Lollapalooza India Overcame Early Backlash Aimed at Its Lineup to Draw Record Crowds in Mumbai
Despite rampant reselling, the inaugural installment drew 60,000 fans to watch 40 artists, in another seminal moment in India's live music history
MUMBAI — Drawing more than 60,000 music fans over two days, with 40 artists performing on four stages spread across 50 acres, the inaugural edition of Lollapalooza India this weekend conquered the mantle of the largest multi-genre festival ever held in India.
In the country’s exponentially growing live music scene, Lollapalooza was somewhat late to the party, arriving more than a decade after multi-genre properties such as the Bacardi NH7 Weekender and Vh1 Supersonic. That meant audience expectations for an international brand like Lollapalooza were somewhat higher, especially because ticket prices (between $70 and $90 for advance purchase) were almost double those for its homegrown Indian counterparts.
To Indian music fans it felt like a super-sized Weekender, with some of the former programming and production team members working for Lollapalooza. The main difference: huge stages with amped-up sound and light production. Lolla’s crowd of roughly 30,000 per day also topped Supersonic’s last edition in 2020, which pulled in about 20,000 per day over three days; and last November’s Weekender, which drew a little less than 20,000 per day over three days, according to people who work with the festivals.
Indian promoter BookMyShow — which previously produced stand-alone concerts by Justin Bieber and U2 at a cricket stadium in the outskirts of the city — staged the first installment of Lollapalooza India at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, situated in the heart of Mumbai on a narrow road that frequently witnesses traffic snarls.
For many of the domestic acts — which made up 60% of the line-up — Lollapalooza was the biggest event they’ve played in their career to date. The festival featured headliners Imagine Dragons, The Strokes, Diplo, Cigarettes After Sex and Indian hip-hop star Divine, with debut India performances from Chinese pop star Jackson Wang and U.K. indie rock trio The Wombats.
Watching the performances, Lollapalooza felt a lot like a festival in the U.S. or Europe. But it also suffered from the same problems that plague other Indian festivals. Sound-related issues hindered some sets. Attendees lost cell phone service towards the evening. Bottlenecks at the end meant those who drove to the venue needed over an hour to leave, despite BookMyShow having encouraged the use of public transport by not providing on-site parking.
Lollapalooza India will also be remembered for the rampant reselling that took place prior to the festival, over WhatsApp groups and through messages shared on posts from the festival’s official Instagram page. The majority of resellers weren’t scalpers, but rather customers who bought early bird tickets in August and were disappointed by the line-up when it was revealed in November, according to one online poll conducted by this writer.
The roster had been rumored to include such names as Metallica, Pearl Jam and Green Day, who had played the 2022 editions in the U.S., South America and Europe, as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Arctic Monkeys, who are touring Asia right now. BookMyShow, which co-produced the festival along with Perry Farrell and C3 Presents, neither confirmed nor denied the rumors, fueling speculation that at least some of those names might be on the bill. (Billboard reached out to BookMyShow for comment on Monday about the rampant reselling and fan issues with the final lineup but has not heard back yet.)
The Indian edition included a bunch of acts, such as metal band Bloodywood, pop ensemble Easy Wanderlings, alternative rock group The F16s and pop-rock outfit The Yellow Diary who have already performed at several festivals this season — as well artists like Divine and singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, who have recently gone on nationwide tours.
The backlash posed some interesting questions: Is it fair game for festival promoters to sell tickets before the line-up is announced? How many of its headliners does a global festival have to replicate to live up to its “international” reputation? Does India have enough festival-worthy acts to sustain the number of festivals being staged?
Despite a consistently growing listenership for international music on audio-streaming services, promoters in India have yet to solve logistical and infrastructure challenges. The economics of bringing million-dollar international artists to the country for a one-off show are far trickier than booking them for multi-city dates across Europe and South America, other continents to which Lollapalooza has expanded. This is coupled with the severe lack of venues for events the magnitude of Lollapalooza in cities such as Mumbai where there are few vast open grounds.
Among the most-talked-about sets at the festival were those by Imagine Dragons, The Strokes, Greta Van Fleet and Canadian-Punjabi hip-hop star A.P. Dhillon (who some criticized for relying heavily on a backing track).
From the number of revelers that flocked to their stages, it was evident India has a fervent following for acts as wide-ranging as dream-pop band Cigarettes After Sex and former K-pop idol Jackson Wang, to electronic music producer Madeon and indie pop group Japanese Breakfast.
While the organizers might have played it relatively safe with the Indian line-up, most local artists drew sizable crowds, with Divine and Kuhad attracting thousands in a testament to their current superstar status. Farrell, meanwhile, was seen walking around the festival site and being stopped for selfies by fans.
A substantial proportion of the attendees comprised first-time festival goers, including Mumbai residents who didn’t have to take the effort of traveling to neighboring city Pune where Weekender and Supersonic are held.
After originally debuting in 1991 as a farewell tour for Farrell, the singer of Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza has been an annual multi-genre event in Chicago’s Grant Park since 2005, after Farrell and William Morris partnered with Austin-based Capital Sports Entertainment (now C3 Presents). The festival expanded to South America — Santiago, Chile; São Paulo and Buenos Aires — and to Berlin, Paris and Stockholm. In 2014, Live Nation bought a controlling interest in C3.
As they get set to work on the 2024 edition of Lollapalooza India — C3 Presents partner Charlie Walker told Billboard in July that they “don’t go anywhere with the expectation of not going on forever” — the organizers have plenty of feedback to consider when planning its return.