Lollapalooza evacuated, shut down for hours due to severe storms

Concert-goers dance in the rain on Congress Avenue after fans were evacuated from Lollapalooza.
(Armando Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Tens of thousands of concertgoers in Chicago were forced to evacuate the city’s Lollapalooza as severe storms descended upon the city Saturday. Music was halted about 3:30 p.m. CST, and many fans were directed to one of three underground parking garages designated as “emergency evacuation shelters.”

Fans were told to leave the Grant Park festival about one hour before the storms hit. All told, Lollapalooza was shut down for just under three hours.

“Due to an approaching storm and warnings from the National Weather Service, Lollapalooza organizers have suspended the festival until further notice,” read a statement posted Saturday afternoon on Lollapalooza’s official site. “Festival-goers are being evacuated from Grant Park and are being directed by staff and the Chicago Police Department to pre-established underground evacuation and shelter sites along Michigan Avenue.”

The music was to resume once the heaviest aspects of the storm were over, although there appeared to be confusion as to just when the gates to the festival would be reopened. The three-day festival was expected to draw about 90,000 people per day, and had numerous Southern California artists, including Saturday headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Frank Ocean.

“Chicago is storrmin,” Ocean tweeted. L.A. punk rock band FIDLAR, which had an early Saturday Lollapalooza set, had a more colorful take on the scene. “Chicago is like the day after tomorrow,” the band tweeted, referring to the title of a 2004 disaster film. Just before 6 p.m. CST Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea tweeted that “we [are] playing.”


Some reporters on the scene tweeted that they were told fans were being allowed back into the park as early as 5 p.m. CST.

A message on the festival’s Twitter acount read as follows: “We’re working [with] our team & city officials to survey the park after the storm to determine if it is safe for festival goers to return today.” Moments later Billboard reported that gates were back open and fans were “sloshing through the mud,” although Lollapalooza, promoted by C3 events, did not officially reopen gates until 6 p.m. CST.

Pop & Hiss was not on the scene, but reporters at our sister publication, the Chicago Tribune, covered the evacuation. The Tribune noted that some fans were refusing to leave even after a storm that in some parts of the state delivered an inch and a half of rain in 30 minutes made its way onto the Lollapalooza site.

“Eventually,” the Tribune wrote, “the storm itself became the show. Some stranded attendees ran barefoot down the street, embracing the soaking conditions while others snapped photos and videos of blinding lightning strikes, ear-splitting thunder and umbrella-less people scampering through the streets.”

The Tribune’s pop critic, Greg Kot, noted that fans were “partying in the streets” chanting “USA.”

Chicago public radio station WBEZ reported that there was confusion when it came to directing fans to the evacuation centers, and some were seen climbing fences to exit the festival grounds. Bars and restaurants around Michigan Avenue were apparently flooded with concertgoers, and some tweeted of being turned away from establishments because of overcrowding.

Just days before the festival the Tribune did an extensive report on Lollapalooza’s severe weather plan. Harsh weather contributed to the collapse of a stage at the 2011 Indiana State Fair before a concert from country act Sugarland, resulting in the deaths of seven concert-goers.

The Tribune reported that winds from the storm -- said to be as high as 80 mph in some areas -- tore the roof off of a retirement home in a Chicago suburb. Lollapalooza’s curfew was extended from 10 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. to allow more of the canceled sets to be rescheduled.

“Muddy doesn’t begin to describe the field conditions,” wrote Tribune contributor Bob Gendron. “Standing water everywhere. Inches deep. Unreal conditions. Is swimming a [Lollapalooza] Olympic sport?”


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