The aftermath of the Arcade Fire's set at last year's Lollapalooza
The aftermath of the Arcade Fire's set at last year's Lollapalooza Credit: Kirstie Shanley

Who to see, hour by hour, on:

There is no reason to go to Lollapalooza. Most of the acts worth watching are playing afterparties around town over the weekend; those that don’t will probably be back as soon as they’re out from under the festival’s notoriously stringent radius clauses—which the organizers use to keep Lollapalooza acts from gigging in the Chicago market for weeks or months before and after the big weekend. If you want to see the Walkmen and White Rabbits play the same day at the same place, you’ve had literally dozens of opportunities to do so before, several within the city, so maybe you don’t really want it as bad as you think you do. And if you’re one of those people who lives hours from the nearest stop on the usual touring circuit and you come to Lollapalooza to gorge on live music once a year, you should either spend a little extra to go somewhere more scenic (maybe the Sasquatch festival in Washington state) or suck it up and move to an actual city.

It’s expensive. Its branding and visuals are insultingly bad. Joining the human herd winding around sun-blasted Buckingham Fountain feels vaguely totalitarian, and the overall experience is like being stuck in a giddily hypercapitalistic refugee camp. And thanks to the goose guano baked into the infields of the baseball diamonds on the south end of the park, it literally smells like shit.

And yet here we are again.

Lollapalooza has returned to Grant Park for its eighth installment as a one-city, one-weekend festival, despite some grumbling from its organizers at C3 Presents about the city of Chicago’s recent decision to make them pay all the taxes anybody else would’ve had to. Given that close to 100,000 people attend Lollapalooza per day, and that weekend passes sold out at $230 apiece, C3 are probably going to do OK anyway.

The fest’s lineup of nearly 140 acts is a mix of well-established names, buzzy upstarts, and veteran festival performers, spread across eight stages; one is devoted solely to electronic dance music (Perry’s) and another to children’s fare (Kidz). It’s easy to get overwhelmed, if not by the insane crowds and profusion of logos, then by the task of planning your day so that you’ll end up in front of artists you actually want to see.

That’s where the Reader‘s helpful music critics come in. The guide that follows is an itinerary that covers every hour of all three days of Lollapalooza, with only occasional overlaps and very few gaps more than a few minutes long. (In some cases you’ll need that time, and maybe more, to traverse the grounds.) If you make it through the festival by checking out the 30 acts we’ve chosen, we’re pretty sure you’ll decide it was worth the trouble. Maybe.

TICKETS All flavors of tickets, from single-day to VIP, are sold out. There are plenty on the secondary market going for about double their face value, and they might not even get you into the festival.

LOCATION Lollapalooza sprawls over 115 largely shade-free acres of Grant Park, with the main stages at opposite ends of the grounds. (They’re nearly a mile apart, so be prepared to do a lot of walking.) The primary entrance is at the intersection of Michigan and Congress; there’s a smaller one at Monroe and Columbus.

GETTING THERE The downtown location means you’ve got a wide variety of CTA options, and there’s plentiful bike parking near the main entrance. The parking situation would make driving an exceptionally bad idea even without the overwhelming pedestrian traffic.

RULES Attendees with three-day tickets will receive a nontransferable wristband that will allow them to come and go from the grounds up to five times per day; single-day ticket holders don’t have the option of re-entry. Blankets, soft-sided coolers, handheld umbrellas, and consumer-grade cameras are all allowed. Each festivalgoer can bring in two sealed plastic bottles of water (a liter or smaller) as well as empty plastic containers or hydration systems such as CamelBaks, which can be filled for free at stations throughout the park. Given how physically brutal the festival environment can be, getting enough water is crucial—if you’re drinking alcohol, the rule of thumb is at least one glass of water for every two adult beverages. Outside food and drink (excepting the aforementioned water), pets, skateboards, beach umbrellas, tents, professional recording gear (including cameras with detachable lenses), fireworks, and weapons are prohibited.

BESIDES THE MUSIC Lollapalooza offers a wide variety of activities that don’t involve watching music. The environmentally focused Green Street areas have representatives from activist groups, sellers of ecologically friendly wares, workshops on DIY food production, and a farmers’ market. Two Chow Town locations will be serving everything from fast food by fine-dining chefs to deep-dish pizzas (which some people eat in the sweltering heat, as difficult as that is to believe). The Kidzapalooza festival-within-a-festival has family-friendly performances, music workshops, airbrush-tattoo stations, and more. Several sponsored tents are also competing to give you stuff to do, including video games and something called Whac-a-Hipster (in the Prius tent, ironically), and some of them have air-conditioning, which is worth being aggressively marketed at. The Rock & Recycle program gives attendees the opportunity to exchange scavenged recyclables for swag at four locations.

AFTER CURFEW There are official and un­official afterparties throughout the weekend, and we’ve compiled a handy guide of the ones that aren’t yet sold out.

See our reviews of bands on: Friday, like Sharon Van Etten and Black Sabbath • Saturday, like Tune-Yards and the Red Hot Chili Peppers • Sunday, like Jack White and Sigur Ros