Crowds come early, Cochise defies the heat

By Saturday, Lollapalooza hits its stride. The main thoroughfare along Columbus Drive was busy early and often as soon as the first acts reached the mainstages. Day 3 headliners include the very international lineup of German American rapper J. Cole; the singer Willow (daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith); the Chicago DJ Kaskade on the Solana x Perry’s stage (following hard after K-pop boy band Tomorrow X Together); and Norwegian DJ and music producer Kygo.

Lollapalooza continues through Sunday in Grant Park with some 170 music acts on eight stages, put on by Texas-based C3 Presents.

The north-south stretch along Columbus boasts Chow Town and is the most direct route between most stages, with the full Lolla footprint stretching about a mile. (A common refrain: You get your steps in.) As the largest festival of Chicago’s summer, it has a daily capacity of 100,000 although early days for 2022 were not sold out. By Saturday morning, the last of the single-day general admission tickets on the website were gone.

The rapper Cochise (aka Terrell Anthony Cox) opened the T-Mobile stage a bit after 1 p.m., cutting a dapper figure in his signature khaki trench, dress shirt and tie, criss-crossing the stage with the crowd singing along to hits from his albums “Benbow Crescent” and “The Inspection.”

“My name is Cochise,” he said, half out of breath between songs. “And I got this hot-ass trench coat on. But you know, I’m feeling handsome.” He introduced his next song as being inspired by a video game he liked to play, launching into “Megaman” from his most recent album.

Talks continue between C3 and the city over a potential contract for Lollapalooza’s next 10 years on the lakefront. Central to the issue is Chicago’s amusement tax, the Tribune has reported; the festival is subject to the tax and wants safeguards against the city raising the rate over the life of a new agreement.

Siblings Emily and Mitch Price, in town from Indianapolis, said they had not heard of the talks but echoed fans Friday who said that the music festival ought to stay in Chicago.

With a nod to other destination events like Coachella in Los Angeles, Emily Price said, “there’s not a lot of big festivals in the Midwest.” Chicago needs Lollapalooza. She said she’s been meaning to come for years but had been working, “then COVID.”

The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers wafts through the air in Chow Town, the line of tents where festival-goers can grab a bite to eat. Vendors were selling a host of options from street tacos to bao buns to mac and cheese and Indian food. Lou Malnati’s and Billy Goat Tavern are some of the better-known local restaurants, but food spots from all across the city, representing neighborhoods such as Ukrainian Village, Humboldt Park, Lakeview and Fulton Market, are on deck.

Lollapalooza attendees could cool off with a snow cone from Harris Snow Cones, a scoop of gelato from Vero Gelato, or a funnel cake sundae from the Windsor Ice Cream Shoppe.

Though Ponce Restaurant has catered Puerto Rican food to other events and has even tried out food trucks, this is their first time at Lollapalooza. The family-owned restaurant on Fullerton offers a taste of Puerto Rico with a simple but varied menu: pork skewers or pinchos, beef empanadas, pork chops and rice, and fried plantain sandwiches. Elora Ramirez, 16, helped out her father, Jose, Thursday and his girlfriend, Elba Jasso. Ramirez said being at Lollapalooza will allow the business to expand and grow.

“It’s fun and exciting when you get to talk to these people and get to give them what they want and watch them enjoy your food. It’s fun to see — it’s cool to watch,” she said.

Want to eat healthy at Lollapalooza? Well, OK.

The Indian Garden has a vegetable Biryani Bowl for $14, the Goddess and Grocer a (very good) veggie burger for $12 (gluten-free bun for $2 extra). Healthy Substance of Garfield Ridge advertises itself as “the Vegan Side of Mexico” and has tacos for $6. Boxcar Betty’s has sandwiches with either chicken breast or portobello for $10.

Or, heck, you could just get a Chicago Style from Chicago’s Doghouse — that has veggies on it.

Security has been another Lollapalooza topic, with the festival coming less than a month after the Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park. Police have been a constant, if apparently mostly background, presence inside the fence and out (since 2021, the city’s Office of Emergency Management has not released figures about arrests or medical transports until after the festival). Helicopters make the rounds overhead. Along with uniformed police walking and biking the grounds, there have been officers on Polaris vehicles patrolling in camouflage, badged as FBI and Counter-Terrorism teams. Though not authorized to speak on the record, an officer told the Tribune they’d been at Lollapalooza in past years as well.

By late afternoon, many spaces inside the park were standing room only.

Chicago rapper Lil Durk pulled in the biggest Solana x Perry’s stage crowd of the festival so far, by far. He played with a full band and was backed by screens that showed an endless video edit of Chicago scenes — downtown high rises, South Side two-flats, faces mugging for the camera or staring into the lens.

Before his set started, a red message on the screens instructed the crowd to back up and make more room. Durk paused after his first song and did the same, asking everyone to take three steps back. His fans pushed forward anyway. Soon after the start of the third song, the sound cut out and Durk stopped the show.

“We can’t continue until y’all back up,” he said. Fans closest to the stage were being shoved hard against the rail and a voice over the loudspeaker instructed security to pull out those in distress: “Next, this young lady right in front of you.”

After a pause of about five minutes, enough space had been cleared for Durk’s set to continue. “This is one of my favorite songs to perform,” he said. “We’re going to slow it down just a bit.” He sang “Home Body” from his 2018 album “Signed to the Streets 3.”

Saturday night at the T-Mobile stage, Gabrielle Miller, Loretta Parnell and Jasmine Pipkins, all from Chicago, waited patiently for J. Cole’s performance to start. They said they were hoping he’d play some of his older songs, like “Crooked Smile” and “Wet Dreams.”

Cole opened his set with “95 South” from his most recent album. After singing a few songs from that album, he shifted to some of his older music. The crowd went wild when the beat to “Wet Dreams” started. Cole brought an energy to the stage that matched the crowd’s, jumping up and down as he rapped. He slowed things down with “Love Yourz,” only to pick up the energy again by bringing out JID and Bas — two artists on his Dreamville record label — to each perform a song.

The second-to-last set was from rapper Big Sean — during which fans were again asked to take a few steps back. Big Sean asked the crowd to tell their neighbors they’d look out for one another. ”We don’t want nobody passing out. We don’t want no deaths,” he said. “We want this here to be 100% safe.” Big Sean surprised fans by bringing Jhene Aiko on stage as a guest. Big Sean and Jhene Aiko are dating and recently announced they’re expecting a baby together. Aiko showed off her baby bump as the couple sang together.

“He was holding her,” fan Devin Conliffe said. “It was so cute.”

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