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Staged Haze Takes Lollapalooza 2021: Our Recap

The emotional and physical response to walking into the gates of Grant Park at the beginning  of Lollapalooza weekend is quite different from what it feels like during that last trek in on Sunday morning (or afternoon, like most of us). By day four: your body is shot, your feet probably have blisters on them: you’re likely sleep-deprived, and, if anything like me, still feeling the after effects of drinking an entire bottle of Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc the night before, inspired to take the plunge into the $38 purchase (with tax and tip, it’s $43) mere moments before Megan Thee Stallion begins her hour-long, pre-headlining set on the main stage. 

I’ve attended Lollapalooza as a fan for every year since 2013, all weekend—minus 2015, where I opted for two days instead of three. It’s certainly easy to get wrapped up into the experience, and obviously the draw of the festival has kept bringing me back for nearly a decade at this point. But once the festival switched to four days back in 2016 in honor of its 25th anniversary, it became even more so a marathon instead of a sprint. When will the 17-year-old kids chugging vodka on the El learn? 

During those peak hours of the festival, wandering through the streets in search of food, merchandise, water, or what most people are on the hunt for (alcohol), it can feel like you’re experiencing an apocalypse, or something like The Hunger Games. Most of us are representing the “normal” Districts: the wealthier ones who get all the special training are probably watching the sets from backstage or chilling in the Platinum Seating sections on the grounds, hiding in plain sight from the normies.  You’re on a strict schedule: likely eating once a day, finding breaks in your personalized schedule of bands to use the bathroom, designating meeting spots with your friends in case you decide to split up. It’s almost like the festival has become its own mini city for the weekend: you eat what you can, sit where it’s comfortable, and embrace fatigue as the new normal. 

And all of this is certainly heightened when the festival, one of the biggest to have gone through with (almost) regular-scheduled programming during an ongoing, slightly contained (?) worldwide pandemic is ravaging countries around the globe. Meanwhile, the United States has managed to fully vaccinate 50.2% of the eligible population: only 1.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. As the incredibly contagious Delta Variant continues to spread, it’s necessary to note that 97% of people hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated. 

So what does Lollapalooza have to do with this? Well, everything. Though the festival had announced safety measures put into place several weeks before the event kicked off, it was still quite easy for anyone to manipulate their own entry requirements to get in. As someone who has been fully vaccinated since May, all I had to do was make copies of my own record to show at each day of Lollapalooza. If you aren’t vaccinated, you were required to show a negative test result within three days of each date you would be attending (if you went on Thursday, it needed to be negative by Monday, etc). But the caveat to this is that no festival worker I encountered did anything to verify that my vaccination record matched my identity.

It would have been just as easy for one person to make 200 copies of their own card to give to other people. The reasoning for the event’s team being lax on this entry requirement? I’d assume that it’d be far too time consuming for all attendees to verify that their identities match the records. The festival also stated that unvaccinated attendees should be wearing their masks inside, but it was evident that there was no real way to enforce this. Most people I witnessed who were wearing masks were not going deep into crowds, were often giving themselves and others several feet of their own space, and skewed older. 

Despite the festival lineup being incredibly diverse, (Limp Bizkit?) the common thread through most of the acts I saw, if not all, is how amazed they were to be standing in front of people again, in real life. As trite as it can become, there’s something very sobering to see other people react with shock and astonishment to the things that you’ve missed so dearly for so long. It’s a humbling experience, and I’m sure it’s even more so for those performers.

The crowd at the Lakeshore Stage on Thursday afternoon was one of the more crowded first sets I had witnessed during the weekend as Indiana-native Christian French took the stage just a quarter past noon. This was the hottest few hours of the festival, but it didn’t seem to debilitate 24-year-old French, or his fans. The self-taught musician, who decided to pursue music full time while attending college at Indiana University, referred to coming to Lolla seven years ago for the first time to watch his sister perform in a band: “A lot of what I experienced that weekend is what inspired me to become a musician,” he said to the crowd.

Christian French by Mickey Pierre-Louis

“I’ve been to this festival so many times, I know it’s tough to come show up and be at the festival at 12…I always rolled up at 2 or 3,” he said during an interview we had just about 48 hours after his performance slot. 

