Thursday, August 9, 2007

A $40 Hat… and other tales from Lolla-land

There was so much fun in the sun last weekend that didn’t fit into the standard reviews. But I still wanted to share the stories with you as they were definitely part of the Lollapalooza experience. So consider this all the news that didn't fit...

Cholly Make Me Feel Good I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but there was a dearth of hipsters present. At the Pitchfork Festival, it was practically a competition of people trying to outhipster one another with ironic t-shirts, goofy sunglasses, and tiny man-shorts. At Lolla, there was the odd funny shirt, but beyond that and the guy dressed as a mustard squeeze bottle, the hipsters were vastly outnumbered by the overweight and braless. I was really shocked at how many obese people were in attendance. It appeared to me that there was a correlation between the amount of Cubs gear someone was wearing and how fat they were. A cap meant they had a few extra pounds. A T-shirt generally meant they were a little chunky. A jersey translated to being overweight. When someone donned the cap and jersey combo, you had to give ‘em a wide berth. The hippie factor was somewhat low. There were just a lot more disgusting people than I expected.

Oh Baby My friends brought their twelve-week-old baby to the festival. I can only imagine when he’s all grows up and people as him, “What was your first concert?” He’ll say, “Lollapalooza 2007.” “Lolla-puh-what?” “Pearl Jam played there.” “That sounds gross, man.” That’s going to be infinitely cooler than my “John Mellencamp at the Rosemont Horizon” response. Anyway, this happens to be a particularly adorable baby and nearly every single person that passed by paused to look at him (especially the women). I kept thinking they were people who knew one of us and were about to say hello, but they were just randoms who wanted to stare at the baby. Some took pictures and a couple even patted his head (which they couldn’t exactly ask to do since The Hold Steady was pounding ear drums at the time). They just came close and reached out to touch him. That was creepy. The mother said that it happens everywhere she goes – even shopping at the grocery store. It especially bothered her when the overweight and braless folks decided they needed to get a closer look. I suppose that’s you make a cute baby and you have to deal with all the consequences – good and bad.

Slow Bus Movin' As I mentioned in Day 1’s review, my brother is the Silversun Pickups’ tour manager. Because the band has been touring like crazy, I hadn’t seen him in months. It was a shame that in his brief homecoming he had to spend so much of his time working, but we did have a few minutes here and there to hang out. In the early afternoon of Day 1, we were able to talk my way backstage and onto to the band’s bus. I had notions of conducting an interview for the blog, but as soon as I arrived there, I learned that they had five other interviews to do with vapid DJ’s, VJ’s and members of the press. “So, are you happy to be here?” “What do you think of Chicago?” “I love these festivals, don’t you?” If you think I’m being unkind to these interviewers, look no further than here to judge for yourself. I’ve met the band before and they all know who I am, but I’m certainly not friends with any of them. This is probably my fourth time on a tour bus and I always seem to act the same way – quiet and unassuming. There’s a strange pressure to be cool, but not too cool. I feel like I know them a lot better than they know me, partly because I have their CDs, partly because of my brother. Maybe they read my blog though…It’s possible. So I just spent the time talking with my brother and making the occasional joke to the band members. I was definitely not myself because I didn’t want to intrude. Furthermore, that bus happens to be my brother’s office for the time being. I wouldn’t want him crashing my office and yukking it up with my coworkers either. Anyway, it was a weird feeling and despite the relief granted by the air conditioning, I felt happy to be back on the festival grounds, looking to rock like Joe average fan. A tour bus, particularly pre-show, isn’t as fascinating a place as one might think.

A Picture’s Worth Three Songs Did you know that the people in photographers’ row are only allowed to shoot for three songs? I was unaware of this, and was always curious why they staged a mass exodus during each set. Late in Ted Leo’s performance, a guy from the Tribune pushed through me and the people around me so he could be right up front. I was utterly baffled. I thought, “Why don’t you just go behind the barricade?” There wasn’t much space for this guy, and without knowing that it was too late in the set for him to get behind the barricade, he came across as rude. I took a picture of him to show you. Look at the girl standing next to him. She’s all “WTF, man?!?” Shouldn’t the official photographers be allowed to do journalistic work? What if something significant occurs more than three songs into a set? They have to wade through the crowd like the rest of us, but probably won’t bother. I don’t see how this helps anyone. I doubt the bands are distracted by the photo journalists. I felt a bit bad for cursing the guy under my breath once I found out what the deal was. But at the same time, he didn’t have to be quite as disruptive as he was.

