Review: Massive Lollapalooza is a choose-your-own-adventure festival

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive
Nine Inch Nails closes out Friday night in Grant Park.

"I'm old enough to remember when Lollapalooza used to tour around the country," said Baroness frontman John Dyer Baizley during the band's midday Sunday set. "We saw a lot of our favorite bands. It was great."

I'm that old, too. Lollapalooza '93 was my first "real" concert, so I hold a level of nostalgia for the festival that now takes up residence in Chicago's Grant Park for three days each summer. The beauty in those days was the diversity of a festival that could have Ice Cube and the Jesus & Mary Chain share a stage. Where else could you watch James open for Korn? More importantly, where else would you want to?

The Grant Park incarnation of Lolla has grown to massive proportions since 2005 - reaching a peak this year of 100,000 attendees per day with three day passes selling out before the official lineup had even been released. The swarming crowds - and accompanying corporate sponsorships - have led to hand-wringing that things have gotten too large, too corporate for Lolla's roots. I'm here to report that that musically diverse experience is still there for the taking. You just have to seek it out.

Granted, not everyone is there for diversity. You couldn't throw a pair of heart-shaped glasses on Friday without hitting a 20-year-old girl wearing high-waisted jean shorts and a flower headband whose sole reason for attending was Lana Del Ray's set. (I dubbed them "Lanadroids.") The park was in danger of tipping into Lake Michigan Saturday night due to the sheer imbalance of the massive crowd for Mumford & Sons vs. the relatively thin field for The Postal Service. And there's a clear contingent who view the whole festival through the prism of the EDM-driven Perry's Stage and whatever chemicals they ingest while they're there.

But you could also take advantage of the fact that Lollapalooza is trying to be all things to all people and create your own diverse schedule. I zipped from Ghost B.C.'s daylight dirge of bubblegum Satan metal to Father John Misty's folk freakout to realize the only thing they had in common was a wicked sense of onstage humor. I bookended the weekend with two incarnations of teenage mascara angst, crowding up close for a blistering comeback set by Nine Inch Nails and chilling out to a massive two-hour set by The Cure from a hillside view. I saw established acts to check them off the bucket list (The Postal Service, The National), and I got a quick taste of acts I know I want to see more of (Angel Haze, Skaters, the old-school soul of Charles Bradley).

I created my own Lollapalooza. And so should you.

Five best sets I saw at Lollapalooza 2013:

1. Nine Inch Nails

2. Crystal Castles

3. The Cure

4. Father John Misty

5. Charles Bradley