my post to walk around and observe the crowd.
“Don’t leave!” some guy yelled toward me.
“I’m not,” I said. I told him my charitable plan. He thought it was cool. Maybe I should have given him my extra pass, but I wanted to carefully vet the zygote love-in first.
How had I not noticed this before? Lollapalooza is a Coachella-style fashion show, replete with boob doilies and other crochet tops, and cut-off jean shorts that maximize skin visibility.
I was at a Fleetwood Mac concert in 1976 when I was three, when these clothes were homemade and worn by dirty hippies, rather than purchased from Forever 21 by Generation Z to impress each other.
I sidestepped a girl who spun around in circles with her red plastic cup held high in the air like a beacon of drunkenness.
Then a skinny boy in a Lakers jersey headed toward me.
Hey, Los Angeles sports! Where I’m from!
It wasn’t hockey, but it was home, so I thought I might give it to him. Until he passed me. I turned to look at the back of his jersey, which read, “Bryant.”
Ew. Never mind.
It would be harder to find a worthy wristband recipient than I thought.
There were fluorescent glow-stick necklaces and long roller rink socks with green stripes; another Bryant jersey worn by some douche in sunglasses after dark; girls with tight Princess Leia buns who wore their training bras on the outside; chokers and braids; under-eye glitter strips; flowy spaghetti strap dresses; sparkly henna tribal tattoos that circled fat-free biceps, and crystals that pinpointed the center of foreheads like secret initiations for those who were too young to remember 9-11.
It was as if Stevie Nicks had thrown up all over Grant Park.
In my 30s, I would have been jealous of the ultra-thin youngsters; now I just wanted to pat their tiny heads.
I mean, how high can you cut those jean shorts anyway? I can see your labia. Where’s your mom?
By the time I reached the left side of the stage, Lana’s guitarist was playing a final solo, and the swarms were spilling out toward the exit.
Some fans, leaving early.
One girl observed, aghast, “Is the bar closed right now?”
Another girl remarked, “Hey, I didn’t pass out once today!”
What a feat!
Then a short girl with one leg on crutches emerged from the crowd, where she’d braved the sardine-like conditions up front.
I didn’t pity her; I was impressed. I wanted to give her my extra pass, but I didn’t want her to think it was charity, so I hesitated and then she was gone.
I gave up on my quest for a laudable Lollapalooza goer and headed for the exit, thinking I might be able to pawn off the wristband on day two.
It was at that moment I stepped in what can only be described as a puddle of post-rain, muddy, Lollapalooza “liquid.” My whole left black Converse shoe was submerged up to my pant leg. I looked at my watch: 10:05 PM on day one. And to think I almost traveled with only one pair of shoes for the first time in my life.
Near me, a young couple dry-humped on the lawn in front of everyone leaving the venue, the girl on top of the boy. They took “public display of affection” to new levels, writhing in unison; if they’d been naked, we’d have been watching porn. I stared at them for a few seconds, my mouth open, thinking I might actually witness orgasms. No one seemed to notice but me.
That’s when an exasperated teenage girl approached me.
“Can I use your facebook to contact my friend?” she asked. “My phone died.”
She’d lost her friend in the crowd. I looked around and noticed half the people were on their phones, annoyed, searching for misplaced friends.
“He said ‘right tent,’ but there’s like fucking four of them,” one guy said.
No one could find anyone.
Go to shows alone like me, kiddos, I thought.
What I found humorous about the request from the girl standing in front of me was she took for granted that I had a facebook page. If she’d asked me to Snapchat her friend, she’d have been shit out of luck.
I tried to get on the Internet to help her, but it was spinning; Lollapalooza had crashed the Internet.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll figure something out.”
She disappeared into the usual post-concert cattle herd.
If you’re out there, Yolanda Rodriguez, your friend is looking for you.
As I moved toward the exit, a blond girl and her two guys friends, all about 20-years-old, were yelling into the crowd some phrase like “shit yeah!” because they had enjoyed the day so much. I recalled the one time I’d attended the KROQ Weenie Roast when I was 27, and my best friend and I were near the stage on the field of Anaheim Stadium, and we joined the guy next to us in rousing chants of “oh hell yeah!”
