After one day in downtown Chicago, the verdict is in: Lollapalooza is "No-Chella".
Perry Farrell's three-day festival kicked off Friday with headliners Nine Inch Nails and the Killers amidst intermittent drizzle in downtown Chicago's Grant Park. The event will continue through Sunday with a mix of rock and electronic artists including Mumford & Sons, The Postal Service, Knife Party, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, “Harlem Shaker” Baauer, and The Cure.
Highlights from Friday’s opening day included the happy-hour set by Imagine Dragons (above, unmarred by a 10-minute power outage during their set), Band of Horses' afternoon performance, and the aforemetioned Killers.
For those bred on Aprils in the 909 at Coachella, there is no mistaking Lolla's central time zone locale. In the heartland, its a different culture.
Demographically, the crowd is overwhelmingly whiter, younger, and more "Footloose." It's less Brooklyn and more Mall of America. Think less moustaches and more bud light "tall-boy" cans.
A surprising demographic outreach is the "Kidzapalooza" stage geared towards the Nickelodeon set, where snowboard legend Shaun White's band "Bad Things" is scheduled to perform Saturday afternoon. Elsewhere, there were several multi-generational family groups and the wafts of weed smoke that envelope Indio are more notable here as the exception rather than the rule.
Excluding the blood relation between WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel and his brother, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who issued a full page welcome letter in the festival brochure next to the set times) the industry's stamp of approval on this festival is surprisingly more faint.
While Coachella has celebrity free agents, household names that swipe their electronic wristbands as civilian fans, Lolla's grounds are more talent-sterile.
However the urban setting lends a completely different vibe. Instead of driving 45 minutes from Palm Springs or a desert-city house, Lollapalooza's crowd walks into the park from public transportation and other parts in the city.
Remember, this is the same park of President Obama's historic 2008 election night victory speech (with a tearful Oprah Winfrey in 2008) and six Bulls' championship celebrations in the 1990s.
As skyscrapers frame each set and help orient stages, within the sprawling and more spread out grounds than the Empire Polo Fields, other natural markers like roadways, fountains, and city blocks partition the venue instead of ferris wheels. Alcohol can be brought anywhere, removed from the "beer garden" ghettos of Indio.
The analog to the famed electronic shrine of "Sahara Tent" here is an outdoor stage named "Perry's," where Dada Life, Flux Pavilion, and started-in-a-dorm-room-at-Tufts-and-YouTube model boys Timeflies perform.
Within minutes of being at the grounds, the crowd spills out into nearby businesses and hotels. Also, the show ends by 10 p.m., much earlier than in Indio. This all lends to an urban after-party scene and smaller but more concentrated shoulder economy of after parties.
On Friday night, fashion retailer ASOS took over the Hard Rock Hotel for a series of concerts.
Staying true to its British roots, they brought in U.K. sensation Emeli Sande (left, whose U.S. crossover has been more burpy and bumpy) to headline a packed room.
Her corner is strong. Clive Davis threatened his Grammy party guests this year that they would remember where they first heard the woman who closed the London Olympics, and who somehow got the slight of a 1:00 p.m. tea-time set time on the stage in Chicago.
The Hard Rock scored a more choice position as the only one of 30 festival sponsors to get a permanent full page ad on the homescreen of the official Lollapalooza app every time it opens to view a set time or location.
After finishing filming "Hercules" with Brett Ratner and before starting "The Expendables 3," Kellan Lutz and his brothers scoped the ever-globe-trotting Steve Aoki's set from the stage backstage scene before hitting BMF Media's Hard Rock Hotel concerts with ASOS later in the night. Besides the Coachella-regular Lutz, other Hollywood brands have descended on Chicago.
Samsung, which has had a banner year tying themselves to music is a major presence and one of the bigger hits at the festival. It's not just because of their instant "battery swap" stations that keep people Instagramming.
After a year in which the iPhone-kryptonite has indelibly aligned themselves as the music fairy godmother by slipping brand aficionados from the general public with experiences like Prince at Austin’s SXSW in March, Jay-Z’s 4th of July "Magna Carta Holy Grail" surprise freebie release announced during the NBA finals, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar's bi-coastal concerts to launch the Note II, and a huge concert series at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas last summer, they took over the prime real estate in Grant Park for beach-chair seating in a private garden and stage access on the prime "Lake Shore Stage."
(Above, Aoki in the Samsung Galaxy Artist Lounge, should be more smiley. Besides Lolla, his 2013 summer has included a massive and lucrative exclusive residency at Hakkasan in Las Vegas.)
Their footprint includes a massive consumer activation village and backstage artist lounge, where I caught Steve Aoki's prolific social media team churning out candid updates in real time.
While Coachella's pre-summer April timing lends itself neatly to investments from fashion retailers looking to influence summer wardrobes, the August timing and smaller freelance celebrity turnout makes Lolla a less popular "buy."
However, several brands that activated at Coachella have planted flags in the 312 this weekend. Gilt City hosts the tight-listed Saturday afternoon party with Fiji Water, and the drink-with-ice Barefoot Refresh wines that made the pool scene at Coachella welcomed Dita Von Teese and Imagine Dragons on Friday. Hennessy, whose strict "Hennessy only" parties continues its track record of courting Hollywood with concerts and parties at Public this weekend.
The afterhours winner is undisputed. Billy Dec's mainstay "The Underground" had late night heat on Friday. In addition to Lutz, Geoff Stults (fresh off of TCA's for his Fox comedy "Enlisted") and the musical face of the NBA, DJ Irie, lit up the renovated space that timed its reopening to the big concert weekend. Brandlink's Greg Link held court at the house table with Dec and photographer Seth Browarnik as talent manager Ryan Daly ushered in a large crew that made it past the ropes on W. Illinois.
The concert continues through Sunday night.