Lollapalooza -- because of its typical smorgasbord, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink lineup -- has been called "Wal-Mart on the lake." But what about the "Wal-Mart in the desert" or the "Wal-Mart on the farm"?
Coachella (outside of Los Angeles) and Bonnaroo (in rural Tennessee) exist alongside Lollapalooza (in Chicago's downtown Grant Park) as the nation's big three annual summer music festivals. Despite Lollapalooza's origins two decades ago as a curated, cutting-edge alt-rock festival, today all three fests serve up broadly programmed, wide-net lineups featuring every conceivable pop genre.
"Bonnaroo is based a little more on the hippie, jam-band thing. Coachella could be a little more edgy than we are," says Charlie Jones, one of the partners in Texas-based C3 Presents, the producers behind Lollapalooza. "We want to keep as many genres of music as possible. Music trends change, so we can adapt. When we started this, electronic music was not as big; look at what Perry's stage has become now. Who knows what will be five years from now? But we'll have it."
Jones is looking deep into the future because Lollapalooza just renegotiated its agreement with Chicago for its use of the city's most prominent public park. The new deal grants Lollapalooza the space each August for the next 10 years.
But with only so many festival-level pop stars to go around each summer -- this year, Lollapalooza headliners the Black Keys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers also previously played both Coachella and Bonnaroo, as have some smaller acts such as Childish Gambino and the Shins -- how will Lollapalooza carve out its own identity over the next decade in Chicago?
"Naturally, we're all going to have some of the same stuff, but when you get down deeper into the lineup I think you can see a different philosophy at Lollapalooza than the others," Jones says.
"We have enough of an identity that Black Sabbath wanted to come play Lollapalooza. When you look at that booking, you might think Sabbath is a little bit -- what's the appropriate word? -- maybe not right down the middle of the plate for us. But we've found since they were booked, looking at online talk and social networks, that people from 18 to 50 are excited about it. The fans that bought a ticket because of Perry's stage or just to see Jack White are thinking, 'When Sabbath goes on, I've got to check that out.' "
That is, you go to Wal-Mart to pick up some milk and eggs, but you get distracted by the display of vintage toys.
Here's my suggested shopping list from this weekend's annual pop-up pop music supercenter (see the full schedule and maps here):
INDIE ROCK BLOCK
Lollapalooza 2012 opens with a promising block of indie-rock in the south, including Wisconsin native Alex Schaaf's Yellow Ostrich (interesting stuff that mixes Daniel Johnston quirks with Andrew Bird's organic scope), Dr. Dog (the East Coast's funkier answer to Camper Van Beethoven psych-rock) and the dreamy '60s soundscapes of Australia's Tame Impala.
Yellow Ostrich: 1:30-2:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Sony stage
Dr. Dog: 2:15-3:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Tame Impala: 3:15-4:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Sony stage
The second reunion of Cincinnati's Afghan Whigs comes at a moment when R&B has infiltrated pop to a much greater degree than when Greg Dulli and his muscled band were applying its forms to their '90s alt-rock. (They covered Frank Ocean recently. Onstage special guest?!)
4:15-5:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
A ROOTSY PAIR
Seattle's the Head & the Heart brings an unusual injection of quality roots music to Lolla's main stages. The sextet's self-titled debut is rich and solid, speaking to lovers of the Jayhawks, Mumford & Sons or the Great Lake Swimmers. After that, perennially praised SoCal band Dawes returns to this festival after two acclaimed soft-rock albums and some gigs as Jackson Browne's backing band.
The Head and the Heart: 5:15-6:15 p.m. Aug 3 on the Sony stage
Dawes: 7:15-8:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Google Play stage
The new album from Boston's Passion Pit (Michael Angelakos and friends) is bouncy, sunny, positively jubilant -- musically speaking. The shimmering synths, bubbly loops and bright beats will be excellent outdoor festival music. Just don't listen to the sad, sad words.
6-7:15 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Bud Light stage
Anthony Gonzalez says he penned his stellar single "Midnight City" as a soundtrack to the little films in his head, and it's a cinematic sensation: even in concert, where the touring band is energetic and spunky, at least for a bunch of knob-twiddlers. The band's visual scope will soon shape the score to an upcoming Tom Cruise sci-fi film -- news that's either fist-pumping or shark-jumping, too soon to tell.
7:30-8:30 Friday on the Sony stage
BLACK KEYS VS. BLACK SABBATH
When the popular Black Keys -- guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney -- played United Center in March, they filled the space with their soulful jams and proved themselves arena-worthy despite their numbers. Friday night, they close Lollapalooza on its largest-capacity stage. Great as they are, it's bewildering that their competition, deeply influential British hard-rock legends Black Sabbath, are in the north at the smaller main stage. Reunited (three of the four original members) after 15 years, Ozzy & Co. are even recording new music together. This is the only, repeat only, North American concert this year by the newly reconstituted band. So start with Sabbath, then drift toward the Keys if Ozzy's completely out of it.
Black Keys: 8:30-10 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Red Bull Soundstage
Black Sabbath: 8:05-10 p.m. Aug. 3 on the Bud Light stage
PERRY'S STAGE PICK: Madeon
French dubstep DJ Hugo Leclercq's viral video for his "Pop Culture" remix showcases a teen talent with a cutting-edge EDM tool. Sounds like Girl Talk, looks like less work.
4:30-5:30 p.m. Aug. 3 on Perry's stage
-- See Saturday's picks