Lollapalooza 2019 rolled into Chicago's Grant Park for the first of four days with optimal summer weather; the sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in sight and the festival may have had the single best day of weather this decade. The festival has grown by leaps and bounds since finding a permanent home in Chicago in 2005. The overall vibe of the festival appeared to be more relaxed and opening day felt more like a soft opening than the beginning of a long weekend of music. I didn't see any bad performances during the first day, however, the inspiring moments sadly proved to be few and far between until later in the day. Despite recent criticisms, Lollapalooza has always been about the music first and the organizers have done a top notch job of adding superb food, amenities, and pop up shops throughout the festival that makes it an enjoyable experience, especially for those who spend all ten hours at the festival.
As the festival has shifted from an alternative rock festival to one that has focused more on hip-hop and pop in recent years, it's become more eclectic; however, there are struggles beneath the surface. With the shift to four days, there's an abundance of up-and-coming acts that don't have significant catalogs and often haven't had enough experience to capture the imagination of a festival crowd or the discography to make their sets essential viewing. Here's our day one report from Lollapalooza 2019.
No stage has more fervent or devoted fans that Perry's, the EDM stage at the far end of the festival. Minutes after the doors opened, Cassian (who hails from Australia) brought big walloping beats to kick-off the festival. Early performances tend to have smaller crowds and while Cassian's crowd wouldn't match later day performances, he kicked off the festival in fine fashion with a devoted following bumping and grinding just as we hit midday.
Beach Bunny 12:50
Jangly guitar chords evoked summer romance, heartache and endless summer nights as the four-piece Chicago band delivered the best and most revealing set of the day. The hometown act found a warm welcoming with a fervent crowd is supporters. Lili Trifilio played the guitar and provided lead vocals which were mesmerizing. Taking the audience through a journey, she shined under the summer sky with a wholehearted performance. Her voice soared on every note as she wrung from it was delivered with absolute conviction. Beach Bunny delivered the most profound, powerful and revealing set on the opening day of Lollapalooza 2019.
Emily King 1:45
Hailing from New York, King delivered smooth grooves at the band shell from her 2019 album Scenery. Revealing shades of retro pop, r&b, disco her set was just what an early afternoon set needed. The audience stood in rapt attention as she revealed her struggles behind a tightly knit band and two backing vocalists who helped accentuate every song.
School of Rock Allstars
The most underestimated stage of the festival is always the Kidzapalooza stage. Throughout the day, there are numerous activities and performances for kids that are brought to the festival (who are free under 10). The most explosive rock performance of the day came from the School of Rock Allstars. Over half of the ensemble was women and they performed the material with rebelliousness and determination. Europe's "The Final Countdown" featured not just that synth melody but elevated vocals while Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall (Pt.2)" put the full ensemble to use before the set came to a close with a stirring rendition of Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help from My Friends". The musicianship, the intensity and the persuasion with which School of Rock Allstars delivered the material is something to behold. If you see them performing near you, every effort should be made to witness their talent.
The Toronto rapper whose "Killamonjaro" has 44-million streams on Spotify braved the blistering peak of the mid-afternoon sun for a set with avid fans while others watched on in curiosity. This was a theme throughout Lollapalooza 2019, with several acts having high streaming numbers, a loyal set of followers and a crowd watching the performance out of curiosity.
Lennon Stella 3:00
Lennon Stella isn't old enough to have a drinking wristband at the festival, but it didn't stop her from performing an entrancing set on the festival's second biggest stage. The set featured songs from her EP Love, me from 2018 including the infectious "La Di Da" along with some choice covers. Early in the set she performed a blistering cover of Rhianna's "Umbrella" and later in the set tipped her hate to Keane with a "Somewhere Only We Know".
The Long Beach trio are the type of band Lollapalooza has spent a lifetime breaking and elevating. One listen to "still feel" with its horns, catchy chorus and propulsive rhythm and you will be hooked.
Rap-rock is alive and well. Performing on the biggest stage of the festival Ghostemane delivered a commanding set composed of many of their streaming favorites (their top five songs on Spotify have over 160-million streams) including "Mercury: Retrograde", "1000 Rounds". With a tip of the hat to Marilyn Manson, the band seemed to have as many detractors as it does supporters.
Harry Hudson 3:45
The "folk pop" artist owes more to hip-hop than folk based on his set. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma five years ago, an illness he overcame, his set was celebratory in nature and featured a guest appearance by Jaden Smith, whom he appeared with at Lollapalooza 2018. The special guest spot took the set into overdrive under the shade of trees just off Lake Shore Drive.
