Lollapalaooza brought together the musical tribes Friday as it opened its eighth year in Grant Park – common ground this weekend for some unlikely bedfellows: Black Sabbath fans, techno fanatics and followers of introspective folk-soul singer Michael Kiwanuka.
Sabbath was scheduled to close the festival’s first night Friday, on a weekend where 130 bands and artists were to play on eight stages spread across the city’s prime piece of lakefront real estate for more than 270,000 fans.Texas-based promoters C3 Presents were looking for a more event-free festival than last year’s, when rain, mud, electronic ticketing glitches and hundreds of fence-jumpers befell the three-day music marathon.
Last year, C3 battled to keep fence jumpers at bay. Groups of as many as 300 people formed outside the park to storm the gates and crews worked around the clock to repair fence panels cut or broken by the onrush.
This year, more fencing has been installed to deter the party crashers. The entrance areas resembled siege-resistant obstacle courses, thick with road blocks, security personnel and extra fencing. C3 spokeswoman Shelby Meade said the extra fencing, widely used by the city during the NATOSummitin the spring, is the “sturdiest and most durable fencing available.”
"We increased the amount of ‘black fence’ we're using, but we're also doubling our fencing in some spots,” she said. “You'll notice we are still utilizing chain-link fencing, but we have installed additional black fencing behind some of that, particularly along Lake Shore Drive and the outer perimeter of the park. There is also chain-link fencing on the east side of Lake Shore Drive.”
Security staff has also been increased. Fans trying to cross Lake Shore Drive, a major breach point last year, will be redirected to crosswalks at the Field Museum and Monroe Street, where additional crew will be stationed.
Rain was forecast throughout the weekend. Downpours played a major role at last year’s fest; swamped sections of the park were turned into impromptu mud-sliding play pens by hundreds of fans. In addition to filling the city streets with mud people afterward, the damage required months to repair. As part of a new deal struck this spring with the city extending Lollapalooza’s stay in Grant Park through 2021, C3 must immediately pay the Chicago Park District to repair any damage caused by the festival.
At last year’s opening, long lines formed at the entrance gates as the computer checkpoints struggled to process tickets. Some fans with tickets waited more than an hour to get in because of computer glitches. But processing appeared to go more smoothly at the opening bell Friday, as the first of more than 90,000 fans began to file in.
The early highlights included a mesmerizing set by singer Sharon Van Etten, her wordless harmonies as eloquent as any of her break-up lyrics. Kiwanuka focused on keeping things small, emphasizing details like a triangle being struck or his guitar strings being brushed. The Black Angels rained doom, drone and distortion down on the sunny day, as if preparing the fans for Sabbath’s metal onslaught later in the evening. At least Ozzy Osbourne and company would have the advantage of playing at nightfall, a more appropriate setting for music that conjures nighmares rather than summer daydreams.