Lolla rocked out — was it the beginning of IRL XP, or the (temporary) end?

Lollapalooza 2021 at Grant Park in Chicago. Photo from Getty.
Princess Nokia performs on Aug. 1, day four of Lollapalooza, at Grant Park in Chicago. Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images.

Lollapalooza wrapped up this past weekend after a memorable — perhaps one for the ages — four-day run in Chicago’s Grant Park. The festival kicked off last Thursday with a reported 385,000 attendees, about 100,000 per day. If you think, wow, that’s a lot of people, check out some pictures of the crowds. It could end up as one of the most populated in-person experiences of the year. A dubious honor given the recent surge in Covid cases.

Lollapalooza came at a precarious time for many people with ramped up Delta variant concerns. Attendees were required to show proof of vaccinations or a negative Covid test — a mandate that’s common for IRL experiences. Additionally, unvaccinated attendees were instructed to wear masks. Mid-festival, the safety guidelines were updated to require masks in indoor spaces for everyone.

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But Delta and fears of breakthrough cases definitely didn’t dampen ticket sales.

While Coachella and Stagecoach canceled, Lolla announced back in May that it would move forward. The only thing canceled this year was DaBaby for his homophobic remarks at a recent Miami music festival.

The Lollapalooza music festival was launched 30 years ago and is produced by C3 Presents out of Austin. Big-name brand partners like Uber, PayPal and T-Mobile were undeterred by the corona-controversy. Likewise, Bumble, Jack Daniel’s, Red Bull and more offered experiences for attendees. There were branded lounges with live performances and DJ sets, charging stations and even a 3D art walk.

But let’s not forget the real experience here — dancing in a sweat-dripping haze with hundreds of thousands of other fans, bodies pressed against bodies, screaming along to “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Party in the U.S.A.” (No, it’s not the early ’80s or the late aughts, Journey and Miley actually performed this weekend). It’s that precise experience we’ve been missing during the pandemic, something one writer aptly described as the concept of collective effervescence.

Let’s not forget the real experience here — dancing in a sweat-dripping haze with hundreds of thousands of other fans, bodies pressed against bodies, screaming along to “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Party in the U.S.A.”

But at what cost, many wondered.

It seems that concert-goers did achieve the transcendent joy that the best XP evokes in audiences. On the other hand, some observers were plagued with fear and anxiety, and Chicagoans were very critical of their mayor for allowing the festival to move forward. Attendees of Lolla largely skew younger, with the majority falling in the 21-34 demographic. Is this the new generational divide? As 2021 moves forward and in-person events roar back to life, it’s easy to worry that “Okay, Covid” will become the new refrain from Gen Z to the rest of the world.

The social media memes emerging from the festival overwhelmingly favored the Delta variant, proving that pandemic safety is the new star of the show for XP, eclipsing even musical talent like Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone and Tyler, the Creator, among about 170 other performers. However, despite the relatively strict health protocols put in place ahead of time, reports on the ground indicate that vaccination cards only received a cursory glance. There was also some concern over forged vaccination cards, and, based on the photographic evidence, there wasn’t a whole lotta mask wearing happening. The verdict is not yet in on whether Lolla will prove to be problematic, but experts are sounding the alarm and it’s a wait-and-see situation.

The good news is that Lollapalooza went the hybrid-ish route.

Actually, it partnered with Hulu to live stream the event, allowing those not inclined to roll the dice to get in on some of the magic. But would-be viewers were required to sign up for one of Hulu’s monthly subscription plans to see the show. Not surprisingly, there was some criticism on social media about the performances selected for streaming. Steve Aoki instead of Miley Cyrus and Limp Bizkit instead of Megan Thee Stallion. Maybe the festival should take this XP advice from Twitter: 

People are willing to pay for digital experiences and not just because of Covid. Going big on digital makes experiences more accessible and fosters even greater creativity. We’re hoping for a truly hybrid experience next year — perhaps a Lollapalooza metaverse?

Like it or not, Lolla 2021 will be a test case for other large-scale XP to come this year. Whatever the aftermath, dates have already been confirmed for 2022.

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