With temperatures pushing 90 degrees, Lollapalooza got underway in Chicago Thursday morning.
It was a dry start to the fest for the third consecutive year as gates opened at 11 AM, setting the stage for an afternoon featuring special guests and a surprising amount of guitar on a day one defined largely by ambitious international bookings.
“I feel like Lolla is this really cool mix of artists and people. And it feels like a festival that represents all different types of genres and humans – and that’s sort of what I try to do as a musician,” said singer songwriter Joy Oladokun, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. “This city is actually really special to me. My dad went to college when he first came to the United States. And my sister was born here. So it’s one of my favorite festivals,” she said. “It always feels nice to be at a festival that feels like home. And where I can see a lot of cool music that I want to watch.”
Oladokun performed Thursday at 3 PM for one hour on the festival’s north main stage, drilling down on the honest storytelling and sense of hope that inform her third full length album, the new Proof of Life.
“I want to see Kendrick. That’ll be tight,” said Oladokun backstage Thursday prior to her set, referencing Friday night’s headlining performance by Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. “The Beaches too. I’m going to try and slip over there. And, at some point, I usually walk around every festival I go to just to see if I can find someone on a stage that you didn’t know about,” she continued. “And I’m going to see Noah obviously – because he’s my friend and I love him.”
Proof of Life features a duet with singer songwriter Noah Kahan, who would perform later in the day Thursday at Lollapalooza, the pair working together on the tongue-in-cheek look at life “We’re All Gonna Die.”
“Noah is a good friend. And probably my favorite person I’ve met doing this job,” Oladokun explained. “So when I wrote the chorus to ‘We’re All Gonna Die,’ I just texted it to him like, ‘I feel like you would smash this.’ And he did,” she said. “It’s something we have fun singing together and playing together. And it’s just a song that I think represents both of our sensibilities – and also our sense of humor in a cool way that doesn’t always happen in the rest of our music. So, it’s cool that we got to pair up on something that feels like us and feels like our friendship – but is so uniquely different.”
Kahan drew an overwhelmingly massive crowd nearby three hours later, performing for 60 minutes on the Tito’s stage at Petrillo Music Shell in Chicago’s Grant Park.
“Lollapalooza, how you doing?” asked the Vermont-born singer to rapturous applause. “My name is Noah Kahan. I’m called the Jewish Ed Sheeran,” he joked following “All My Love.” “Let’s have some fun!”
While Kahan was forced to cancel a performance last week at the Newport Folk Festival due to vocal cord issues, he sounded good on stage at Lollapalooza, Oladokun joining him and his band for a rollicking take on “Stick Season.”
Recording under the guise of Dope Lemon, Australian artist Angus Stone was a revelation in the early hours of Lollapalooza Thursday, the droning psychedelic dirge of “How Many Times” an early highlight as offered up by the five piece group.
Canadian rockers The Beaches ripped through a similarly searing 45 minute set early Thursday, opening up the festival’s north main stage at 1:15 PM.
“It was incredible,” said drummer Eliza Enman-McDaniel backstage following The Beaches’ set. “We never really know what to expect with these things, especially coming from Canada. But we’re always so pleasantly surprised and humbled by the crowd and the experience. And last night was just the perfect warm up for today,” she said, referencing the group’s Wednesday night Lollapalooza pre-show, opening up for Dope Lemon at Chicago’s Park West (an intimate venue which holds about 1,000). “It’s just so much fun.”
The Beaches opened up for the Rolling Stones in 2019 and, following EPs in 2019 and 2021, are gearing up for the release of their second studio album this fall.
“It’s called Blame My Ex and it’s coming out September 15,” said guitarist and backing vocalist Kylie Miller. “We’re really, really excited. It’s our first independent release in 10 years so it means a lot to us. We put a lot of hard work into it. And we’re really stoked for the fans to get to experience it. And hopefully it will open up a couple of doors for us. We’ll see.”
The benefits of independent release are also high for English indie rockers Lovejoy, who’ve self-released a series of EPs via their own label Anvil Cat Records since forming in 2021. Allowing the group creative freedom as they continue to build their audience organically on their own terms, remaining independent has enabled a hands on approach that’s helped the group develop an extraordinarily loyal base.
“I feel like we have a lot of creative control – which is what we really want. Because we have clear visions – not just as a collective but individually as well,” said guitarist and backing vocalist Joe Goldsmith. “So it’s very helpful to have that and be able to do that. We’re very lucky,” he said.
“We’ve all quite happily put the idea of forming a brand behind actually creating our art. And having it be self-released really aids that,” explained singer William Gold. “It’s very useful to not have to worry about overheads and just really focus on making what we want to release and what we want to make. It’s liberating.”