“Seeing, you know, a couple thousand people out there for a 12 show was an insane feeling. I’m so grateful.”

When chatting about his newest single “Avalanche,” a song that’s barely a month old that was a huge sing along moment during his set, French discusses the realization he had during multiple different relationships when he starts fantasizing what his life would be like if he were single.

“You start to fantasize about what you could be doing, and I’ve noticed that this has happened so many times: the last time it happened I was like ‘here we go again…’ it ends up being, you know, what ends that relationship. I took that snowball effect and brought it into ‘Avalanche.’”

Who should we be listening to? “Chiiild, The Brook & The Bluff, Dominic Fike.”

Christian French – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Christian French – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Christian French – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze

I wasted no time at all heading to the T-Mobile stage to catch sister duo Aly & AJ: musicians that we’ve been reporting on for quite some time now. The sisters, who noted later on that this was their first festival performance ever, released their new album A Touch of The Beatearlier this year. The 45-minute performance slot dragged on throughout moments: though the sisters’ talent is evident, the decision to perform primarily slow songs gave the audience several opportunities to become bored and disengaged. Aly & AJ had the opportunity to bring some olders songs into the spotlight the way that Miley Cyrus did later that evening (more on that soon), and it would have allowed the attendees to let lose a bit more, similarly to how they did during the closing performance of “Potential Breakup Song.” 

Aly & AJ by Sydney Gawlik

For a set that ultimately left me feeling sleepy, I knew it was time to find an artist that would get me feeling amped up again. I found this in almost monday, a band based out of San Diego who we featured as one of Staged Haze’s artists to check out at Lollapalooza this year. It also didn’t hurt that they were playing at my favorite stage at Lolla: The Grove, which is now called GrubHub stage, but will forever be known to me as The Grove. I’ve seen some of my favorite artist play sets here over the years, and though it is intimate, nestled between lots of trees, it can hold a fairly large size crowd. It was clear that lead singer Dawson Daugherty was ready to perform, dressed in a pale blue suit and rocking a floppy haircut full of curls. His energy was magnetic, feeding off the crowd, which ended up being a fairly large one, and seemed to know a lot of the lyrics during the 40-minute performance. We talked to almost monday a couple hours before their set:

“We were in Chicago before our shows with AJR in 2019, riding through Grant Park, literally imagining how we wanted to play Lolla so bad. Being here right now is crazy, Dawson said.

Driving over here, I was finally getting excited: I almost didn’t let myself, last time we had exciting tings happen it all got canceled. Now, actually coming here and being here, this feels surreal. We could hear the soundcheck from our hotel and the room was shaking. Music: it’s happening. It’s back.” Said bassist Luke Fabry.

Dawson Daugherty by Jen Vesp

I headed back to Lakeshore to check out Dayglow: an artist who has continuously released ’80s-inspired bops that I knew would get the crowd dancing. I wasn’t familiar with all of his music: but the 21-year-old’s ability to seamlessly weave through each track without breaking up any momentum from the crowd made me want to keep watching and hear every note played. Highlights from the set included the performance of Dayglow’s breakout hit single “Can I Call You Tonight?” “Close To You,” and a cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”

Dayglow by Miranda McDonald

As I continued watching the set, I made a new friend who offered me a sip of his rosé topped with a seltzer, twice. I politely declined, twice.

“Are you seeing Miley Cyrus tonight?” I asked.

“I don’t really care about anyone else except Kim Petras.” he said.

Kim Petras by Ashley Osborn

Like I later discussed with one of my friends who attended Lollapalooza with me, the festival has a habit of putting commercially successful female artists on the Lakeshore stage in the late afternoon or as a pre-headlining slot before one to two artists close out the main stage, which is just a few hundred feet away. We’ve seen sets here by Marina and The Diamonds, Zara Larsson, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Dua Lipa: just to name a few. These artists wouldn’t have much of an issue pulling a crowd large enough to perform on the main stage, which can be frustrating when there’s too many people attending to fit comfortably in the allotted space.

28-year-old German pop singer Kim Petras certainly drew a competively-sized crowd, but whether it was because of covid, or the fact that she was playing against artists like Kaytranada and Tchami, (Petras has dance music in her catalog, but certainly leans towards pop over EDM), the crowd was a bit more casually spread out. It certainly didn’t lack any energy though: considering how many people around the area passionately sang along with Petras’ music: pulling out hits like “Party Til I Die,” “Icy,” and “Heart To Break.”