Jeremy Zucker 4:20
Taking a page from singer-songwriters who have expanded their palettes with beats, lush soundscapes and airy guitars, Zucker takes a page from George Ezra and Bon Iver while adding his own personal stamp. His shaded set was perfect for a late afternoon pre-happy hour.
Fitz and the Tantrums 4:35
The Lollapalooza veterans, who made their third appearance at the festival this decade, had the most energetic set of day one. The band's retro-pop-soul was the one set where the crowd was active participants from the front of the stage back to where the next stage started. Fueled by singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, they worked the stage as if their lives and careers depended on it. Working through their catalog of hits ("Break the Walls", "123456", "Out of My League" and MoneyGrabber") they came off like seasoned professionals, something the first day of Lollapalooza was missing in abundance. Their experience, determination and catalog helped make it one of the most enjoyable sets of the day, and this was before they pulled out "Handclap" and "The Walker" at the end of the set which sent the crowd into frenzy.
With several Grammy nominations (and a win!) under her belt Gabriella Wilson, better known as H.E.R, took to the Lollapalooza stage like a seasoned veteran. Despite only being twenty-two years old and having only one official album to her name, she was one of the defining performances of opening day. The end of his hour long set was especially revealing with a Lauryn Hill cover of "Ex-Factor", "As I Am" from her I Used To Know Her: The Prelude EP and a staggering set closing "Lights On" which delicately segued into Prince's "Purple Rain". The next time H.E.R appears at Lollapalooza she will probably be one of the headliners.
Hayley Kiyoko 6:00
Hayley Kiyoko released Expectations an album of dreamy pop last year but none of it could have really prepared one for seeing her live. Her backing band brought these songs to life, notably "Let It Be" which embodied a more forceful presence. She owned the stage as she prowled across it, engaging the audience, making eye contact and her in-between song banter was inspiring. She's a performer to watch because her ear for melody is strong and as a performer, she has the power to seduce the audience with minimal flash.
Sitting alone in a room writing songs on his guitar, I am not sure Andrew John Hozier-Byrne (who would later take the stage name Hozier) could have envisioned playing on the biggest stage of one of the largest festivals in the world. Every time he opens his mouth to sing, you feel as if he's reaching to the furthest depths of his soul in an attempt to expunge demons. While his music would seem better suited for a theater or club, the intimacy of these songs and their stories reached far and wide during his emotionally blistering hour long set. "Nina Cried Power", the opening cut from Wasteland, Baby! was a tour de force in social lessons. He gave a special shout out to Mavis Staples who appears on the recorded version. He also spoke beautifully about Chicago and the influence of the city on him when he visits. His set, which also featured Maggie Rogers on "Work Song", was a rugged affair that had shades of rock, soul and gospel and reached for the skies, inspiring everyone who heard it to walk out into the night a little more spiritually elevated than they were when they started the day.
King Princess 7:45
A giant cardboard couch stood at the back of the stage while King Princess (born Mikaela Straus) put it to good use as she danced, involved the audience and made a convincing argument for electronic pop music. Listening to her catalog in the days leading up to the festival, I wasn't sure how the dance beats would translate to a late evening festival stage, but Princess was an charming performer and even though she doesn't even have a full length album to her name. Despite overflow from Hozier's set with many faces that were unfamiliar with her music, she was able to enchant them.
The Chainsmokers 8:30
Alex Pall and Drew Taggart, better known as the Chainsmokers, have become pop radio staples with the bigger than life beats paired with concise melodies and many a guest artists, they're one of the driving forces in pop today. Their headline set was met with eye-rolls from many because they're possibly too mainstream for the dance audience of Perry's or for the rock enthusiast, but to their credit, they delivered a big headlining set full of hits, pyrotechnics and several guest appearances. The crowd danced, jammed, and swung their arms to the air in a set that overflowed with mass appeal. Perhaps the biggest surprises of their set were the guest appearances by Lennon Stella (who performed earlier in the day), Maggie Rogers, Bebe Rexha and Isaac Slade of the Fray. Slade's appearance was the biggest surprise as he received the song writing credit on the cut "Closer" only after it was released. The band mashed up "Closer" and "Over My Head" during the sets most stimulating moment. While the finale of their set had fireworks and big blistering beats, you can't help but feel previous headliners were able to muster the same fireworks with their music alone. The Chainsmokers set was exactly what you would expect; fun, foreseeable and safe.
More in-depth Lollapalooza coverage will be published all this week
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life, has far too many CD's and has covered Lollapalooza in-depth for seven years. He can be contacted at tonykAT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Lollapalooza 2019 Day One
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