Lovejoy drew from their latest EP, May’s Wake Up & It’s Over, over the course of one hour on the festival’s south end, delivering one of their biggest hits in “Call Me What You Like” to a rabid audience in the early afternoon hours.
“It was a lot of fun. It was the biggest crowd that we’ve ever had, which was daunting – almost nightmarish,” said Gold backstage following the group’s set. “But it ended up going really well.”
One of Thursday’s biggest surprises – one that will be hard to top all weekend – featured the return of Canadian singer, songwriter and pop star Nelly Furtado, who shocked fans as a surprise guest during a set by Australian DJ and house music producer Dom Dolla.
“I’d like to bring out a very special guest,” said Dolla midway through his performance on Perry’s stage, one named for Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell. “Who knows Nelly Furtado?” he asked with a smile as shocked fans ran toward the stage to get a better look.
Furtado returned to the stage last year following a five year break and recently collaborated with Dolla on the brand new single “Eat Your Man.”
“It’s incredible,” said Dolla backstage Thursday prior to the pair’s surprise Lollapalooza performance. “She reached out to me out of the blue. She said she was a fan of my music and wanted some help with her original records. I flew to meet her in Philly. She flew down from Toronto. We hung out for four or five days in the studio,” he explained. “On the fourth day, we had written a bunch of music. She turned around and said, ‘I love house music. I love your music. I’d love to feature on a Dom Dolla record.’ I couldn’t believe it,” he said excitedly. “We wrote the record in the better part of two or three hours. The good ones are the quick ones. And the rest is history,” said Dolla of the new single’s origins. “I’m super excited to surprise the Lollapalooza crowd by bringing her out today. It’ll be the first time we’ve performed together since New Years in Australia in my hometown. And now we’ve actually got a song together. This will be the first time we’ve ever performed it together. So I’m pretty excited.”
In addition to the new single, Furtado offered up her own “Maneater” on stage in Chicago. “Chicago, you know that song?” she asked rhetorically with a smile.
South Korean girl group Newjeans performed to a huge crowd on the south end Thursday with Together X Tomorrow yet to come Saturday night, just a few of the K-Pop stagings scheduled this weekend.
Following performances at Lollapalooza Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Stockholm, Korean rock band The Rose closed out the festival’s Bacardi stage as Colombian singer Karol G got going across the park Thursday night.
“It’s been great, honestly. We’ve gotten to travel to South American cities and we also did Sweden Lollapalooza – and we’re ending here in Chicago,” said singer and guitarist Woosung. “I know that this is the main one that started it all and we’re just happy to be a part of it,” he said.
“We’ve been traveling so much,” added vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dojoon. “It’s crazy but we love every second. It’s really great. It’s an honor.”
Since forming in 2017, the group has put out singles and EPs as well as their debut album Heal last October. Hard at work on new music, The Rose will release their second album soon.
“The theme itself was healing. For us, we just needed to get that music out that was with us for a couple of years. It was an era of healing for us,” said Woosung of the Heal album and the tumultuous period that preceded it. “This new album Dual that we’re going to have out in September is going to be more about really trying to get people to know us now,” he explained. “The process has been amazing. I think we grew just as human beings which kind of transferred into the music and our energy right now.”
The country music tradition has always been defined by well-developed characters and rich storytelling.
Lainey Wilson offered up a masterclass in country storytelling on stage at Lollapalooza.
“I think we’ve all been there,” she said on stage Thursday night, setting up “Watermelon Moonshine.” “Let the music take ya back,” said Wilson, offering up “Atta Girl” moments later.
“It’s my first Lollapalooza as a fan and an artist,” she said backstage Thursday afternoon. “I’m pretty busy until my set. But, right after that, Billie Eilish comes on on the big stage. So I’m going to be running over there as fast as I can.”
Following the release of her fourth studio album Bell Bottom Country, Wilson appeared in the season five premiere of Paramount’s Yellowstone, portraying country singer Abby. Wilson co-hosted CMA Fest last month and Lollapalooza undoubtedly puts her knack for storytelling in front of even more new fans.
“When you’re from a town of 200 people, there’s not a whole lot to do. And you sit around the kitchen table and you tell the same old stories – and you hear the same stories. But they’re the kind of stories that get better over time. And that’s truly how I kind of view songwriting and storytelling,” she said. “That’s the heart and the center of country music. And that’s really why I fell in love with country music. You think about the songs from the 90s, that’s exactly what it was,” said Wilson. “That’s what it’s all about for me: the storytelling,”