Petras is a Transgender Woman, who, at 16, underwent gender confirmation surgery at the age of 16. In 2006, she was considered one of the youngest people to undergo transgender hormone therapy.

“They told me I was niche cause I’m Transgender. Well, fuck that shit,” she said before closing out her hour-long performance.

Miley Cyrus by Ashley Osborn

In my book, the performance of the weekend goes to Miley Cyrus, who didn’t shy away from reimagining some of her biggest hits as stadium rock anthems: versions that were very fitting for the song she performed off her 2020 album, Plastic Hearts. Opening with “We Can’t Stop” and closing with “Party in The USA,” Cyrus glamorously weaved through her 90-minute set, performing covers, new and old songs alike, including the deliciously cathartic “7 Things,” (performed for the first time in ten years), “See You Again,” and even “The Climb.” This recap wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the special guest performers, including the iconic Billy Idol, whose swift appearance came in went in the opening quarter of the set, delighting audience members with a shortened performance of his hit “White Wedding,” as well as appearances by Chicago rapper G Herbo, Wiz Khalifa, and Juicy J, hitting the stage for a performance of “23.” Even 17-year-old rapper Kid Laroi appeared to perform his single “Without You” with Cyrus.

Though I believe that each and every artist should have the autonomy to play what they want to play, I do think Aly & AJ could take a page out of Miley’s playbook and perform the songs they know the audience wants to reminisce to.

Renforshort by Greg Noire

It’s a rare and lovely thing to see Lollapalooza attendees hovering around the stage before the first set of the day shows up. Like Christian French mentioned previously, it’s not easy to make that journey to Grant Park, especially when it’s likely going to be during the hottest hours of the day.

Fans were ready to see 19-year-old Lauren Isenberg hit the stage this weekend, performing under the moniker “renforshort.” Hailing from Toronto, Isenberg was super familiar with Lollapalooza and its influence on the music and culture scene, especially how its origins are so bred in rock music. Her family was incredibly musical growing up, and Ren has described having early childhood memories with her parents and siblings that revolved around music.

She describes feeling the pull to make music her career during our interview:

“I just knew…there was literally nothing else I could see myself doing. I will not be fulfilled if I don’t do it.”

I asked if her confidence onstage comes easy or if it’s something she’s had to develop over the time since it comes off so natural.

“That’s really nice…I’m the least confident person. Not in the world…but I am so critical about everything I do, I feel like most people are. But I just get on stage and feel like it’s a moment when we’re all together. When I see live music, I want to feel their energy, I want them to open up. It’s like I’m a different person.”

Who should we be listening to? “Pink Panther, Kid Brunswick, Glaive, Wallice, Inhaler, Kennyhopla.”

renforshort – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
renforshort – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
renforshort – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Jake Wesley Rogers By Erika Goldring

I’ve written about Jake a few times leading up to this post, I won’t be a broken record yet again. But for someone with so much charisma and pure, raw talent, I would have absolutely loved to see Rogers perform on a bigger stage! His energy was so contagious, it emulated off the stage into the audience. It’s not every day that you see a performer who TRULY gives a show as if it’s their absolute last, and that’s exactly what Jake did.

I enjoyed the 20 minutes I saw of his set so much, I made the point to return to his later show at the Bud Light Seltzer Session for round two. Jake is absolutely an artist to keep on your radar: and I believe he will be dropping his first major label project later this fall.

Tai Verdes by Roger Ho

You see how large that crowd is? Can you believe that it was the 25-year-old’s FIRST performance ever? Well, believe it. After the former college basketball star (he’s 6’7″) released a song he wrote after working a shift at a cell phone store, it did the thing where it blew up on TikTok…and the rest is beautiful history.

Tai’s 45-minute performance at the Bud Light stage was full of hype, including moments of sporadic energy that resulted in Verdes running full speed ahead into the crowd. With a full album out, Verdes wasn’t short of performance material, and even included a cover of Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” in his set.

Verdes is set to support Chelsea Cutler and Quinn XCII on tour this fall as well as performing a slew of headlining shows: several of them have already sold out.

