12:00 pm: It’s easy getting in today. I decide to start with Honeysuckle because they’re close to the entrance and are playing a short set—just a half hour. I have no idea what type of music they play, but have a pretty good guess it will be folksy.
12:12 pm: Guess what? I was right. Honeysuckle’s just about as mountain-y folk as a band can get, complete with a banjo and a mandolin. Absurdly, the object of my attention for nearly the entire set is the band’s bass player, a massive dude with long hair and a goatee. It’s hard to tell whether he’s the size of Hodor or whether the rest of the band is the size of Tyrion Lannister.
12:29 pm: Once my fixation on the bassist is broken, I can judge Honeysuckle’s music for what it is: solid folk/bluegrass. Their vocal harmonies are really pretty, and the mix of string instruments, outside of a few sound snafus at the beginning, is pristine. A serene beginning to the day.
12:44 pm: I eat some bacon and tuna tartare at the press lounge (both delicious), then it’s off to Lolawolf, passing the Nothing But Thieves and Tor Miller sets and a handful of hardcore Dua Lipa fans waiting for her 2:00 pm start.
1:05 pm: Lolawolf is running late. The big screens at the Bud Light stage kill the time by showing shots of the crowd. A kid in a Chili Peppers shirt enthralls everyone, dancing like he’s feral and dabbing multiple times in celebratory fashion.
1:12 pm: Lolawolf finally gets out here. Zoë Kravitz gives no fucks about her tardiness, doing this weird strut around the stage in which she leads with her legs and leans back. You can tell she’s used to commanding a crowd, as would befit a relatively successful young actress. The music itself is very percussive, hazy trip-hop.
1:43 pm: The set ends 17 minutes early. Lolawolf has played for half their allotted time, which is sort of ridiculous, but at least Kravitz worked the crowd damn well. She spent the last song of the set walking up and down the center aisle of the crowd, high-fiving everyone in sight. Does that make up for only playing for a half hour? Eh.
1:51 pm: At least the early ending allows me the time to sit on the ground and relax for a solid 15 minutes. I can already feel the weight of the past two days crashing down on me.
2:11 pm: Potty Mouth takes the BMI stage under the trees and looks thrilled to be playing their first major festival gig. They’re particularly excited to see some of the other artists’ sets. “Thank god Grimes and Third Eye Blind aren’t playing at the same time,” says singer/guitarist Abby Weems. “That would be a real dilemma.”
2:48 pm: The Potty Mouth set ends after an electric forty minutes that reminds me of the early ‘90s college rock I first encountered all over the EA Sports NCAA Football 06 soundtrack (a phenomenal soundtrack, I might add). They’ve been a little sloppy at times, but that’s definitely part of their appeal. One of the highlights of the set: “Cherry Picking.”
3:02 pm: I walk to the other end of the festival and, from afar, spot X Ambassadors with guest musician Jamie N Commons on stage for their collaborative hit, “Jungle.” The banger ends, Commons leaves, and the band brings out…Tom Morello?!
3:04 pm: Yep, that’s Tom Morello. He’s got his famous “Arm the Homeless” guitar and everything. He tells the crowd to be thankful for such a diverse festival and such a diverse crowd. I wonder if the festival organizers told him he couldn’t say anything too incendiary on stage, because this seems pretty tame for the most outwardly and radically leftist mainstream rock musician.
3:15 pm: It’s time for The Front Bottoms! Brian Sella addresses the large crowd to begin the set: “Our uber driver on the way here said this show was gonna be amazing, and he was absolutely right.”
3:21 pm: It becomes clear that underground rock paragon Kevin Devine is playing bass for the band. “Our bassist got married so we kicked him out of the band,” Sella explains. His acoustic guitar sounds choked a little bit, which adds to the grimy aesthetic of the set. I can imagine the Front Bottoms playing a college party at the uncool fraternity circa 1999, what with the trumpet, the earnest, mediocre voice, and the stripped-down tone.
3:48 pm: The smell of vomit pervades the field around me. Meanwhile, “The Beers” has the assembled masses too busy singing along to care. Sella has them all reminiscing on their own adolescent awkwardness and bonding over the pain.