You Ain’t Starvin’ The food on the grounds was surprisingly diverse and quite cheap. The most interesting thing I ate was from renowned vegetarian restaurant, The Chicago Diner. It was a chicken fajita wrap that so closely resembled real chicken, it kind of weirded me out. They let you bring in water, but a friend of mine had their Propel taken. I guess if there’s any flavor added, it somehow ceases to be water. I smuggled in a Clif Bar each day, but on the last one, they caught me. I told the guy I was going to eat it right away instead, but then just went across to the other entrance and smuggled it in anyway. I realize they don’t want people bringing in full picnics, but one Clif Bar isn’t exactly going to kill their revenue. If they have a water quota, they can have a Clif Bar quota, too.

What Goes Around Comes Around A friend told me that she almost wore her Ohio State gear to the festival. I said, “Why, so you could look tacky?” She said, “You’re just saying that because you went to Michigan.” “No, Michigan gear is tacky, too.” Well, no sooner than an hour later, I was watching The Hold Steady and a chunky drunk in a “Big House” maize and blue t-shirt was jumping around barefoot and generally making a buffoon out of himself. Anytime someone walked past him, he would follow them for a few steps and leer with a maniacal grin. He reminded me of a jack-o-lantern. My friends (Illinois and U of Chicago grads) delighted in making fun of me at this point and there wasn’t much I could do other than shake my head in embarrassment. They got theirs, though. He was one of the people who patted the baby on the head which meant he was also the craziest person that baby has ever met.

Cover Me, I’m Going In Before the festival, I asked if there was going to be a most oft-played song to assume the role “Crazy” had last year. While Pete Yorn covered PB&J’s “Young Folks,” the next most often played tune was “Inna Gadda Davida.” Well, it was just riffed a few times I suppose. But we also had two Nirvana, two Pink Floyd, and two Sam Cooke renditions. Rodrigo y Gabriela played two full Metallica songs and various riffs, but to my knowledge no one else made their way in that direction. They also did a Led Zeppelin cover, and I believe Rhymefest dabbled in some Zep as well, though I arrived at his set too late to hear it.

We Do Care About the Old Folks When I was pressed near the stage for an hour, awaiting Interpol’s set, there was a guy right in front of me who was probably in his mid 40s. He was acting a bit goofy, particularly in regard to the teenage girl to his right. He didn’t do anything overly untoward, but he was talking to her about drinking and smoking pot and some other odd topics. At first I thought he was her subversive uncle or something, but it quickly became clear that they didn’t know one another. But it was close quarters and maybe he didn’t have anything else to talk about. Really, it wasn’t as nefarious as it sounds. Once the band took the stage and the concert got going, I didn’t think about him much. Until he started jabbing his elbow into my ribs. I had no idea what was going on, so I asked him “Hey, what’s wrong?” He said I was pushing him for which I apologized. Soon after, he did the same thing to the kid next to me. We both asked him to relax, but didn’t get much of a response, though the jabbing did not continue. More on this issue later. Finally, about two thirds of the way through Interpol’s main set, he bent over and then sat down. The wildly eager woman to my left was able to ask him if he was OK. He must have said something unintelligible because when she came back up she said, “He’s just drunk.” The guy sat there, basically on my feet for about four songs until finally rising and lumbering out of there. Maybe he shouldn’t have smoked that joint before the band took the stage.