Tai Verdes – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Tai Verdes – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Tai Verdes – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Grandson by Ashley Osborn

If you have followed us for awhile, you likely know that we’ve been big fans of Grandson for the past three years, even giving his EP A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1 a spot on our Best albums of 2018 list. I’ve also been waiting this long to see Grandson (headed by Jordan Edward Benjamin) live: and I was absolutely taking this opportunity to finally make that wish a reality. Benjamin’s music is so incredibly personal, touching on difficult subjects like America’s gun violence, corruption in our government and more: I was certain that the energy you can feel in the music would feel even more power in a live setting.

“You have no idea what the person next to you has been through,” Benjamin said a few minutes into his set, encouraging the audience members to be respectful to those around them. For an artist who is so politically driven with their music, I couldn’t help but make the connection to our country’s current handling of this raging pandemic during the performance of “We Did It!!!

I‘m gonna pat myself on the back
‘Cause I did the bare minimum
Where the fuck is my medal?

Tweetin’ from my brand new condominium
Yeah, we did it
We didn’t
It’s all getting better now, is it?
It isn’t

Elohim by Taylor Regulski

Four years ago, I saw Elohim perform at Lollapalooza for the first time. She was on the same stage as she was this year, but performing far earlier in the day and also to far less people. Fast forward to this past weekend: seeing her set pretty crowded was such a cool moment from the perspective as a fan and as a journalist. Elohim has continued to grow her career as a DJ, singer-songwriter, and artist by sharing her struggles with anxiety and the way it affects her career and vice versa.

Coming off such a difficult year, it was obvious that this performance was meaningful to the audience members as well as meaningful for Elohim. Though she’s begun to show her face more than she did in the early stages of her career, there’s still much to learn about the real person behind the persona: and I think she gave us a taste of that person over the weekend.

The Backseat Lovers by Taylor Regulski

For a band that has two million monthly listeners on Spotify and nearly 80 million streams on their 2019 album ALONE, you’d think there would be a lot more press on these dudes. However, we chatted with the Utah natives about their large-than-life rise to fame after their debut at Lollapalooza, including insights on their smash single “Kilby Girl.”

“It’s a fictitious story…going to my first show at this venue called Kilby Court, it’s the heart of all age music in Salt Lake. Going there for the first time with my friends and being 18 was like, ‘wow!’ this huge overload of music and finding the culture in Salt Lake City.”

Who should we be listening to? “Bulldada.”

The Backseat Lovers – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
The Backseat Lovers – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
The Backseat Lovers – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Serena Isioma by Erika Goldring

Hometown hero! 20-year-old Serena Isioma’s early Saturday evening slot attracted an impressive sized crowd, considering they were creeping up REAL close to the start of Megan Thee Stallion’s show. There was something so awkwardly hilarious walking up to the set as they scream “FUCK 12” to the crowd, the crowd chants back, and I immediately make eye contact with police officers standing on the outskirts of the audience.

Isioma is one of many local artists who were apart of the lineup this year, including the likes of Rookie, Tobi Lou, Oston, G Herbo, Mick Jenkins, and more.

Megan Thee Stallion by Charles Reagan

Though I have my qualms with C3 failing to book more women headliners, they did the correct thing doing whatever they had to do get Megan Thee Stallion hit the stage in Grant Park over the weekend. Not only was the set completely packed with fans (though in my area of the crowd, everybody had plenty of space to distance themselves), but it was arguably the most diverse crowd of people I’ve ever seen at someone’s performance at Lolla, which was really refreshing to see. I knew maybe 1/3 of the songs Megan played, but her performance and stage presence was so electrifying, it didn’t even matter that I was vibing to music I didn’t know.

It’s really important to see a Black woman secure one of the top spots on the most popular day of the festival (historically, Saturdays sell out the quickest, regardless of the daily lineup), and though Lollapalooza and the music industry as a whole has a lot of work to do in terms of improving representation, this was a great step.

Though Lolla has had its fair share of criticism for making a heavy shift to booking more commercially successful acts over the last few years, ranging from pop to rap to EDM, this year’s lineup certainly had a solid list of rock bookings. On Sunday alone, attendees had the option of choosing between artists like Brittany Howard, The Front Bottoms, Band of Horses, and Modest Mouse: basically a given that these bands would also attract fans of The Foo Fighters, who closed out the festival on Sunday night.