4:14 pm: “Au Revoir (Adios)” is the perfect ending to the set, as people actually walk away during the song. Sella breaks a string on his acoustic guitar—the only instrument he’s played for the past hour, eschewing any of that fancy guitar-switching—and, taking this as a sign of immense passion, the crowd goes nuts.
4:17 pm: As I head back north, Big Grams plays the beginning of Fetty Wap’s “Again,” like, way too many times.
4:41 pm: I arrive for the end of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (whose performance was lauded by a number of local media outlets who had more than one writer on the scene). Immediately after they finish, Leon Bridges’ band starts jamming. He comes out in this ridiculous shirt that screams “TEXAS” all over it. He’s also wearing spats, so there’s that. The crew launches into a strong performance of “Smooth Sailing.”
4:58 pm: A plane soars overhead in circles, carrying a Lukas Graham advertisement on a banner behind it. It’s evilly trying to distract everyone from Leon Bridges. Fortunately, his band is tight, particularly the saxophonist, and Bridges himself is a one-man wrecking crew of energy, mixing all sorts of vintage James Brown and Sam Cooke dance moves into his soulful, bluesy, unapologetically Southern performance. This type of music is ideal for a sunny summer afternoon; it will never go out of style as long as people enjoy eating barbecue and drinking cheap beer.
5:32 pm: Bridges covers Genuwine’s “Pony,” then teaches the crowd the lyrics to “Mississippi Kisses,” which stretches out for several minutes and contains band introductions, Bridges’ missives to the left and right halves of the crowd to dance, and the singer’s own busted moves. Dude’s got some serious kinetic talent.
5:45 pm: Leon Bridges ends with a mournful performance of “River,” on which he plays guitar, and Chris Stapleton starts off on the next door stage with an extended jam, as if he knows people need time to cross the field. I’m thankful. His band is really tightly packed on stage: just him, his wife/backing vocalist, and his longtime bassist and drummer. The bassist, J.T. Cure, gets a solo early on in the set. Victory for bassists everywhere!
5:57 pm: There’s a girl standing in front of me with all sorts of glitter on her face. Kesha isn’t here, so I bet I’ll see her at Grimes. She’s not having too much fun at Chris Stapleton, even though I am; his songs are earnest and emotional, and the man knows how to crush a guitar solo.
6:19 pm: Stapleton plays “Might As Well Get Stoned,” and the sign language interpreter is the one having the most fun in the building.
6:25 pm: After a lengthy solo, the band goes into a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” performed by Stapleton and his wife as a beautiful duet . The effect is enhanced by the nude male blow-up doll being tossed around the crowd. “I guess it’s officially not a family show,” remarks the female Stapleton.
6:45 pm: The last twenty minutes have inspired some major feels, thanks to both Stapleton and the enthusiastic crowd that knows every word to “Traveller,” “Fire Away,” and “Tennessee Whiskey.” In the case of “Fire Away,” the song ends, but Stapleton puts his guitar back on and invites the audience to sing the heartrending chorus one more time. I nearly cry.
6:51 pm: I dodge the rabble on Columbus Drive to get to the press lounge. Lots of Harambe shirts (Lollapalooza may have killed the meme) and a few Flint Tropics jerseys stand out. In the background, I hear Jane’s Addiction bring out Tom Morello for his second guest appearance of the day.
7:33 pm: A dancer leads off Grimes’ set, my most anticipated of the day, with some crazy interpretive choreography over “laughing and not being normal.” After a moment, Claire Boucher jogs onstage to a massive roar and leaps into “Realiti,” which features booming bass—likely necessary to drown out the EDM coming from Perry’s stage.
7:42 pm: Grimes tells the crowd she’s got two sprained ankles and apologizes for not being able to move around as much as normal. If this level of fervor is significantly below normal for her, she must be a blood relative of The Flash. Among her other abilities, Boucher has a scream worthy of death metal bands and a very Canadian penchant for apologizing for everything—her untied shoelaces, her “totally fucked” throat, her accidental pressuring of the crowd to dance to “Venus Fly,” the monitors that fail her throughout and give out completely by the end of the set.
