Lollapalooza Draws 300,000 to Chicago

Josh Brasted/FilmMagic
James Hetfield of Metallica performs at the 2015 Lollapalooza music festival at Grant Park on August 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

While Lollapalooza 2015 might most be remembered for a final-day evacuation due to a storm that narrowly missed the festival site at Chicago’s Grant Park, the festival put up record numbers this year with headliners Paul McCartney, Metallica and Florence + The Machine headlining the July 29-31 event.

With both Sir Paul and metal legends Metallica, along with super hot acts like Florence, Alt-J, The Weeknd, Sam Smith, Alabama Shakes, A$AP Rocky, and The War On Drugs on the bill, Lolla Chicago fielded arguably its most impressive (and expensive) lineup ever. Even so, the festival sold out in 30 minutes back in March before any talent was announced.

While selling out prior to announcing the lineup is the holy grail for festivals, such a strategy also has its pressures. “You’ve got to deliver the right talent,” says Charles Attal, partner in Lolla producer C3 Presents.

It’s safe to say Lolla 2015 delivered the goods for the 100,000 fans per day in attendance. “McCartney was a pro, probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at Lollapalooza,” says Attal, “and Metallica delivered, as usual. It was a very diverse lineup.” As for the talent price tag, “It’s always expensive,” Attal says.

On the final Sunday of the festival, a threatening storm forced the second evacuation in Lolla Chicago history, with the first being three years ago. This year’s evac was “earlier in the day” than last time, Attal says, “so the park wasn’t totally packed in.”

Asked about the process that led to C3 making the call to ask tens of thousands of fans to vacate the site, Attal says it wasn’t a tough decision. “You could see the dark skies coming, it was a pretty big, strong cell coming right at us, and we followed the procedures we normally do,” he says. “It did miss us by about five miles, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.  We’ll always be on the side of safety, because there are just too many lives at risk. So we did it, we had a few drops of rain, thank God it missed us, and we got everybody back in basically about an hour.”

The downtown location of Grant Park makes such a procedure more tenable than an open field site, where fans have nowhere to evacuate to. Attal says the evacuation wasn’t as “intense” as the 2012 evac, which occurred when the park was full, and also went smoothly. “We credit the city, the police department, the OEMC [Office of Emergency Management and Communications], all the city services. They know what they’re doing, they’re professionals, and they’ve got it down,” he says. "We’ve done it with them before, so it wasn’t a ‘get to know you’ kind of meeting, everybody knows everybody, everybody knows each others’ jobs, so we make the decision and we put it to work."

Lollapalooza 2015 was C3’s first event in Chicago since Live Nation acquired a majority stake in the Austin-based promoter late last year, but Attal says the new structure had little impact on this year's festival. “It’s the same people working the show, the exact same organization producing it,” he points out.

Attal’s takeaway from Lolla 2015? “It’s never easy,” even with an experienced staff. “Festivals are big, there’s a lot of moving parts, 1,000 people working, you never can rest until that final band goes off stage and the last patron is out of the park,” he says. “After 11 years in Chicago, it felt pretty smooth going in. We were knocking on wood, on Thursday we were saying, ‘this feels really good,’ then the same thing Friday and Saturday, then Sunday a big hammer’s coming your way. You can’t let your guard down, and you’ve got to be on your toes at all times, period.”

Now Attal and the C3 staff are gearing up for the first Lollapalooza Berlin, set for Tempelhof Airport Sept. 12-13 with Muse, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Libertines, Sam Smith, Belle & Sebastian, Fatboy Slim, My Morning Jacket, and Bastille among the performers. Attal says Lolla Berlin is on a pace to sell out in the next week or so, marking the first time C3 has sold out a festival in its first year. Capacity at the venue is about 50,000.

Lollapalooza Berlin seems positioned to become a European stronghold for the hugely successful international festival brand, joining Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Chicago, which grossed a combined $66 million (U.S.) in 2014, according to Billboard Boxscore. C3 is partnered in the Lolla brand with founder Perry Farrell and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, which founded Lollapalooza as a touring festival that ran 1991-97 (the tour was revived in 2003, but a 2004 tour was canceled due to poor ticket sales). In 2005, C3's predecessor Capitol Sports & Entertainment (C3 was formed in 2007 when Charlie Walker joined founding partners Attal and Charlie Jones) resurrected a brand many thought was toast, and has since expanded into South America with three fests.

Crossing the Atlantic, however, with Europe's mature festival scene,  was a risky move, and to find that this venerable live music brand has translated so powerfully into Germany is gratifying, Attal says. “I was talking to a couple of agents about it, they were saying this is the first time everybody can really see that this brand is actually really carrying,” Attal says of Lolla Berlin, where C3 is partnered with Melvin Benn's Festival Republic and Melt Booking. “No one thought that we’d do the numbers we’re going to do the first year in Berlin; we knew it was a good market, but with first-year festivals, you hope you get 30,000 in the park and go from there. But the brand does carry.”

It is worth noting that the C3 team was able to build Lolla Berlin before the finalization of Live Nation’s new partnership announced this week with leading German promoter Marek Lieberberg. That pact creates Live Nation Concerts Germany, and Attal does see some possible synergies when the deal begins in 2016, calling Lieberberg, “one of the most famous promoters in Europe.”

On the home front, C3 will stage the 14th Austin City Limits Music Festival over two weekends, Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11 at Austin’s Zilker Park. This will be ACL Fest’s third year as a double-weekend festival, and Attal says the festival is generating record sales with Foo Fighters, Drake, The Strokes, Florence + The Machine among the headliners. According to Attal, both Saturdays (with Drake headlining) are sold out, “and the Fridays and Sundays are a week or two away, and will be sold out well in advance of the show.” He adds that, “[C3 talent buyer] Amy [Corbin] booked a really good lineup.”

All told, 2015 should be a banner year for C3. “We’ll be back next year,” says Attal.