The expansive Grant Park, situated overlooking Lake Michigan, over a mile in length North to South, is the perfect home for a multi-day music festival hosting 240,000 people (80K a day!). The city of Chicago buzzed for three days as thousands of fans poured in from surrounding territories for the chance to see The Strokes (or Gaga), MGMT, Phoenix, Soundgarden, and hundreds of other acts play across eight stages. It didn't matter that the crowds swelled to ridiculous levels or that everyone was shirtless or sweating like sauna dwellers, or that it was loud and hot and full of awkward back tattoos. IT WAS THE BEST.
The festival itself was really well put together... water stations for refilling bottles (with a dynamic tally of how many plastic bottles the fest saved by doing so), more portable toilets than I've ever seen in one place (never more than a two minute wait if you were smart about it), and best of all, a huge variety of great food and reasonably priced beer. I spent my allowance for the next six weeks on burritos, deep dish pizza, gyros from Greek Town, and tall beers. Plus I got an awesome, life changing coozy.
However, this is all conjecture, because they could have had Mario Batali baking me a pizza with all my favorite toppings on a roller coaster with unlimited whiskey, and it wouldn't mean squat if the music was boring. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding was pretty f*cking awesome. I saw nearly every one of my favorite artists of the year, including (for the first time) one of my favorites of all time. The energy of a huge outdoor crowd magnifies the energy of the performer to heights that indoor venues just can't recreate. The whole thing feels epic, in a way that can't be nailed down with a few words. So I'll include some pictures (=1000 words each?) as I attempt to walk through my days and give you an idea of what I saw, and how I felt.
The first thing we did was walk the entire grounds. The media area was at the southern point (get it? Grizzly Bear!) so we walked all the way down, got our credentials, and walked all the way back up from the mainstage to the north section, where we spent most of our time. There were two stages there, Bud and Playstation, and they housed some of the best stuff the fest had to offer. First we saw Drive-by Truckers, who are good wholesome outdoor fun. Then we saw The New Pornographers, with AC Newman looking like he was hiding in the shade until the moment he got on stage, and Neko Case wearing a funny hat.
The Dirty Projectors provided some much needed avant garde to the afternoon. They sounded tight as they whizzed through a variety of tunes from their discography. Then The Black Keys (who also played in 2007 according to the archived footage being displayed throughout the park) ripped through their impressive blues-y catalog, bringing some serious energy back to anyone fading from late afternoon boozing.
Also featuring the really awesome signing lady, who provided lyrics for the deaf attendees. Had to get a picture of her doing her thing.
Jamie Lidell played a great set that no one showed up for (unfortunately), as we ate a nearby dinner in preparation for the evening's festivities. My friend Dan trotted off to cover Lady Gaga while I took my place in the pit at The Strokes for their first US show in years. Although many claimed the set was lackluster, it's hard to deny seeing one of your favorite bands of all time up close and personal, playing all the songs you love and skip down the street listening to all the damn time. So I had a serious rock-out meltdown. As an added bonus, I took some video from the pit. I was so excited I forgot to turn my phone sideways, DEAL WITH IT.
Although Julian asked the crowd if they wanted a "jam session" (met with a pseudo-enthusiastic yelp from the crowd), it never happened. Someone told me a man in a tie came out onto the stage, leading to a "jam session denied" out of Julian's mouth. Did we almost hear a new Strokes song? Did the suits veto them changing the set last minute? We'll never know.
Ultimately, it didn't matter. Their apathetic attitude has always been a staple of the Casablancas school of awkward and blunt rocking, so that seemed ironically genuine to me. I guess it's hard to explain (get it?).