Lollapalooza vs. Bonnaroo: Making the Music Festival Decision

by Emily Norton*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Having trouble picking your music festival this year? I am! The choices are endless, but I plan on doing one of the doozies. After the recent release of Lollapalooza's line-up, I have joined the thousands confronted with the choice between Lollapalooza of Chicago, IL (Aug. 7-9) and Bonnaroo of Manchester, TN (June 11-14). Every summer, teens and adults of all ages flock to both of these three to four day music heavens in search of jams of numerous eclectic bands.

Here’s the rundown: The headliners of both festivals are not quite my cup of tea, but if you’re looking for a flashback to the '90s, you’ll be happy at either (for example, the Beastie Boys are playing both). I’m more concerned with the smaller name bands that range from folk to hip-hop, and I must say, though Bonnaroo may have a few more than Lollapalooza, they are evenly matched. Often, artists at both festivals overlap, (notably, Band of Horses, Andrew Bird, Of Montreal, and TV on the Radio, to name a few), so it’s also important to focus on the vibe of the festival as a whole.

Here are a few particulars when determining the best choice:

  • Time of Day: Lollapalooza shows start early! If you can’t stand to fry in the sun from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM, you may want to try Bonnaroo. Roo’s shows typically don’t start until later in the evening, so you can camp in your tent all day if you’re a night owl. However, you can still groove the night scene in Chicago. Many of the bars surrounding Grant Park have booked the artists and interesting collaborations for some intense afterparties and shows.

  • Versatility: Because Bonnaroo is a day longer, showtimes are a little more flexible. The headliners typically play lengthier sets as well. Bonnaroo should be commended for providing a unique experience; as a result of the later start, days can be filled with the provided silent dance parties (at the Silent Disco), comedy acts, and extra hours to get those psychedelics brewing. However, Lollapalooza certainly has it’s own upbeat flavor. The DJ tent, one of my favorite haunts, hosts dancers all day long at Lolla!

  • Setting: The most important thing to keep in mind is that the setting makes the show. Personally, I don’t think you could go wrong with either festival, but, do consider: am I urban or rural? The farmland of Bonnaroo suits the hippie camper who can go nights without rest. Lollapalooza’s all-day intensity leaves you with a high that deserves a night of sleep, or, if you’d rather, its Chicago chic also provides the hipster or glam** a night on the town to celebrate an incredible day. Seeing as I fall right in the middle, I guess I ought to just swing for both!

*Emily Norton is a veteran of both Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.

**A term for certain fashionable rockers which was current in the 1970s and is undergoing a revival.

(For another view of the Lollapalooza festival, please see a short series from last summer beginning with "Concert Review: Lollapalooza, Day 1 with the Raconteurs.")

(The photo of the entrance to the 2008 Bonnaroo festival is by rocknroll guitar of Tampa, FL via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see Pearl Jam playing "Better Man" at Bonnaroo in 2008, please check below.)

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