Lollapalooza is one of the summer’s most unique festivals. It combines the massive draw of rural blowouts like Bonnaroo and Coachella, but takes place in the heart of Chicago. The three-day concert provides the 300,000 festival-goers with the chance to see an eclectic mix of big names, breakout bands and up-and-coming artists with the added bonus of not having to sleep in a tent for three days with thousands of unshowered hipsters.
Here’s a look at some of this year’s highlights, names to look out for and at least one highly questionable food choice.
If you only showed up for the last two bands of each full day’s worth of music, you weren’t disappointed. No matter what kind of music fan you are, you got your money’s worth.
Current superstars like Sam Smith, Florence + the Machine and The Weekend all brought memorable sets that showed why they are radio mainstays, while legendary acts Paul McCartney and Metallica (who played on Friday and Saturday, respectively) gave fans a glimpse at music history—and in Metallica’s case, Chicago’s most impressive collection of sleeveless, airbrushed skull T-shirts.
Even with the logistics of a shared festival stage, each brought with them massive set pieces that include pyrotechnics, interactive landscapes and—with Metallica—an onstage choir of fans who sang background on every song.
The Rise of the Alabama Shakes
The Alabama Shakes pulled in one of Friday’s biggest crowds, and for good reason. Frontwoman Brittany Howard is officially a full-fledged rock star. Wielding an electric guitar and one of rock and roll’s most recognizable voices, Howard’s energy was more reminiscent of arena-rockers from your parents’ generations than any of her peers.
Along with some hits from their debut, Boys & Girls, the Shakes blasted through their acclaimed follow-up Sound & Color without letting up on the energy level for the entire set. Here’s how you know Howard has truly arrived: During Friday night’s headlining set from Paul McCartney, Howard was invited onto the stage to sing with McCartney on The Beatles’ 1970 classic “Get Back.” If you duet with a Beatle, you’ve made it.
The Arrival of Ryn Weaver
The festival was full of acts fronted by charismatic female singers, and even though she preceded Charli XCX on the very same stage less than an hour later, Ryn Weaver stood out. Weaver is only 22 years old, but she carries herself like a seasoned pop star.
The singer first gained notoriety for her viral single “OctaHate,” which garnered praise from artists ranging from Top-40 stars like One Direction’s Harry Styles and Paramore’s Hayley Williams to indie darlings Passion Pit, but it was her live show’s kinetic stage presence and crystalline vocals that proved she has the makings of indie-pop superstar, not just a YouTube celebrity.
The Summer of Power Pop
It was fitting that Paul McCartney—who helped usher in power-pop rock ‘n roll with the Beatles decades ago—was a headliner for Lollapalooza 2015. This year’s lineup was packed with artists who understood the simple, un-ironic pleasure of catchy hooks, strong melodies and sunny, power-pop anthems.
Walk the Moon—whose breakout hit “Shut Up and Dance” has become the radio song of the moment—crushed a 40-minute set of unrelentingly fun indie-power pop. Whereas years past have featured intricate shoe-gazers and noodling, technically-focus band, artists like Circa Waves, Sheppard, The Wombats and up-and-comers Coin got the attention this year with foot-tapping singles, smart ballads and dance rock singles. Bleachers—who were one of the festival’s highlights last year—also played an after show at the Hard Rock Hotel, where they brought their ‘80s-inspired, two-drum fueled brand of power indie-pop to the center stage, where it belonged.
The Continued Evolution of EDM
In the last few years, EDM has gone from a side-stage act to a fixture of the Lollapalooza. For the last two years, the festival basically offered around-the-clock offerings for electronic dance music, including a variety of acts that show how the genre has matured with a new crop of stars who are increasingly creative with their craft.
Night performances by DJ Snake, Kaskade and Alesso drew huge crowds, but it was Sunday afternoon’s set by Alison Wonderland that offered the clearest glimpse at the future of the genre. Like fellow young DJ standout JackLNDN, Alex Scholler (aka Alison Wonderland) is a classically trained musician who uses her technical background and musical training to create songs, beats and arrangements that appeal to more than just club-goers.
Marconi, Cheese and Bacon-Topped Hot Dogs on a Buttered Toast Roll
If you’re going to be on your feet all day, it’s a good idea to eat the most intense combination of carbs, cheese and pork legally allowed to be sold. Granted, it’s not the most intuitive choice to consume during the mid-day summer heat, but a it’s bold choice nonetheless.
The Standout Performances
There were tons of great sets throughout the weekend, but a handful stood out:
Despite a minimalist setup—it was only singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn—Sylvan Esso pulled off a high-energy set that drew an impressive audience for a side-stage act.
Despite the afternoon summer heat, Circa Waves frontman Kieran Shudall donned his leather coat, in a set that mixed New York-rock cool and pop-punk attitude.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting the energy of a festival like Lollapalooza change the vibe of your music (like Toro y Moi’s sped-up, overly-hyped performance). Even with a massive crowd, Alt-J managed to keep the mellow spirit to their slower songs, providing one of the most dynamic sets of the weekend.
Both of MS MR’s album’s are solid indie-pop efforts, but they managed to do something that only great performers can do: They elevated the albums with a performance that was equal parts entertaining and musically impressive.
If their Saturday afternoon set on the BMI stage—the small young artist’s stage that has helped break future stars like Lady Gaga and Chance The Rapper—is any indication, Coin could be a mainstage act in the future.
Indie Rock’s Version of a SpongeBob Episode: Kidzapalooza
One of things that sets Lollapallooza apart from other summer festivals is its effort to be a destination for young fans—in this case, very young fans. (Though, no one of any age should be exposed to the massive volume number of absurdly high jean shorts near the EDM stage.)
The “Kidzapalooza” area featured a weekend’s worth of kid-friendly acts and an atmosphere specially-designed for parents and their kids to enjoy together. But really, even if you weren’t there with kids, you could still have a great time. Kidzapalooza was basically the indie-rock equivalent of a SpongeBob cartoon: Kids could dig the lineup, with bands like The Pop Ups, but it was subversive enough to be enjoyed be enjoyed by adults too.
Lollapallooza founder Perry Ferrell and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo even made a surprise appearance on Saturday afternoon for an impromptu super group formation.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.