A Forty Dollar Hat As I said above, there was a crush of people near the stage for Interpol. We all waited, piled in together for an hour, but spirits were high and camaraderie ruled. But once the show began, a young man and his girlfriend entered the area, pushing and shoving people aside so they could get closer. They jumped on peoples backs and knocked them into one another. They took a position just to my right, continually shoving this poor kid into me. That’s what led to the older guy getting angry with us. After they decided that was the appropriate spot, they started making out, and not just idle smooching. I thought they were going to have intercourse right then and there. All this time, they’re still pushing and leaning on all the people around them. It was a disgusting and wholly inconsiderate display. For the first six songs, my concertgoing experience was completely ruined. I waited hemmed in with this mass of people for an hour to get the best possible view of the concert only to have these lewd usurpers batter people into me. I hit a breaking point. The people around this couple were all a bit meek and afraid to do anything, though they were clearly furious. So I took action.

The first thing I did was stick my finger in the guy’s ear during one of their makeout/pawing sessions. This had no impact whatsoever. I then reached out and grabbed the guy’s butt. I’m not sure why I went this route, but I just wanted to provoke a reaction that would say (a) we’re not happy with you and/or (b) please get out of here. I got neither reaction as he merely gave me a brief nudge with his elbow. I should mention that these people were likely in high school – definitely under 21 – and the guy was only about 5’5”. My actions had no impact on the situation. I was ready to give up. But soon after I took these steps, they decided it was time to push forward once again. The guy put his girlfriend in front of him, hoping that she would draw less ire from those she was shoving. However, the first person they encountered was our older friend from above. A fight was about to break out between them, but I had really gone over the edge. I pulled off the young man’s Cubs hat and threw it back into the crowd about ten feet behind us.

He was not pleased with my actions. He grabbed me and lightly slapped me across the chin. It was clear that he wasn’t going to throw a punch. I told him, “You’re ruining this concert for everyone. Knock it off.” He responded by yelling, “I could kill you!” “I’m sure you could. I’m sure you could kill me.” Then I just stared at him for a bit. I’m 6’0”, and he had no idea that I had no friends with me. Meanwhile about six people started patting me on the back. The young man started shouting, “That’s a forty dollar hat! A forty dollar hat!” I just kept staring at him, my point having been made already. “A forty dollar hat!” Intent on shutting things down and getting back to the concert I’d diligently waited to see, I simply said, “Go make out with your fat girlfriend.” They turned, got closer to the stage and did exactly what I asked them to do.

So how do I feel about all this? Honestly conflicted. I’m still not sure if I did the right thing. Part of my reason for action was the poor kids near them who wouldn’t stand up for themselves. As bad as these two had made things for me, it was four times worse for those kids. It was the brazen disregard for their feelings that got me angry enough to behave the way I did. Could I have just talked to them about it between songs? Maybe. I am fairly certain that this guy wouldn’t have given a damn about anything I had to say, nor would his chunky girlfriend (“fat” was an intentional exaggeration, though not wholly incorrect). Seeing the looks on the kids faces after these people left made me feel at least a bit justified in my actions, wrong though they may have been. Did this guy deserve to lose his forty dollar hat? Yeah, he was an a-hole who got what was coming to him. Was I right to lash out the way I did? Probably not. But I enjoyed the second half of the show a lot better than the first. And they got to keep licking each others faces.

It was a wondeful time, and I can't wait to do it all again next year. Well, except for the fat people and the human jack-o-lantern, and the older drunk guy, and the near fisticuffs. But everything else was great!


Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing the part about grabbing his butt. i got a good laugh out of that one.

Scott said...

Great stories... your brother has my dream job...

And I totally avoid the front of crowds anymore because of all the pushing and shoving, it's insane... I once shoved I guess five feet back because he was rudely pushing through... I decided it's better to be mellow and avoid the trouble spots...

Anonymous said...

I loved the story about the forty dollar hat until I got to the point where you call his girlfriend fat. I know you were ticked off, but that was totally unnecessary. And weak.

Reed said...

Thanks for the comment, Anon.

As I said, to this day I still feel conflicted about the whole thing. I am not proud of myself.

But it is important to note that the girlfriend was at least as much to blame as the (now) hatless jerk. She was the one doing the pushing. This was their plan, knowing that if a guy were to do that, he would get decked, but a girl can get away with it. Believe me, she deserved a lot worse than to be called fat. But in that tense moment, it was the best I could do...