Lollapalooza 2013: Festival's Universal Appeal Draws Massive Crowds to Chicago

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Although last-minute cancellations and overlapping sets soured the event at Grant Park, stellar performances by Mumford & Sons, Charles Bradley and Matt & Kim made up for the hassle.

Three days, 300,000 fans, 115 acres of festival grounds in the heart of Chicago’s Grant park with eight stages featuring more than 130 artists. The 20-year-old Lollapalooza music festival is one of the world’s largest, and while some argue that 2013 didn’t boast one of its better line-ups, the bill certainly included something for everyone. And it's no wonder: with attendees ranging from young kids to Gen Xers and everything in between, the once traveling festival is now a stationary assortment of buzz acts old and new meant to attract the broadest possible audience.

Headliners this year ranged from big ticket mainstream artists like Mumford & Sons and the Killers to such longtime favorites as Nine Inch Nails and the Cure, and even though festival curators included enough pop, house, rap, R&B, hard rock, and bluegrass-driven music to satisfy nearly any musical taste, the gritty, alternative music undertone from which it was spawned was still evident.

As is typical with today's festivals, multiple acts spread over so much ground was a challenge for fans, who were forced to choose between overlapping sets -- among them: Queen of the Stone Age or New Order; The Lumineers or Kendrick Lamar; Vampire Weekend or 2 Chains. It was also a difficult for the bands who were forced to battle for a share of festival goers’ slim attention span.

Some last-minute drop outs on Saturday also prompted the Grove Stage headliners to change not once but twice. First, rapper Azealia Banks canceled due to illness, then her replacement Death Grips opted not to travel to Chicago, missing both their Friday after-show party and their festival date with no notice.

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In turn, frustrated fans destroyed some of Death Grips’ musical equipment after waiting for hours. All the while speculation swirled that the no-show was due to a fan suicide whose letter was morbidly posted as the stage backdrop at the Bottom Lounge. It wasn't the first time Death Grips bailed on booked dates -- the band pulled the plug on a 2012 tour without giving venues any warning. Nevertheless, their vacated slot went to Bad Things, a new band featuring Olympic gold medalist and extreme sports hero Shaun White.

Despite these snags, the festival hit a lot of high notes. Charles Bradley, a mid-sixties funk, soul crooner and former James Brown impersonator, belted out his lively set and pranced around the Bud Light stage in a bright blue jumpsuit. As the horn section blared, Bradley displayed moves reminiscent of the late Godfather of Soul, and even threw in the robot several times to the amusement of the audience. Bradley crooned smooth renditions of “Strictly Reserved for you,” “Heart of Gold,” and other songs from his two albums, which blend gospel, blues, and a hint of reggae. He notably had a rough road to his record contract, living on the street and sleeping in his car at times during his youth then working for years as a cook before coming close to dying in the hospital. Now, Bradley is living his dream, receiving praise from critics and crowd members alike and showed his appreciation for the moment as he finished the show with a celebratory lap of high-fives through the audience.

Within minutes of Bradley’s final number, the crowd did a 180 towards the opposing stage for ‘Palooza vets Matt and Kim, who announced their presence with pounding bass. Fans climbed trees that lined the outside of the field to get a good view of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino in what felt like more of a massive party than a set. While Schifino beckoned to the crowd and went wild on the drums, Johnson manned the synth, and belted out high energy anthems like, “Let’s Go,” “Daylight,” and “Block after Block." The duo kept fans' attention by shooting balloons into the audience and urging all to sing along as they alternated their tracks with bits of covers of Kanye West and Salt N Pepa.

Many of those same fans were excited to catch Ellie Goulding next, but the British singer, known for her recent collaboration with Skrillex as well as the hit songs "Lights" and "Anything Can Happen," lost some of the energized crowd by placing those pop favorites later in her set. Nearby at the smaller BMI stage, up-and-comers Blondefire found new devotees enthralled by singer Erica Bruce, who channeled her inner Stevie Nicks on their single, “Waves,” before not-so-coincidentally paying homage to Fleetwood Mac with a beautiful rendition of “Dreams.”

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Brooding indie favorites The National played to a large throng of loyalists at Hutchinson field, but many more streamed in to see the Lumineers take over on the opposing stage. There, lead singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz commanded the crowd early, but about halfway through their set, many began moving across the large field to jockey for position for Mumford & Sons' Red Bull stage bow.

With likely the biggest audience of the festival, Mumford returned the favor by playing some of their biggest hits from the album Babel early in the set. Almost as if they timed their current smash with the sun setting over the Chicago skyline, "I Will Wait” brought with it fireworks and fandemonium.

Despite the incredible scene in the field, there was plenty of action away from the main stages, too. At the Underground, Samantha Ronson spun a DJ set, Salt N Pepa performed at the Hard Rock and Lollapalooza founder and Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell made a cameo at Kid-apalooza on Saturday afternoon to introduce the Bad Things.

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