8:04 pm: “Venus Fly” and “Go” have the crowd jumping as one congruous mass. I wonder how the crowd over at the Perry’s stage would respond to a Grimes set. If she stuck strictly to her poppier material, she’d probably hold her own with all the DJs.
8:13 pm: Then she plays a song like “SCREAM,” and I remember that Grimes does not shy away from the avant-garde—a huge part of her appeal to me, but something that would definitely cause some bad trips next door.
8:25 pm: Grimes has to end her set a little early to accommodate the Red Hot Chili Peppers, news that elicits boos from the audience. But she ends with “Kill v. Maim” and everyone gets HYPE for it. It’s been an extremely energetic set that has absolutely flown by; not once have I checked the time.
8:30 pm: Hutchinson Field is completely full for the Chili Peppers, one of the few bands operating today that can truthfully say its fan base has massive footholds in every part of the 18-55 demographic. I find a spot on a little hill so that I can see the stage.
8:34 pm: As always, the band starts out with a crazy jam, with Anthony Kiedis arriving onstage only after Flea, Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith have set the tone. The first three songs they play are all classics: “Can’t Stop,” “Dani California,” and “Scar Tissue,” in that order. I know every word. Taking an entire lifetime of music fandom into account, the Chili Peppers are probably one of my top three favorite bands, alongside Rush and The Beatles. I think I could sing 98% of their music from memory.
8:53 pm: I make the toughest decision I’ve ever made at a concert: I turn my back on my past and, as the Chili Peppers start up “Dark Necessities,” I leave for Vic Mensa’s headlining set on the Pepsi stage. I reason that I’ve seen RHCP before, they’re unlikely to be any different this time—if anything, the lack of John Frusciante is still palpable all these years later—and Vic Mensa is a highly political young rapper on the verge of superstardom playing in his hometown. Other writers I know have been hyping this up all weekend, and it sounds like a can’t-miss.
9:02 pm: I absolutely have made the correct decision. Vic stands on a platform 20 feet above the stage, like some sort of angel, rapping “Dynasty.” Tension crackles in the air.
9:08 pm: Mensa’s performance of “16 Shots,” which he’s dedicated to the Chicago police department, is by far the most powerful live music moment I’ve seen all year. The song, if you don’t know, is about the police murder of Laquan McDonald on Chicago’s South Side, which triggered no indictments until after the city was forced to release the highly disturbing video of the killing. On stage, Mensa is surrounded by dancers dressed in full riot gear who, at one point, attempt to drag him to the ground. The crowd counts the shots along with him, and there’s a significant incongruity between Mensa’s rage and the festive ecstasy of the mostly white crowd. Still, I have to assume that most of those present can’t help but be affected.
9:13 pm: Mensa speaks to the crowd about how inaccessible Lollapalooza is to residents of Chicago’s south and west sides; in fact, Mensa nearly died when he fell from a bridge trying to sneak into the festival six years ago. Festival prices aren’t the only issue he brings to light over the course the set. He talks about his support for LGBTQ rights before singing “Free Love,” the performance of which features a black transvestite and two male dancers kissing onstage, and “Shades of Blue” is dedicated to the victims of the Flint water crisis.
9:38 pm: Some assholes have been talking in the space between every song, completely ignoring Mensa’s pleas for Flint and justice for black Chicagoans on the South Side. I want to slap them very, very hard.
9:41 pm: Mensa has just lightheartedly called out the suburban people who say they’re from Chicago, and now Joey Purp is on stage with him. They’re performing a great new song about their home 773 area code.
9:47 pm: Mensa spits the following flames in an unreleased song dedicated to his dead friend Killa Cam: “It’s like Macklemore at the Grammys, I feel like you got some shit you didn’t deserve!”
9:59 pm: Mensa descends back into the stage, leaving behind a set that’s combined amazing club bangers with vitriolic social commentary. It’s easily the highlight of Lollapalooza thus far, and I’m not certain that anything tomorrow can top it. Not even a guest appearance by Chance the Rapper or Kanye West would have improved things, because either would have taken the attention off of Mensa. This was his part, and nobody else should have been speaking (notwithstanding certain rude festivalgoers).