The blond girl and her buddies were wearing four-day wristbands. She noticed I, too, was part of their special club.
“Four days!” she screamed and high-fived me.
“Woo hoo!” I yelled.
I’m flying home on day four, I thought.
“I won this,” I said, pointing to my wristband.
“No way! From who?” she asked.
“From Lollapalooza!” I said.
She was awestruck and looked at me like I’d just turned into a unicorn.
“How?!” she asked.
“I told a story on Twitter about another time I went to Lollapalooza,” I said.
“Oh, you mean like last year’s show?” she asked.
“Um, no. Like 1994.”
“Whoa, who played then?” she asked.
When you were in the womb?
“The Beastie Boys, The Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins…”
Her eyes grew big.
“Good looking out!” She said.
Huh? I can’t decode Gen Z speak.
“I have another wristband in my purse. Do you know anyone who wants it?” I asked.
She looked at her guy friends, and they all said, “Noooo…” at the same time.
“I tried to sell it on Twitter,” I said.
“Don’t do that!” she said. “Go to the official Lollapalooza facebook page instead. That’s where people are trying to buy them.”
Just then I saw a female scalper in her 50s on the side of the street who looked even more out of place there than I did. She was holding up a sign she’d written in black marker on a giant piece of ripped cardboard that could have doubled as a breakdancing mat. It read, “I buy Lolla bands.” Clearly she wasn’t deterred by the signs out front discouraging secondary ticket sales.
“I have one,” I said to her.
“It’s not used?” she asked.
I got the sealed wristband out of my purse. She inspected the square “cashless” scanner contraption on it and was satisfied.
“How much do you want for it?” she asked.
Face value was $335, and the first day of the show is over, so…
“How about $200?” I asked.
“I got one for $160 earlier,” she said.
She handed me a hundred dollar bill and three twenties. Problem solved, but it nowhere near covered my travel expenses. At that point, I didn’t care. This was an adventure.
I headed to a Walgreens on Michigan Avenue for a bottle of water. Everyone else had the same idea. It was packed. I walked past a row of cut-rate, flowery sundresses down one of the aisles, and thought, If I bought one of those and wore it to the show tomorrow, no one would be the wiser.
A lengthy line of kids with the munchies formed. They were on their way to after-parties, stocking up on Doritos, Oreos, and Band-Aids. They couldn’t decide if they would pay for their snacks together or separately.
It was almost 11:00. All I could contemplate by then was a shower and a pillow. But first I had to do the back stretches my physical therapist had prescribed.
I drank my water while waiting to pay for it. I really had to pee, and my feet hurt. And it was only day one.
I looked out the window. A group of girls huddled together on the street debating their next move. One of the girls was topless—not “topless” like the rest of the girls who had on barely any clothes. I mean topless. No shirt, no bra, only boobs the size of cupcakes and quarter-size nipples. She didn’t seem bothered she’d lost her shirt, or that she was standing on Michigan Avenue surrounded by thousands of people and cops directing traffic. It was as if she’d spent her whole public existence comfortably naked. Because she didn’t care, it actually seemed perfectly normal.
If men can do that, why not women?
It was a fitting end to the first day.
The next morning on the train, I sat near a noisy group of high school age kids who were on their way to the show. I overheard the loudest girl say, “Isn’t alcohol, like, supposed to be good for you?” I kept glancing at her chest because her billowy shirt was cut down to her belly button, and I couldn’t tell if there was a tight skin-colored top underneath, or if that was her skin. Were her boobs taped into her blouse? I couldn’t figure it out. Their earsplitting voices echoed off the ceiling. I cursed myself for leaving my earbuds in my car at LAX.
I’m definitely not going to the concert until after I eat dinner, I thought. I can’t take a whole day of this.
