3 Ways To Improve The Lollapalooza Fan Experience

There are a lot of moments I will never forget about Lollapalooza 2010. As I told you earlier this week a lot of great performances lifted me off my feet and dropped my jaw.

But on the flipside, there are a few things that could make Lollapalooza better for fans, bands and everyone in between. And this is how we can take the 2011 festival experience to the next level.

Though I didn’t see it live, I think that this Lady Gaga crowd-surfing moment captured in the video above is a great 90-second representation of the kind of urgency and intensity that festival organizers should act with when considering these 3 Ways to Improve the Lollapalooza Fan Experience.

More importantly, that video shows us how powerful live music is psychologically, physiologically and sociologically.

Just Imagine…

what if we were able to serve the fans in that video by exploring, celebrating and fully understanding why that crowd-surfing moment and the other unforgettable moments experienced by the 255,000 Lolla fans were so amazing?

1. Discover Lolla’s “150” and Stick To It

Going into Lollapalooza 2010 I had my doubts about the increased capacity limits that reached 85,000 per day.

And after thinking about my experience at Lollapalooza, I believe one of the reasons why I felt more disconnected from my fellow fans this year was because of the increased crowd capacity.  So, no, increasing the capacity limit didn’t make the festival experience any better for fans or the music experience.

And over the this past week, I’ve realized that Lollapalooza needs consider Dunbar’s “150 Rule,” which, to paraphrase, states that once a group of people exceeds 150 people in number the quality of the connections and relationships between the group members tends to deteriorate and weaken. Essentially we, as humans, tend to thrive and develop best in small more manageable groups.

Does Lolla need to create their own version of Dunbar’s “150 Rule” to figure out a new approach to crowd capacity and how they lay out the festival across Grant Park? Yes.

Lollapalooza might have increased the acreage of the grounds to give fans more room to walk from stage to stage, but a bigger Lolla still didn’t solve the overcrowding at the main stages. And increasing to 112 acres only made all the non-music experiences — sponsor and non-profit booths — too spread out and disconnected.

Plain and simple. For next year, Lolla needs to consider a different approach.

Instead of figuring out how many fans they can cram into Grant Part to make the most money, festival organizers need to spend their time thinking of how to make the festival more interactive and engaging for the right amount of fans. I don’t know what that number is exactly.  All I know is that it should be closer to or less than 65,000 per day.

If they do that then they will increase the value of the Lollapalooza experience and the price of the $215 ticket will be much more worth it than it is now.

Because let’s be honest, most fans don’t see all 120 bands.  Most fans probably see about half of them, if that.

Yes, I completely understand the festival promoters rationale when they say that fans are getting a great deal because their getting to see 120 bands at less than a dollar a band.

But that’s always seemed like a ridiculous way to sell a concert experience. And it’s really a joke that I don’t find funny any more.  Especially when I know that fans deserve a lot more than what they’re getting at Lollapalooza.

For me, the future value of the Lollapalooza experience lies in the quality of the experience not just the quantity.

Meaning, a smaller, more focused Lollapalooza equals a better value and overall experience for the fans.

Now, let’s take a look at the two other areas where Lollapalooza can up the ante and make the fan experience far better for 2011 and beyond.

2. Sponsors Should Create More Engaging and Interactive Experiences

If Lollapalooza isn’t going to get any smaller, then they at least they and the sponsors need to offer more engaging and interactive experiences.

I went to the booths sponsored by Sony, Toyota and took a walk through the “World Largest Shoe Box sponsored by Adidas.  And I ended up walking out of all of them feeling disappointed and thinking how they could have done SO much more.

Lollapalooza Adidas Mega Show Box
Adidas Mega "World's Largest Shoe Box" at Lollapalooza

There is a great opportunity for Lollapalooza and its sponsors to revolutionize the musical festival experience beyond just the music.

Yes, I know the sponsors are there to sell and promote their products, but that doesn’t mean the experience and the marketing has to be lame or trite for fans.

