When Lollapalooza announced its return to Chicago back in May, it felt like one more positive sign of a return to some kind of post-pandemic normal. Flash forward to this week, and the sentiment around Chicago has become far more ambivalent; stalling COVID-19 vaccination rates and the emergence of the dangerous Delta variant led prominent local music critics to label the festival a potential superspreader event.
Jim DeRogatis of Sound Opinions went as far as to call for Lollapalooza’s cancellation. “They can’t control their own gates,” DeRogatis told Chicago’s WTTW. “Why are we supposed to believe that they are going to be diligent about checking for vaccination?”
Lollapalooza’s COVID-19 mitigation plan is comprehensive on paper. The festival website’s Health and Safety section sets out a multi-step entry procedure, requiring festgoers to provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests results from a PCR test performed within the last 72 hours. It also includes a mask requirement for all unvaccinated attendees, and a Fan Health Pledge that asks fans with recent COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to avoid coming to the festival altogether. Fans forced to miss the festival because of COVID-19 will also be eligible for a refund on the cost of their passes.
Finally, the festival promises free masks, an expanded number of hand sanitizer stations, and extra cleanings of so-called “high touch” areas.
Ready or not, Lollapalooza commenced as planned earlier this afternoon. So, how are the festival’s COVID-19 protocols holding up so far?
I set out for Grant Park at noon via the CTA’s Red Line train. On both the platform and the train itself, Lollapalooza attendees were easy to spot by their lack of masks, despite multiple announcements noting that face coverings remain mandatory on public transportation.
The situation didn’t change much as we squeezed into the ticket lanes at the festival’s main gates. The mask rate here was slightly higher, but I could probably still count the number of face coverings around me on two hands.
The festival split this year’s entry process into three parts: one check for wristbands, one check for vaccination, and one check for bags. The COVID protocol check was the longest part of the process; the young dude in front of me was stopped for almost a full minute as the security member verified his vaccine status. Off to the side, a different bored-looking festival staffer offered free masks that (during my time in line) went untouched. When my turn came, I offered up my vaccine card, which was apparently in better order than the previous guy’s. After a five-second check, I was in.
Inside the festival, Lollapalooza remains Lollapalooza. Aside from a few more jugs of hand sanitizer and some additional free mask stations, this festival looks and feels just like it did in 2019. Scanning the hundreds of faces angling for a good view of Flo Milli at the Grubhub stage, I counted more NBA jerseys than I did masks.
A charitable reading of these (wholly anecdotal) observations suggests that this cohort of 18-24 year olds must have the highest vaccination rate of anyone in their age group. A less charitable one might draw the conclusion that Lollapalooza is doing as much as any large event can to ensure the safety of its attendees and their communities, but that the size and scope of such an event makes full compliance impossible and unprofitable. The festival’s efforts were enough to get the go-ahead by Chicago’s city government. Whether they’re enough to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 remains to be seen.
Ed. note: Keep checking back at Consequence throughout the weekend for full Lolla coverage. Also check out this week’s episode of The What Podcast on the reality of Lollapalooza and other festival returning in a world that is still not entirely recovered from 2020.