A Study in the Art of Rock and Roll Survival


by Ken Fosnot

For me, Green Day’s triumphant set at Lollapalooza 2010 was less about watching a concert and more about survival.

The day started early: my friend Dave and I ate some donuts at 7:30 a.m. My dad bought them for us. Dave and I live in Central Illinois, but we used my parent’s suburban Chicago ranch-style home as a launching pad for Lollapalooza so we wouldn’t have to drive so far on Saturday morning. These donuts were not only special because they provided me with necessary sustenance to start my day. No, these donuts were also special because they came from Dimples Donuts in Batavia, IL, a store owned and operated by Linda, a woman who, as a child, fled from Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, immigrated to America as a refugee, became a U.S. citizen and became the maker of delicious baked confections. But I digress. The point is that Linda makes wicked awesome donuts, and this particular chocolate sprinkle donut set me on the right path to enjoy my day at Lollapalooza. (In fact, all I would eat that entire day would be this donut and a Blueberry Crunch Clif Bar.)

Dave and I hit the road at 8:00 a.m. We snaked our way up 88 west through suburbia and found a lovely parking lot in downtown Chicago a few blocks from the festival. We got in line at 9:00 a.m., and about thirty people were already in line ahead of us, mostly rabid Green Day fans who were planning on “camping” in front of the main stage all day in preparation for Green Day, as Dave and I had also planned to do. By the time the doors opened at 11:00 a.m., I was already a bit dehydrated, tired, and hungry, but I didn’t let these small annoyances dampen my spirits. This is rock and roll, not a luxury resort.

Dave and I knew exactly where we wanted to position ourselves for the day’s event, and we got precisely where we wanted: about halfway between the sound booth and the stage, along the crowd-dividing security barrier. This would ensure an optimal visual and sonic experience.

The tricky part about wanting to stay in one ideal place all day at a general admission music festival is “defending your turf,” which can be hard in a crowd of 95,000. However, for the most part, this was easy. During the first three acts on that stage (Rebelution, Blues Traveler, and Gogol Bordello), much of the crowd came and went between acts, and things were pretty mellow. However, things started to get more heated around 5:45 p.m. when Social Distortion took the stage and the crowd became more compacted, and we had to fend off several would-be usurpers of our coveted vantage point. Stern looks and locked elbows mostly did the trick, but the guys next to us (from Cincinnati) had to yell at a few interlopers, with things like, “Hey, we’ve been here since 11 a.m. – back the $&%@ off!” That seemed to do the trick.

By the time Green Day took the stage, there was no hope of leaving your spot to get food, a drink, or to use the port-o-potties. Being a veteran Lollapaloozer (I’ve been every year it’s been in Grant Park since 2006), I had planned for this and was only drinking enough water to stay alive (thus avoiding “#1”), and my consumption of only the donut and Clif Bar ensured I would avoid “#2.”

Green Day hit the stage at 7:45 p.m., and the crowd started going bananas. For the first twenty-five minutes, I enjoyed a few square inches of “personal space” and was able to dance, pump fists, and even pogo about (the Clash-meets-Weezer crunch and grind of “Know Your Enemy” being a particular highlight). It was during this time that most of these pictures were taken – when I still had enough room to reach into my pocket and get my camera.

However, about 8:15 p.m., when the sun finally dipped below the skyscraper-laden skyline and the park was swallowed by darkness, the crowd surged and my “social bubble” was permanently burst. This is where the survival instincts kicked in. At this point, it felt like getting sodomized by 95,000 angry rockers. People were “up in my grill” in the literal sense. For the longest time, my left shoulder blade was interlocked with the right breast of the girl behind me. Ditto to the dude next to me’s left knee and the back of my right knee. The audience had become one sweaty, undulating mass – less a crowd of individuals, more a vast expanse of dirt and BO (indeed, my deodorant had failed around noon).

You see, our position in the crowd (against the security railing) ensured that no audience members were directly in front of us (good for sight lines), but it also meant that the entire force of the masses behind us was pressing us into the security railing (bad for breathing). The crowd was pummeling us so hard that there were several times where I wondered if I would have to choose between a punctured lung or a broken rib. On several occasions, I had to push against the people behind me with all my force just to take a semi-deep breath of stale air. Also, for quite a while, I could not even lift my arms up to clap – I could only bang my palms together like Thalidomide flippers.

Then there were the body surfers. Our place in the audience was directly in line with the “audience / security” interface, and you had to keep your head on a swivel to avoid getting kicked in the neck by body surfers. The security team certainly earned their money that night. They continuously plucked wayward crowd surfers out of the audience like muscle-bound OB/GYNs extracting mohawked breached babies. I dodged an especially spastic surfer during “Brain Stew / Jaded” – I screamed “Incoming!” at Dave, and he missed getting an ankle to the ear.

But you know what? This was exactly the experience I wanted. I knew what I signed up for when I got in the front of a crowd for a punk-rock show. I could have seen Green Day from the second balcony of any anonymous enormo-dome in the country. But that’s not nearly as cool as sweating it out in the pit with thousands of other like-minded maniacs.

At the end of the show, I felt and looked like a survivor: shirt ripped, muscles pulled, one of my toenails hanging on by a small patch of shredded cuticle. But I would not have had it any other way.

Lolla 5

Rebelution 1

Blues Traveler 2

Gogol Bordello

Gogol 4

Social D b

Social D e

Lolla 8

Lolla 2

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