Music festivals are special places. They exist as worlds within themselves, albeit with looser laws and outlandish food prices. What transition into adulthood would be complete without the ritualistic pilgrimage to a previously vacant field filled with like-minded youth? Fewer places offer a more communal experience. Music festivals are cultural meccas where talent and creativity collide in a drug-laced haze to define a place and moment in history. Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Glastonbury, Coachella—music festivals mark their cultural legacy like layers in the earth.
We at The Wake love music, and this summer we found ourselves on that old beaten path following the sweet sounds of music to the heartbeat of our cultural moment. Here are our stories.
By Holly Wilson
I think everyone can agree that one of the best places to listen to music is on public transit. Public transit acts as a strange limbo of our world—you’re in public, but everyone keeps to themselves, so you retain some privacy; you’re going somewhere, but you’re stuck in one place for a while, so the outside world can’t bother you.
All these little contradictions that exist in public transit make it a perfect place to listen to music. Public transit gets us from place to place in our world, all the while feeling like, for the moment, we’re existing outside of it.
The mundane becomes significant and filled with metaphors with the right song and a window seat on the bus or train.
I listened to “Sister” by Angel Olsen on a bus and immediately questioned the entire meaning of my existence back in January. If the combination of Olsen’s contemplative voice repeating “all my life I thought I’d change” during the bridge of the song and the snow whirling outside and buildings flying by isn’t enough to bring on an existential crisis, I don’t know what is.
Music festivals are also a limbo in our universe. They have a special power to make the mundane extraordinary. Moments seem more significant within a music festival than they would outside of it.
Pitchfork Music Festival, situated in the heart of Chicago at Union Park, really emphasized this limbo-like state since the easiest way to get there was on public transit. Especially since I got to have another existential crisis to “Sister,” but this time while watching Angel Olsen perform it live.
40 bands and artists performed sets over the weekend, giving our moments a little bit more meaning. The music followed when you hopped back onto the train at night and ordinary life seemed just a bit further away because of it.
Read “Three Days At Pitchfork” to get a full rundown of the entire festival.
Lit @ Lolla
By Liv Martin
My first time at Lollapalooza this past summer fulfilled many of my expectations, but also left some room for the unexpected. There were, of course, huge crowds; the closed-off streets in the heart of downtown Chicago were filled to the brim with concertgoers. Walking through the packed streets, there were frequent sightings of nearly blackout drunk frat-boy types, sipping vodka from their CamelBaks and stumbling around the grounds. There were the teen girls clad in appropriate festival attire, faces adorned in rhinestones and belly buttons out. And of course, there were the overpriced food vendors: three two-inch lobster corn dogs for $18 and half-liter plastic jugs of wine for $25 each.
I attended the festival on Sunday, the final day. The personal appeal for Sunday was that The Shins would be headlining. I’ve loved their music since discovering them in middle school, and know many of their songs by heart. They played around 5 p.m., and the golden hour light was upon the crowd. I was happily tipsy, swaying to the lovely melodies. I had nabbed one of the previously-mentioned, overpriced plastic bottles of wine an hour earlier from a man passed out, napping peacefully in a grassy area. I reasoned he probably did not need it.
The Shins’ set was perfect. Even the crowd felt kind, and somehow my boyfriend and I made it to the third row without any pushing, shoving, or nasty words. This was the complete opposite of my experience with the hip-hop crowds, in which people pulled my hair and called me names without qualms.
If you don’t mind dancing your heart out with thousands of people and sidestepping drunk folks on the sidewalk, then go to Lollapalooza. Your soul will feel happy when you look up at the sun setting over the Chicago skyline, music from the most talented bands of our generation pouring out over a crowd of thousands.
Worm Weeks of Summer
By Olivia Novotny
This summer I had the perhaps strangest experience of my life: I lived as a worm for a week.
Well, a metaphorical worm that is. I was a performance artist at the Eaux Claires music festival for the amazingly talented Vanessa Cronan. Known by her stage name Vnesswolfchild, she is a conceptual artist and musician who uses sound, installation and movement to create performances that encourage discovery and understanding of human existence. Her work at Eaux Claires was based around a story she wrote about supernatural earthworms that are interconnected with all things: the earth, the water, the air. Grief in the hearts of humans created a fissure in the world out of which the worms crawled, aiming to bring love back into the world for all humans.
I, along with 14 other young artists, found myself in the middle of a field in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on a Monday morning the week prior to the festival. Vanessa sewed costumes for us—giant pink sleeping bag-type tubes that we laid in and zipped all the way up. There was one mesh hole the size of an orange for breathing and seeing. The costumes were filled with fluff, and were extremely hot in the summer sun. I constantly felt like I was suffocating.
What the hell had I gotten myself into? I started to doubt the worth of the free tickets. For the next couple days we participated in “worm camp,” as we coined it. Mindfulness yoga, breathing exercises, really learning how to feel our bodies in the worm. All so we could become the worm.
When the festival came, we took turns as worms all day, first appearing in the woods, then in paths, and in more public places like the stage fields. In the beginning, people didn’t even know there were humans inside. All the fluff camouflaged us as puffy pink balls that were wiggling around in the dirt, somehow. People came up to us, pet us, and even when they discovered humans were inside, were never taken aback. I felt the love being passed around.
On Saturday evening we performed a choreographed dance to Feist’s “I Feel It All.” I was in my underwear, body wet from sweating in my costume, feeling exposed but completely masked. There was something so freeing about performing, but having no one see your body. As I was laying there waiting for our cue, I could barely make out anything, but I knew there was a huge crowd by the sound of it. When we started dancing there were roars of joyous laughter that gave us the energy to keep pushing through the rest of the dance. It was invigorating. When it was over it started raining and we jumped out of our costumes, practically naked. It was a feeling I will truly never forget, I felt incredibly alive and lucky to be one of the Eaux Claires worms.
“Who the Hell is from Minnesota, Anyway?”
By Gabby Granada
“Last time we were here we played at a profoundly smaller stage,” said Hippo Campus lead singer Jake Luppen, evoking an eruption of screams from the growing crowd before him at Lollapalooza’s Lake Shore stage. “Chicago, this is incredible.”
Just two years ago, the Minnesota band made their Lollapalooza debut in front of a modest-sized crowd at the BMI stage, one of the festival’s smaller stages that’s typically reserved for up-and-coming artists. Despite the stage’s size, it’s a hidden gem nonetheless. Tucked away underneath rows of arching trees, the stage offers a breathtaking view of the city’s lakefront and some much-needed relief in the shade.
The Hippos have always had a fiercely loyal fan base, and their concerts—no matter the venue—teem with hot energy and high spirits from their predominantly high school and college-aged fans. Lollapalooza this August was no exception. In fact, it was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen them play for with over 200 festival-goers weaving and bobbing their heads to get a better look at the four boys. The crowd coursed with a familiar infectious energy that warranted frequent jumping and, yes, even the occasional mosh pit. Something about their catchy, repetitive lyrics; bubbly, lemon-drop sound; and their energetic stage presence makes their music irresistibly dance-worthy.
A girl within earshot scoffed at a nearby sign that read “I heart Minnesota’’ in giant red bubble letters: “I mean really, who the hell is from Minnesota, anyway?” Her friends laughed. As if on cue, the band played the first few chords of their song “Western Kids,” dedicating it to their Midwestern roots. “This one goes out to any folks out there from Minnesota,” Luppen said, sending the crowd roaring once again. “This one’s for you.”