Radiohead wasn’t scheduled until 8:00 PM, but there were a few bands I wanted to check out first. I headed to the venue in time for Sunflower Bean and Wolf Alice, bands I’d Googled when I’d first looked at the line-up. I only waited about 10 minutes to get inside, and security didn’t even really search my purse. “Step through,” they said. Apparently I don’t look like the type to haul a bag of pills into a festival. I don’t know whether to be grateful or offended.
In any case, I treated day two as a journalist on her own personal assignment: I observed the crowd, took photos with a real camera, and made notes on my iPhone. Young girls everywhere were eating bags of Skinny Pop, which I determined to be diet popcorn. Isn’t regular popcorn “diet” if you don’t drown it in butter? These girls must be part of the same demographic who are fooled by the term “skinny margarita” too. If it has “skinny” in the name, it must be good for you, right?
To defeat the purpose of Skinny Pop, all the ladies were carrying around their own giant plastic see-through thermoses of Cupcake white wine. I asked someone about it.
“It’s an entire bottle for $27!” she said, as if that was a bargain.
That’s more than a 100% markup. No wonder everyone was so drunk. A full bottle of sauvignon blanc in a differently shaped container made it okay for music lovers to drink 750 milliliters of pedestrian wine straight from the source without sharing it with their friends. What a great marketing ploy.
Cups are so passé, you guys.
If you still listen to 20-year-old music or earlier and think of it as contemporary like I do, you may have caught yourself at some point saying, “They just don’t make music like this anymore.” Unless you were talking about The Clash, you’re wrong; you haven’t looked hard enough. Sunflower Bean and Wolf Alice kicked ass. They both produce fresh, energetic rock-and-roll that’s simultaneously reminiscent of old school alternative rock. It was nostalgic without being a rip-off. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face while watching either band. Sunflower Bean’s guitarist gets extra brownie points for wearing a Joy Division shirt. I love that a musician who was never alive at the same time as Ian Curtis understands quality music. They drew a bigger crowd the longer they played.
But, after two cocktails at my early pre-show dinner, I had to pee. I found a row of porta-potties in the direction of the stage where Radiohead was scheduled to play later. My plan was to find a convenient spot to watch them about thirty minutes before their show started. Otherwise, I knew I’d end up being so far away from them I wouldn’t feel like I was at the show, like when I saw them at Coachella.
The lines for the porta-potties were solid but surprisingly single file like we were elementary school teachers’ pets. I picked the wrong line. Call it Drysdale karma. While other lines moved quickly, mine stalled, which gave me time to make friends. The woman in the line next to me was complaining about her heartburn. (She was carrying one of those massive jugs of Cupcake wine.)
“I have a Zantac in my purse. Do you want one?” I asked her.
“Oh my god, yes! Thank you!” she said.
I dug out a Ziploc bag where I keep my acid reflux meds, multizyme supplements and Lactaid tablets, and a prescription for my perpetually inflamed bladder. (I was born with a rudimentary digestive system. It’s a bitch.)
None of the drugs in my possession would get anyone high, but I doubt anyone there had a problem scoring more fun drugs than what I could give them.
As I waited my turn to hover over a hole in the ground, I considered the time I used a portable bathroom at the Inland Invasion concert at what was then called the Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore, CA. My future ex-husband and I braved the john together so one of us wouldn’t have to wait for the next available one. We were inside no longer than thirty seconds, but when he slung the door open while I was still zipping up my jean shorts, about 50 19-year-old boys waiting outside launched their arms in the air and cheered, “YEAH!”
What does one do when a bunch of testosterone-fueled teenagers think you’ve just had sex in a shit box in under a minute? You play along. My future ex ran down the line of our doting fans and high-fived each one of them, while I took a bow and prom-waved. It was my 15 minutes of punk rock fame.
Those days are over. Now I just hand out antacids to airheads who don’t grasp the direct connection between GERD and alcohol.
I passed the stage where Miike Snow was performing to a packed audience. It didn’t appear to be my scene, and also, dude, learn how to spell your own name. I moved on quickly to the main event, the reason I’d ventured to Lollapalooza in the first place. I positioned myself stage left for Radiohead next to two men who were older than me, maybe in their late 40s. Hallelujah!