I think Lollapalooza and their sponsors should step up their game and take time to think of ways to educate, entertain and enlighten music fans during the festival.

How Can They Do This?

Well, for starters, they should find creative ways to use their products to explore the sensory, emotional and psychological aspects of the live music experience. Just like the Concert Experiments and Explorations we’ve been doing here on Live Fix, I’d like to see Lollapalooza do things on a much bigger scale and do it either live at the festival while the music is happening, right after the show, or before the show.

Like I said, there are so many possibilities to explore and Lollapalooza and its sponsors need to start diving into the possibilities right now.

Where Should They Start? What Should They Do?

There are many ways sponsors like Sony, for example, could create a sound or visual experience that takes fans deeper into the details of why live music is so amazing.

Wouldn’t it be cool to go to a Phoenix or Arcade Fire set at Lolla and afterward have the chance to go into an interactive booth where they showed you how your brain and heart responded to the music during the show?

Adam before MGMT
Adam draws before MGMT

Before MGMT started their set on Sunday I spoke with a fan, Adam, who was drawing a sketch that was inspired by what he saw and felt as the masses buzz with pre-show excitement all around him.

Now, what if we did give fans the opportunity to create their own artistic responses using video, photos or other media live on-site just moments after the concert? I think we would all be very amazed at what was created and discovered. I know I’m looking forward to seeing how Adam’s drawing turned out.

What Experts Should Lolla Enlist To Create These Interactive Experiences and Experiments?

Well, for starters, they should team up with neurologists, scientists, psychologists, experimenters, sociologists and writers like Oliver Sacks, Daniel Levitin and Matthew Fox and the crew from MythBusters (to name a few).

By working with these cutting-edge thinkers and scientists, I’m sure Lollapalooza and its sponsors could create truly engaging, memorable and revolutionary interactive experiences that are better than the cliche spin-a-wheel-to-win-a-free-bandanna, button or a commemorative towel sponsor experiences you see at Lolla and other music festivals.

Adam before MGMT

If Lollapalooza and its sponsors found a why to create live on-site concert “experiment booths” that go beyond the usual “here, take your picture in our car” gimmicks, I know the relationship between the fans, Lollapalooza and the sponsors would be much stronger and far more genuine.

I want to see more things like:

And if sponsors offered experiences like these that gave fans the chance to discover amazing and helpful insights into what we think and feel during a concert, then I know I wouldn’t be so bothered by the corporate naming of the stages.

3. Integrate Mental Health and Addiction Awareness Into the Festival Experience

The last thing I’d like to see at Lollapalooza 2011 is the presence of mental health and addiction non-profit sponsors.

Back when it first started out, Lollapalooza prided itself on bringing emerging life-styles, provocative thinking and cutting-edge music to the mainstream.

And it still does today.

But it’s time festival originator Perry Farrell and his team take another big step forward.

They need to go beyond the music experience and meet the emerging mental health needs of fans.  And whether it’s inside the festival or outside the grounds on the city streets and walls — like one anti-Lady Gaga fan did below — fans will express their emotions in all types of ways. So why not give fans an official place where they can express them selves and also understand how live concert culture influences their emotions?

Lollapalooza Lady Gaga
Entertaining anti-Gaga fan art just outside the Lolla grounds

Lollapalooza should see that our culture, especially rock concert culture, is in great need of the presence of on-site mental health counselors and drug addiction organizations at music festivals.

Yes, having mental health and addiction counselors at music festivals may seem very un-rock and roll, but really, I saw many of my fellow concert fans who could have used the help and knowledge of trained counselors who care about the well-being and health of festivalgoers.

Do We Really Need This At Music Festivals?

Yes. Absolutely.

And here’s a few reasons why we do.

This year at Lollapalooza I saw Japanese metal legends X Japan perform for the first time on North American soil. And they rocked the stage in the most epic way.

But there was something else about X Japan that made their performance emotionally unique and intriguing to me.

