Of the slew of outdoor music festivals every summer, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits seem to get the most hype. They both typically feature the biggest bands and best up-and-comers in the biz and are both located in hip musical cities. It might not be possible to make both events, so Sound Citizen presents to you: Lollapalooza vs. Austin City Limits – what’s your pick?
Both festivals are located in hip music cities. Austin is known for its prolific indie music scene while Chicago, the birthplace of the blues is known for its diverse music offerings.
Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has some of the worst urban winters in the U.S., but come summertime, the city comes to life. Hundreds of street festivals can be found every weekend somewhere within the city limits, patio bars seem to never close and the lakefront is always buzzing. Grant Park (and neighboring Millenium Park) becomes the focus of many Chicago summer activities, including Lollapalooza.
Getting to Grant Park is relatively easy. If you live in the city, there are plenty of options – public transportation abounds and a cab ride is fast and convenient. For those visiting Chicago for the festival, your best bet is to secure a hotel downtown. It wont’ be cheap, but walking to and from the park will provide the ultimate in convenience, as well as pleasant strolls through a beautiful city.
The park itself is situated right on the lakefront, so even in the heat of summer there’s often a nice, cool breeze. The views in and around Grant park are spectacular. Chicago’s skyline is one of the best in the world, Buckingham Fountain is a treasure and Lake Michigan provides a brilliant, sparkling contrast to the steel and concrete of the landscape to the east. Before and after the festival, there’s no shortage of things to do – world class museums and shopping are mere blocks away – and some of Chicago’s finest restaurants (not necessarily pricey) are just as close. Grant Park has some nice nooks where you can relax and catch a spot of shade.
Grant Park is long. To get from one end of the park to the other it takes at least 10 minutes or more, depending on the crowd. This means you have to plan your shows carefully – you might have to leave one early to secure a decent view for the next.
Grant Park is narrow. It can get crowded quickly – if you’re going to wander around, it’s a good idea to have a couple friends secure a home base with a blanket and chairs. Otherwise, you’re going to have to constantly fight for a spot. It also results in some cramped conditions for the side stages. One is in a concrete-floored pavilion, another is on a street and a couple are crammed along walking routes.
Austin City Limits, Zilker Park, Austin, Texas
Austin is well-known for it’s music scene, hosting South by Southwest in addition to ACL. Stroll down Sixth Street and just about every bar will echo with quality music. Zilker Park hosts ACL, as well as an annual kite festival and is home to an expansive botanical garden.
Zilker Park is huge. More than 351 acres huge. Of course, the festival doesn’t cover the entire park, but it sure feels that way. There’s more than enough room to set up a blanket and chairs, and wander around without bumping sweaty elbows. It also leaves room for many food and beverage stands and retail shacks, so long lines aren’t a big problem. The expanse also provides room for other extras like cooling areas and tents to play some cool guitars, or tinker with the latest gadgets from AT&T.
The stages are set far enough apart so the music does not compete, and the natural contours of the park usually means a good view is easy to find. Walking from stage to stage can take some time, but with all that room you’re not fighting crowds along the way.
It’s hot as hell. You’re in Texas, mind you, and adding to that, there is almost no shade to be found. Make sure you bring chairs with some kind of umbrella or shade provider and drink gallons of water. Try the lemonade and iced tea, too.
There’s nearly nothing else around. Get ready for a lengthy hike back to your hotel, at least 20 minutes or more. Getting a cab or bus to get downtown after the shows has been known to include an hour wait. You can take a pedicab – for about $50. That said, there is one place on the walk back that’s worth a stop. Green Mesquite BBQ & More provides cold beer, good food and some great after-show live bluegrass.
Austin does provide a nice open atmosphere and a camping-like experience, and for travelers it’s more cost-effective. Despite what can be crowded conditions, Grant Park is beautiful and the city of Chicago offers so much outside the festival itself. Consider starting your trip a couple days early, or stay a few days late to really soak in the Chicago summer. They both offer unique experiences.
Edge: Lollapalooza – barely
Now to the meat of the issue, the performers. Of course, both offer an extraordinary amount of quality music but there are some key differences to explore.
Both Lolla and ACL will see the Beastie Boys and Kings of Leon – two bands who are sure to put on excellent performances. Lollapalooza will also feature Depeche Mode, Tool, The Killers and Jane’s Addiction to round out the top tier, while ACL will host Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band. Out of those differences, Pearl Jam trumps all of them. They are becoming one of rock’s legendary bands before our very eyes and ears and every opportunity should be taken to see them live.
Edge: Austin City Limits
The Supporting Cast
Several bands will be playing both festivals this year, including Ben Harper and Relentless7, Thievery Corporation, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Dan Auerbach, The Raveonettes, Arctic Monkeys, Heartless Bastards, and Coheed and Cambria. These are all quality bands and it might make the final decision a little easier. Or at least less painful.
Then there are the bands that will only play at one or the other, and these make all the difference. Below are 10 bands who will be at Lolla and not ACL (as of this writing):
Ra Ra Riot
Band of Horses (pictured)
Cold War Kids
TV on the Radio
Now, 10 bands that will be at ACL and not Lolla (as of this writing):
The Dead Weather
Ghostland Observatory (pictured)
Medeski, Martin & Wood
Asleep at the Wheel
In defense of ACL, Jack White’s new band The Dead Weather is attractive, The Walkmen are solid, Ghostland Observatory puts on a show to experience and Medeski, Martin & Wood never disappoint.
In Lolla’s corner, Ra Ra Riot has a host of catchy tunes, Band of Horses can stir a soul, Silversun Pickups are gaining momentum fast and Animal Collective is getting early votes for album of the year.
So what’s it going to be? Where will I put my money (and lots of it) this year?
In the end, the pre-performance title goes to Lollapalooza in 2009. Both have very strong lineups and the shared bands are top-notch. Although I will miss Pearl Jam, I could care less about Dave Matthews Band, while at Lolla, Band of Horses and Silversun Pickups hold particular sway with me, and I’m excited to experience Ra Ra Riot, Animal Collective and TV on the Radio. Combined with the city of Chicago and all it has to offer, I’ll be at Grant Park this summer.
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.