Getting through any given day alive might seem easy, but if you consider how fraught the endeavor is with opportunities for failure, it can start to feel amazing that any of us are still here. You may already realize this. And if you do, you probably also realize that getting through the day outdoors at the height of summer while surrounded by tens of thousands of people—most of whom have been exposed to any number of intoxicants, including alternative rock music—poses its own particular set of challenges.
If you intend to survive your experience at Lollapalooza, you need to keep foremost in your mind several basic facts about the human body. For instance, the typical mortal vessel is poorly suited for hanging around in the sun for an entire day in temperatures above 90 degrees. Give your physiology a break occasionally with a trip to the shady groves at the center of Grant Park—or, if you're the clever and ingratiating sort, try to weasel your way into one of the air-conditioned VIP areas, which always look so tempting and swank. Keep hydrated too. It's a good idea to take a water bottle or CamelBak that you can fill at the hydration stations scattered around, and if you're drinking alcohol, I highly recommend drinking a bottle of water for every alchoholic beverage or two. If you're doing anything more serious than standing around and drinking, getting enough water is even more crucial. And if it's 98 degrees out and you eat a huge slice of deep-dish pizza, you have no one but yourself to blame for what happens next.
Last year Lollapalooza expanded its grounds to 115 acres from a relatively modest 80, and this year's festival, which runs Fri 8/5 through Sun 8/7, is the first to completely sell out at that size. (If you're hoping to buy a ticket at the on-site box office, you're out of luck.) This means 90,000 people a day filling the park. For the whole weekend that's 270,000, or slightly more than the population of Fort Wayne—and way more than last year's record-setting 240,000.
Given those numbers, there's no way you'll be able to keep to yourself and mind your own business, so a basic grasp of anthropology and/or zoology is vitally important. Get to know the various types of bro and their markings. A bro with solid red hide is obviously already wasted enough to fail to realize that he's sunburned to a really dangerous degree, and he might be looking for a fight. One who's solid red and bears any sort of emblem reading "Rage Against the Machine" is definitely looking for a fight. One who's red on only one side just woke up from a pass-out and is probably harmless. A bro wearing face paint is on a bunch of ecstasy and is therefore a wild card, but if you're brave enough to approach him and initiate a conversation about MGMT, you might find yourself rewarded with friendship, protection, or pills.
You'll also need to know the rules of the realm, as it were. There are entrance gates at the north end of Grant Park on Monroe and west of Buckingham Fountain on Michigan. Folks with three-day passes will get wristbands that they'll need to wear the entire three days, and if the wristband is stretched or otherwise damaged—perhaps in the process of moving it from one person's wrist to another's—it may be deemed invalid. Your bags will be searched upon entry for contraband, which in this case includes not just obvious stuff like weapons, illegal drugs, and alcohol but also outside food and drink (aside from one or two sealed bottles of water up to one liter), aerosol cans (including aerosol sunblock), and professional recording gear. All kosher in the park: blankets, soft-sided coolers, baby strollers, nonprofessional still and video cameras (that is, point-and-shoots and Flip-style camcorders), and empty CamelBaks.
Likewise essential is a working knowledge of Lollapalooza's often harsh terrain. Given the size of the grounds, getting from one stage to another can involve a considerable hike. Some stages have been renamed or moved, so be sure to double-check the map online to get an idea of how much travel time to factor in when putting together a schedule—and you know you should be putting together a schedule in advance, correct?
There have been some changes to the festival's layout this year to relieve congestion, but all the same you should try to avoid the reliably traffic-jammed Buckingham Fountain. Maybe take a route that goes through the aforementioned shady trees, or past any of the cooling stations. If you're heading to the south end of the grounds, be forewarned that the baseball diamonds near the Sony stage and Music Unlimited stage have historically smelled like goose shit. And if you're considering posting up at one spot for the whole day, the Perry's tent is a good choice—Lollapalooza cofounder Perry Farrell tends to pack it with DJs and electronic acts that are on average a step above the rest of the weekend's offerings in quality, and the vibe of the crowd is usually much better as well.
Lastly, you should always stay aware of your own state of mind and of the way the music around you is affecting it. If you feel suddenly filled with a hopeless malaise, you may have accidentally overheard some of Coldplay's set. If you find yourself experience a vague feeling of rage toward snotty children of privilege, you may have wandered in front of the stage where Dom's playing, and you should try to avoid millennials doing the 90s retro thing for at least an hour. Strangely nostalgic for Chile even though you've never been there? Perhaps you're listening to one of the three acts—Chico Trujillo, Ana Tijoux, and Los Bunkers—that the fest's organizers have booked as a nod to the new Lollapalooza Chile, which launched in Santiago this past April. Angry at the very concept of making music? Make sure you haven't exposed yourself to Skylar Grey, OK Go, or Muse.
Most of these reactions are of course undesirable, so the Reader's music writers—myself included—have combed through the Lollapalooza schedule looking for bands we're pretty sure are safe or even, you know, actually excellent. For our suggestions, just keep reading. —MR