In my pre-show research I discovered that in 1998 X Japan’s original guitarist Hideto Matsumoto (aka Hide) commitment suicide. And when the group reunited in 2008 for show in Japan, they actually had a hologram of Hide playing the guitar parts of the songs. You can see it in the video below as the band performs their legendary song “Art of Life.” ( Hide’s hologram comes in at the 3:32 mark.)

Now, I was amazed when I heard about that. I can’t even imagine what it must of been like for the fans (and the band) during that concert in 2008.

I know on some level the emotions of the crowd must have been raw and beyond palpable.

And I bet several fans went home after the show with heavy hearts thinking about Hide and how he took his life and why he did it.

I felt the same way when I saw Modest Mouse play “Float On” at Lollapalooza 2007. That concert and others, inspired me to write about experiencing grief, joy and community in live music.

I was curious to see if others felt the same way during concerts, so I sent that post to friends and colleagues.

And the responses in the comments and via email from my friends and colleagues confirmed that the live concert experience is not just as a place to escape from the daily grind, but it’s also a place where we encounter and feel a wide range of  emotions. Concerts are also a place where we find comfort and experience healing with our fellow live music fans.

The concert experience is a complex emotional experience. Some fans feel joy while others are ambushed by their grief unexpectedly when the band plays their favorite song that triggers a memory.

Whatever  and however we feel during our favorite concerts, I know all concert fans can benefit in some way by having the chance to explore our emotions and our mental health in creative ways while we’re at the concert.

One of the reasons I loved Arcade Fire’s set at Lollapalooza this year was because both the music and the communal emotional connection among the fans was so genuine and palpable. As the band played tracks from 2005’s Funeral, I thought about my three friends who committed suicide around the same time that album came out.

That said, what if after that Arcade Fire show there were mental health experts or an interactive experience where I could explore what I was feeling internally? I know it would have been very telling to see inside my brain and heart as Win Butler and company tore through the show and conjured up a massive upward rush of grief and sorrow that ultimately turned in to cathartic celebration with thousands of other fans around me.

And I know that current mental health research has begun to use forms of real-time treatment and counseling to treat addiction. So why don’t we find a way to use that research to enhance the live music experience for the sake of the fans?

Knowledge is power, my friend. And for the same reasons why I love watching the Discovery Channel or reading How Stuff Works, I think it would be completely awesome if we were able to learn more about our bodies and brains through the exploration of our life-changing concert experiences.

If you need any more convincing why Lollapalooza — one of the premier music festivals in the world — needs to integrate mental health and addiction experts into the festival experience, you need only to look at the brilliance and popularity of TV shows like A&E’s Intervention, VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, and talk radio shows like Loveline.

Like the responses I received from my friends, those shows confirm that there is an increasing number of people looking for answers and more knowledge about fighting addition and living a sober life. I also spoke with fans and musicians at Lollapalooza who told me that, just like Eminem, they’ve actually had better concert experiences sober than when they were drunk or high.

So it’s time to see Lollapalooza lead the way in concert culture, and make mental health and addiction awareness part of the fans experience during the festival.

Lollapalooza has done a great job encouraging fans to vote by having Rock The Vote on-site. And if they can dedicate an entire area on the festival grounds to teaching fans how to live green and recycle (which are also very important to the future of our world), then they can also think of ways to serve concert fans by educating and enlightening them about how addiction and mental health awareness can have a positive impact on their festival experience and the rest of their lives.

Is This A Challenge? Is This Controversial?

YES.

But I know this can be done without alienating or taking the fun out of the concert experience. And like I mentioned earlier, having mental health and addiction awareness at Lollapalooza might even make some concert experiences better.

However we do it and whatever it looks like, we just have to find a way to do it and start thinking about how to make it happen right now.

How Would You Improve Lollapalooza?

Well, live music fans, that wraps up our coverage of Lollapalooza 2010. From Gaga and The Arcade Fire to thinking about a better Lolla, I had a blast sharing my experiences with you.

And I hope you enjoyed it too! As always, we’d like to hear your thoughts.

Tell us your Lollapalooza story and let us know…what would you do to improve next year’s festival.

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