August 27, 2008

"Don't Worry, I'm a Reporter," or, "A First-Timer's Guide to Lollapalooza"

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Chicago is a surprising city. From within its limits, some of the most influential public figures of the past 100 years have skyrocketed to super-celebrity and/or infamy. In many ways, little has changed beyond the venues of choice; Al Capone’s speakeasies might have given way to Kanye West and the Hard Rock Hotel, but the city has retained its reputation for cutthroat politics and as a hotspot for the pop-cultural avante-garde.
It’s from Chicago that Milton Friedman launched an economic revolution. It’s was in Chicago that Walter Payton and Michael Jordan achieved athletic immortality. It’s also Chicago that now serves as the inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City. And oh yeah, there’s some guy named Barack Obama from Chicago too.
Which is why I was so surprised that when I finally saw the metropolis it seemed so calm. It possesses this palpable mid-western charm, overlooking a sparkling blue Lake Michigan. The streets are wide and the air seems clear. For a city, it was almost serene and idyllic.
I’m not sure I could readily compare it’s atmosphere to that of any other town I’ve ever been to. It’s more laid back than New York; far cleaner than Los Angeles; and, unlike in Baltimore, I wasn’t constantly wary of winding up in a scenario straight out of The Wire.
I soaked this all up as I bounded towards the Windy City on an el-train from Midway Airport. It was a Saturday morning in early August, and just a few hours earlier I’d boarded a Delta flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York so I could attend this year’s Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. Thanks to our positions in The Sun’s arts section, my co-editor Julie Block and I were able to snag a couple of media passes to the three-day festival, and I was determined to make the most of the experience, taking in all the sights and sounds on display.
And to that end, there was a whole lot to see — too much even. While I was able to catch acts like Lupe Fiasco and Gnarls Barkley, I wound up having to forego personal favorites Girl Talk and Okkervil River.
I enjoyed the privelege of access to the squared-off media area and hanging out there was surreal. Musicians like John Butler would casually idle by, meandering from one interview to the next. Canvases hanging from tents read “Rolling Stone” and “MTV,” while Spin Magazine hosted a free bar. I was like a kid in a candy store; a college reporter amidst all these professionals.
And the media bracelets carried with them other benefits as well. The blue plastic band I wore around my wrist seemed to be imbued with mystical properties. By flashing it in the faces of festival-goers*, I was able to easily and effortlessly pass them by on my way through the packed concert crowd, most memorably on a trip towards the stage where Kanye West would soon be performing. When he began his set, I was 20 feet away.
No doubt about it. I love Chicago.

*Shout out to Tom from Ohio, who thought it was mad chill that I had a media pass and offered me a sip from his flask. I didn’t accept it because, you know … sketchy. I did, however, appreciate the gesture.