It's only my second time in Chicago, and I found myself in this beautiful city to attend Lollapalooza 2015 completely on my own.
I've been going to festivals since 2007, but I've never gone to one completely on my own. Lollapalooza would be the first in that regard. As the years pass by, I'm seemingly approaching the outer rim of a festival's primary demographic, which is skewing younger than ever, so it seemed like a good time to see what it was like to experience one in a way I hadn’t before.
It turns out that when you're alone amongst tens of thousands of people, you become a sponge with a never-ending interior monologue. Observational skills become enhanced. You're incredibly aware of your surroundings and how you relate to them. For me, being alone in a mass of humanity feels like a distinct contrast.
I am out of my comfort zone, but that's not a scary thing. Part of the standard appeal of going to a festival is sharing that experience with people you know and like: an unshared memory reminds me of the age-old question, "If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?" What I found is that actually, it totally does, especially if there's a webcast of the tree falling and thousands of hashtagged tweets in its wake.
“I am out of my comfort zone, but that's not a scary thing.”
During the very first set on Friday, I was hanging out by the soundboard as Spookyland was opening up to a modest noon-time crowd. An older gentleman to my left leaned over and commented on how great the band sounded.
"I'm 56 years old. I'm not really into that techno stuff, but I love this."
This was a man from Springfield, Illinois. He was accompanying his daughter, who was off somewhere else on the festival grounds. He told me he listened to all 130 bands on the Lollapalooza poster to see which artists he liked, and he had several highlighted on his printed out poster. He’s looking to connect—not through his daughter's interests, but through the cultural landscape Lollapalooza provides. Age? Just a number.
When you're on your own, introversion can become a tunnel. Your experience turns into a constant self-contextualization in relation to the people around you. We're all watching the same bands, but we're experiencing them in totally different ways.
Being alone at Lollapalooza turned out to have interesting advantages. It’s completely liberating. You don't have to account for meet-ups or compromise your desire to see a band because your friends all want to see someone else. You do exactly what you want—complete autonomy.
That autonomy allows you to get lost when you're experiencing one of those rare sets that get burned deep within your memory, never to be forgotten. That's how I felt during Tame Impala's set on Saturday night. The weather carried a blissful late afternoon breeze, and the band sounded better than ever. The sun was moving in and out of cloud cover, silhouetting Chicago's magnificent skyline of towers overlooking the park. This was the city at its finest, and even Kevin Parker remarked to the crowd how he was seeing the city reach its full potential for the very first time.
Right then, I stopped contextualizing myself. That's what the best music does, and that's what the best bands are capable of doing to people. It's the kind of singular experience that makes a festival undeniably great. Having friends there? Who cares at that point.