Ben Bowman is a producer on the NBC5 Morning Show. He has a newfound appreciation for Lollapalooza and listening to live music in the mud.
For years, I scoffed at Lollapalooza. I've never been one of those hipsters who discovers underground bands on vinyl and whispers the new triumph to a select group of friends. But with the news the Foo Fighters were coming this year, I decided to take the plunge and battle the crowds.
Although my ticket would allow me to see an entire day of music, I only wanted to see Dave Grohl and company. I don't know Best Coast or Cage the Elephant or 12th Planet. Honestly, who does? (Their mothers, even? Doubtful.)
Having seen the condition of the post-Lollapalooza field in years past, I knew to expect mud. And when the rain started falling around the time I left my apartment, I packed a rain poncho as well.
I arrived in front of the stage during the Arctic Monkeys' performance. It's an odd feeling to be in a crowd of people singing lyrics you've never heard before. Last time that happened to me, I was at the Maui county fair and Makaha Sons were singing a song in native Hawaiian. Everyone else was singing at the top of their lungs. I just stood there like a clown.
When the Monkeys were through, the crowd opened up and I gingerly stepped through a bog of half-inch mud to get closer to the stage.
An hour later, the Foo Fighters took the stage. The first strum of the guitar triggered an outright stampede toward the performers. If this is normal concert behavior, no one alerted me.
My view was not great. Let it be said that if you are 6 feet tall or taller, everyone at the concert hates you. Your dopey straw fedora isn't winning you bonus points, either. Why not go all out and wear a full-on Mexican sombrero? You're already blocking the view with your enormous noggin.
Thankfully, two large video screens provided a clearer view of the band. And the Foo Fighters are every bit as good in person as they are on CD.
As Dave Grohl strutted the stage, he commanded thousands to sing and scream and dance. And they did. The thin 5'4" kid in front of me was fond of jumping to the beat. This would not have bothered me, except for the fact that every impact sent a wave of mud against my shins and into my rolled-up jeans.
In the early going, a man with the girth of a small sumo wrestler literally rammed his body through the crowd. With enough force, he imagined, he could be close enough for his heroes to sweat upon him. But this tiny battering ram encountered a wall of shirtless frat boys who repelled his advances. Incredibly, he stopped acting like a runaway bulldozer and stood to enjoy the concert like a normal human.
Another expected, but annoying drawback was the near-total use of marijuana. Bouncy Kid in front of me managed to bum a hit off the couple next to him. After inhaling, he confided in the couple that he loves the Foo Fighters. Surely, an unexpected declaration from a man standing in ankle-deep mud to hear them.
Occasionally, some brave (or chemically-altered) soul would attempt to body surf to the front of the stage. This tended to work better for women than men. And body surfing is a more dicey proposition when your lower torso is covered with mud. A crowd will only lend so much support to legs that resemble the aftermath of a Nickel Taco Night toilet.
Despite the many annoyances that come with a general admission ticket to a 300-acre swamp filled with hippies and ex-jocks, something magical happened as the Foo Fighters launched into "The Pretender."
The skies opened up.
This wasn't a gentle summer shower.
This was one of those batten-the-hatches, run-for-cover, grab-a-second-umbrella-because-the-first-one-will-collapse storms.
It came hard and fast.
The mud swallowed our feet.
The band was getting pounded.
And no one left.
The band kept playing.
If anything, the storm strengthened the resolve of the performers and the crowd. In that moment, we all solidified our bond. We were there to rock. And we would rock until we drowned.
The storm, presumably understanding it couldn't drive us from the park, gave up and retreated to Lake Michigan. And even though these millionaire rock stars were soaking wet, they didn't even take a break to dry off. The next song came. And the next. And the next.
At the end of a tight two hours, the band closed with "Everlong." Thousands jumped and screamed and cheered. It was everything a rock show should be. It was loud. It was dirty. It was crowded and rife with body odor. It was an assault on the senses. And it was awesome.
In the end, I learned Chicago weather is no match for rock and roll. With big enough speakers, we could eradicate winter. I think I know just the band to do the trick.