Lollapalooza 2012 will be remembered for the great Saturday storm that evacuated Grant Park and sent some 100,000 concertgoers scrambling for cover in the streets of downtown Chicago.
Word of the storm came just after 3 p.m. local time on the second day of the three-day festival. It was clear it was going to be a severe storm, and Lolla organizers were wary of a repeat of 2011, when Sunday storms flooded the main field and left the grounds in a swampy disrepair from which it has yet to fully recover. So rather than sending kids under trees looking for shelter, the music stopped and workers began the rather gargantuan task of clearing everyone out of the festival grounds.
This is where having an event in a major metropolis comes in handy. Clear out Coachella or Bonnaroo and there’s nowhere for fans to go. But in downtown Chicago, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and other businesses to crowd into. Officially, fans were directed into a series of evacuation shelters, which were really just parking garages where they could wait out the storm. But fans made their way to wherever they could, and some simply crowded under hotel awnings along Michigan Ave. and kept the party going while the skies darkened and eventually unleashed a massive downpour onto the fest grounds. (Check out this time lapse video of the storm; it gets pretty nasty there for awhile.)
Twitter became an important tool for spreading word about the day’s plans, with Lollapalooza’s official feed and trusted sources like the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot disseminating important information regarding the state of the fest. Would the festival go on? Would bands get rescheduled? How would everyone get back in the park?
Eventually word came down and the gates reopened in the 5 o’ clock hour. Music started back up around 6:30, and the park’s curfew was extended from 10 p.m. to 10:45. Fans made their way back into the park in good shape and high spirits, and the storm had a bonding effect on the crowd and seemed to actually heighten the fan experience. Now everyone has a story to tell about the time Lollapalooza was evacuated.
Storm aside, Lollapalooza 2012 was another hugely successful outing for the now-21-year-old event, which is celebrating its eighth year as a destination event in Chicago. While Lolla lacks the distinct personality of its two biggest rivals, Coachella and Bonnaroo, it still has the clout to mix powerful headlining acts (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Keys) with big name reunions (Black Sabbath) and cutting-edge newcomers (Frank Ocean). And being a festival in 2012, there was of course a heavy EDM contingent, with Avicii and Justice playing huge shows on the fest’s two main stages while artists like Calvin Harris, Kaskade and more keeping the party pumping on Perry’s stage, the all-dance stage named after Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell.
Footprint-wise, Lollapalooza is absolutely gigantic, but traffic flows relatively smoothly through the festival grounds. Lines for beer, food and bathrooms can get pretty lengthy in peak hours, but are rarely egregious or unmanageable. For a festival of its size, Lollapalooza is well-organized and runs smoothly, as evidenced by its swift managing of the Saturday storm. Sure, there was a little mud left behind — okay, a lot of mud — but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with getting a little dirty.