Sarah Barrios by Erika Goldring

I also had the pleasure of checking out newcomer Sarah Barrios’ mid-afternoon set at The BMI Stage. Barrios’ newest single “Thank God You Introduced Me To Your Sister,” was the highlight of the set, a track that Barrios intro’d after admitting to the crowd that she had recently come out as bisexual. The song is in the same vein as artists in her lane like Avril Lavigne and Hey Monday, but with a contemporary twist on the pop punk genre. This is fitting, considering she pulled a cover of “Skater Boi” out of her pocket to perform. Barrios is set to support the aforementioned Christian French on tour this fall: check out the dates here.

Brittany Howard by Taylor Regulski

The crowd was hungry for Brittany Howard, though you can feel the shift in energy as the afternoon was heading into the last few hours of the festival. It doesn’t help that The Tito’s Stage is one that faces out towards a hefty sized field made of concrete that slants down the closer you get to the stage, which makes for a pretty uncomfortable viewing and listening experience for the attendees. The sun was still going strong at 4pm, and it was visibly affecting the way the crowd was interacting with Howard. She didn’t seem to let it bother her though, playing through an hour’s worth of her music, including covers of Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, and more.

Forrest Frank of Surfaces by Jeff Berger

As a 26-year-old very close to turning 27, there are multiple instances every year at Lollapalooza that make me feel too old to be in attendance. One of those times fell during Surfaces’ performance on Sunday evening: one that drew a demographic mainly of Gen Z’ers who looked completely done with the weekend (I don’t blame them). Surfaces, which effortlessly blend pop, R&B and reggae, doesn’t necessarily scream Gen Z appeal, but thanks to then success of their song “Sunday Best” going viral on TikTok, they managed to pull quite the crowd: one that felt so unbelievably congested, I felt like it was necessary to be wearing a mask.

Surfaces – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Surfaces – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Surfaces – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze

I reported earlier this year that the Lollapalooza lineup was a bad one. I’m not entirely convinced otherwise after attending, but seeing that common thread of the festival attempting to get back to their roots by booking more rock and alt acts than I can remember in recent years, it does feel like they may be on their way to becoming less concerned about money and more focused on the rebirth of the festival after its 30 years in existence. Going off of that, Lollapalooza has a long way to go in terms of booking a gender-balanced lineup, considering the fact that out of the top fifty booked artists, only five of them are women-identifying.

I doubt they will ever go back to three days, and why would they? But I do feel like the festival would be better off capping it at three and booking artists that play shorter time slots. Too many bands are getting hour-long slots that aren’t needed: not due to their inabilities or talents, but because one hour sets outside in the heat of the summer is a long time to stand.

For a festival that is bound to have some COVID cases come out of it: I anticipated more attendees being belligerent in the way that I’m used to seeing them. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t people being irresponsible: that’s impossible. Perhaps I’m just naive and avoided the sets that were going to be bringing out the craziest fans (everything at Perry’s, Post Malone’s headlining set, Jxdn, to name a few), it felt like the attendees I was around for the most part, were being cautious. It was definitely a mind game being around all of these people while trying to enjoy what was going on in front of me but also being incredibly concerned that I was contributing to a major, worldwide problem. Did the performers feel this conflict? Probably. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do except commit to potentially becoming a part of the issue, seeing what happens, and recalibrate for next time.

More artist portraits below:

JXDN – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
JXDN – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
JXDN – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Jawny – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Jawny – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Jawny – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Tate McRae – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Tate McRae – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Tate McRae – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Brooke Alexx – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Brooke Alexx – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Brooke Alexx – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Julian Lamadrid -shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Julian Lamadrid -shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Julian Lamadrid – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Gus Dapperton -shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Gus Dapperton – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze
Gus Dapperton – shot by Sam Monendo for Staged Haze

2 comments on “Staged Haze Takes Lollapalooza 2021: Our Recap

  1. Pingback: New Music Sunday: The 5 Best Songs Released This Past Week Pt. 16

  2. Pingback: Staged Haze Takes Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Our Recap

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