“It’s nice to find people who weren’t born in the 90s!” I said to them. The three of us became fast friends, and we talked about favorite shows we’d seen in the ancient past. One of them had attended the first Lollapalooza. I’m still kicking myself for not going to that one.
In my four-plus decades, I’ve seen progressively more talented and breathtaking live acts over the years, as the bar continues to elevate. (Here’s a fairly comprehensive list up to fall 2015.) I expected Radiohead to be good. I didn’t expect them to break into to my top five with a sonic boom. As I stood watching the always weird and wonderful Thom Yorke play multiple instruments, his melodious voice filling the night sky with power and delicacy, I thought, Well, that’s it. Radiohead wins. They played a well-balanced combination of old classics and new favorites; I couldn’t have put together a better set list for them if I tried.
“I will be happy if they play Paranoid Android,” I told my new friends.
As if they’d heard me, Radiohead played my song. When I got home, I made a playlist of the 24-song set list in order. I’ve never done that before.
Prior to this experience, the two bands that stood out as the gold standards for live performances were My Morning Jacket and Arcade Fire. Radiohead made them look cute. That’s saying a lot.
While I could have listened to Radiohead perform all night, my back had other ideas. Standing in one place without the benefit of elbow room for extensive periods of time is no bueno for my current back problem, which began in November last year after rolling on a foam roller at the gym. I’m told it’s a muscular issue. What prompted me to see a doctor was after an hour at a Metric show at the Palladium, it felt like someone stabbed my lower left side with a knife. I spent the remainder of the night leaning against a wall in the back of the room, scared.
The dull ache and periodic twinge I felt standing in Grant Park worried me. I half expected the knee-buckling sharp pain to resume again at any moment. I looked behind me in the direction of the exit; all I saw were people and more people, like a Civil War reenactment or a rolling sea of white walkers. I was Jon Snow without backup; there was no way I was getting out of this, even if I tried. I was a little panicky. Fortunately, my middle age back pain didn’t get too unbearable, but even though this was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, I was relieved when it was over.
“Well, that didn’t suck,” I said, when the lights came up.
“No, that didn’t suck at all,” one of my new friends said.
“That made this trip worthwhile,” I said.
The three of us walked slowly out to the street together behind thousands of happy concertgoers, where my new friends conferred about where they’d eat a late meal.
“What are you going to do now?” they asked.
“I’m going to bed!”
They laughed. Even these aging men couldn’t out-old me. I was exhausted.
I limped back to my hotel, spread a towel out on the floor next to the bed, took off my shoes and jeans, and lay on my back, my knees pulled to my chest. A stretch never felt so satisfying.
The next morning I woke up feeling two inches shorter, a hundred pound imaginary anvil resting atop my head, not a hangover, but like gravity had gotten weightier while I slept. All my muscles ached and sunk into the mattress. The energy in my body was nonexistent. I was sapped.
My first thought was, There is no way I’m going back there today. I thought of the crowds, the standing, the porta-potties, and the noise. I was done.
So, how does a 40-something attend a four-day music festival? She doesn’t. Nor does she care if she misses anything. I was content to see what I saw and skip the rest, and on day four, I was safely back home in my own bed by the time the last band played.
A) I never spent one dime inside the gates of Lollapalooza.
B) I never would have paid for a ticket to that show, but I’m stoked I went.
C) What’s with all the Kobe Bryant jerseys in Chicago? I saw at least four of them.
D) I’m resuming my “no more festivals” rule as of now. Oh wait. I have a ticket to the Ohana Festival already. Never mind. Carry on.
E) Prediction about the Ohana Festival: I will say, “I’m too old for this shit” at least once during the day, but then I’ll think it was totally worth it once it’s over.
F) I may stop seeing concerts the day I can no longer walk. Even then, you might have to wheel me in.
G) I bought two albums when I got home. Hint: Lana Del Rey wasn’t one of them.
H) Live music makes me feel alive and always will, even if it’s slowly killing me.