While Lollapalooza is now officially in the books, the story of the 2021 edition will likely be unfolding for weeks to come.
As we mentioned before, it was always going to be this way. Live Nation and promoter C3 Presents took an obvious gamble bringing the Chicago festival back after skipping last year because of the pandemic. Everyone from the festival organizers to the city's mayor Lori Lightfoot knew there were huge risks involved being the first major festival to return.
All eyes have been on Lolla. Even as the Tokyo Olympics took place simultaneously, the games have barred spectators, for safety reasons. Pointing to great vaccine numbers and a huge drop in Covid cases early in the spring, Lollapalooza had a great argument to make. Last year, there was no vaccine. This year, there is a vaccine, and most of those who wanted to get it have had plenty to do so. Case in point: more than 90% of attendees on day 1 on Thursday showed proof of vaccination.
Combined with another 8% who showed negative Covid tests, one would imagine Grant Park was arguably one of the safest places to be during a global pandemic, even as cases have risen dramatically in parts of the country. Even with an estimated 385,000 people having attended Lolla, according to officials.
But if you're going to be the first to jump in the water, everyone will be watching. And they have been. And they will be. Local officials will watch case counts. Researchers will look for trends among those who traveled outside of Chicago. No one knows for sure what will happen. But for now, everyone has been watching Lollapalooza.
So it was interesting that amidst all the scrutiny, Lollapalooza closed out its rollercoaster 2021 event with one final squabble, literally kicking off the day with an announcement many suspected was coming before the fest even started. DaBaby was no longer performing.
Coming just more than an hour before the gates opened for fans, the announcement felt poorly timed. Of course, there was no ideal timing, but when considering the timeline of events, it seemed generally late for the fest to come forward with the news as some fans were perhaps about to jump on the train to head for Grant Park.
We're not privy to the behind-the-scenes conversations between DaBaby's team and Lolla organizers, but surely they had talked earlier prior to Sunday, considering DaBaby had been mired in controversy all week, after making deeply homophobic comments at Rolling Loud Miami the previous weekend and then semi-apologizing, only before exacerbating the issue further on Wednesday when he released a video seeming to dismiss his own apology and wash his hands of responsibility, pointing fingers instead.
Even without any inside knowledge, by Wednesday night, I was very skeptical DaBaby would step foot on Grant Park this week—as many surely suspected likewise. Thus, the Sunday morning reveal was in fact late. It was late for fans who expected to see DaBaby. It was late for Young Thug, who was announced as an alternate headliner and deserved a moment to enjoy some of the shine. And it was late for a fest trying to focus on high vaccination counts, incredible performances from the likes of Megan Thee Stallion and Miley Cyrus, and absolutely anything positive to flood people's timelines.
Instead, the last day began much the same way as the first day, giving more spark to the DaBaby scandal and leaving plenty of unanswered questions about the Covid aftermath post-Lolla. The festival is now over, and a simple glance at the Google News aggregator summarizes the chatter: Covid, DaBaby.
Thankfully, Foo Fighters, the ever-trusty, Dave Grohl-led rockers were there to close out the fest. And maybe until Sunday actually arrived, it wasn't fully clear just how important it was for the venerable band to be leading us out and shutting things down at the end of this year's rollercoaster event.
Just like when they performed "Times Like These" on Saturday Night Live after last year's election, the band opened with the track on Sunday, a gentle reminder that almost a year later, we're still living through strange times. Even as thousands and thousands surrounded the T-Mobile stage, yearning to get back to normal, a look at the sea of fans, some with face masks, brought you back to reality.
As much as it felt like normal and looked kinda-sorta like normal, Lollapalooza was different. It was always going to be different. And kinda-sorta normal, as much as it tries, is still not normal. But as we navigated a Lolla in this new-yet-familiar territory, it was fitting for Foo Fighters to be the steady hand making everything seem OK. Making the rest of the headlines and worries and doubts disappear, even only for a couple hours.
A year from now, the DaBaby story will likely have been swapped out by numerous other celebrity scandals, but Lollapalooza will have made the right decision to cut his performance. We already know that. But the decision to host 385,000 people for the first major in-person festival in the middle of a pandemic? That story is still being told. But we're hopeful Lollapalooza organizers made the right call there as well.
See photos from Lolla day 4 below.