Never has a supposed return to normalcy seemed so wildly and irresponsibly abnormal. To look at the photographs from last weekend’s multi-day Lollapalooza blowout in Chicago is to ask what the fuck is seriously wrong with people. And not just because attendees showed up for a lineup that included Journey and rape-rock fratboy favourites Limp Bizkit.
For more reasons than one, Perry Farrell is no doubt wondering what he hath wrought.
Estimates are that just under 100,000 people per day packed into Grant Park in the Windy City. Aerial shots by photographer Colin Hinkle show what looked like the zombie wall-scaling of Jerusalem in World War Z. As in that scene from a film about a global pandemic, masks are pretty much nonexistent. And that’s difficult to fathom when you consider some simple scientific facts.
For reasons deeply tied into a collective obsession with civil liberties, right-wing lunacy, and basic fucking stupidity, COVID-19 continues to rip its way across the United States of America.
Before we get back to Lollapalooza, some things to consider. Statistics don’t lie. The U.S. is currently registering an average of nearly 67,000 new coronavirus cases per day, the majority of them being the highly aggressive Delta variant. As of July 29, 57.2 percent of Americans had received one vaccination dose, and 49.4 percent two doses.
The rate of daily vaccinations in the States has dramatically slowed over the past couple of months, from 4.3 million per day in early April to 700,000 at the beginning of August. Why? Ask stooges like Ted Nugent and Phil Valentine, who’ve used their platforms to convince their fellow American stooges that COVID-19 is a hoax not worth worrying about. Both ended up with the virus. And they are hardly alone.
America currently leads the world in reported COVID-19 cases (35,292,721), infections per 100,000 people (10,752), and deaths (614,666).
The important thing to consider here as we bring things back to Lollapalooza? That would be that half the country across the border isn’t fully vaccinated. And that’s anything but optimum considering even those who’ve been jabbed can still get infected with COVID-19 and then pass it on.
Lollapalooza organizers were at least aware of this. Attendees were required to show proof that they’d been vaccinated, with the party line being that 90 percent of them were. (That American vaccination cards consist of an easy-to-mimic piece paper is of course a problem—Google “I Bought a Fake Covid-19 Vaccine Card on Etsy” for a primer.)
As for the other 10 percent of Lollapalooza attendees, they showed paperwork indicating they’d just had a negative COVID-19 test. They were also required to wear masks inside. See Instagram photographs of Lollapalooza for how well that worked out. A whopping 10,000 people should have been wearing something on their faces. It looked like almost no one in that large group of concertgoers was following simple instructions.
Health officials were suitably horrified, as were those on the frontlines.
In a USA Today story, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor Tina Tan called Lollapalooza 2021 a recipe for disaster.
“It was an outdoor event,” she said, “but it was an outdoor event with over 100,000 people [a day] in a small space. You’re less able to transmit COVID in an outdoor space, but that doesn’t mean that you can pack 100,000 people into a small, enclosed space where they’re on top of each other and expect nobody’s going to transmit. That’s not how it works.”
The advocacy group March for Science meanwhile posted one of Hinkle’s aerial shots of Facebook with the words “Let’s just call this photo what it is: mass denial #Lollapalooza”. Among the most popular of the over 4,000 comments were “I’m the overworked ER health care nurse taking care of these people … if I had a good alternative career to change to I would do it.” And “RRT here. I wish we had the right to choose to deny service to these people. Just like they had the right to choose tonout [sic] themselves on danger. I’m so tired of wearing PPE and an N95 for 12+ hrs.”
The more misanthropic among us might suggest that, if there’s ever been a good case for the horrible beauty of Darwinism, it starts with shirtless meathead with a backwards red baseball cap screeching along to “Nookie” in a Limp Bizkit mosh pit during a pandemic.
But more importantly, what Lollapalooza has done has left all of us wondering about the immediate future of the concert business.
Experts suggest we won’t have a true picture of the event’s COVID-19 fallout until around 10 days from now, when symptoms are likely to start showing. If Lollapalooza turns out to have been a superspreader, that’s bad news for Chicago where vaccination rates are around 52 percent. And bad news for every restaurant and hotel worker and transit employee who came into contact with an attendee over the weekend. And because Lollapalooza is very much a destination event, it could be bad news for cities and towns across America, where every person who attended the festival could return home infected, sparking a fresh wave of COVID-19 cases.
That’s potentially awful news where mega-events are concerned. And there are a number of them on the immediate horizon in America, including Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas, Bonnaroo in Tennessee; and Governors Ball in New York City.
It also has repercussions for what we’d all hoped would be a return to normalcy later this fall, when shows are being planned for indoor soft-seaters and clubs.
Everyone’s dying to get back to a world where live music is a thing again. So badly, in fact, they’ll evidently show up for not only Journey but Limp Bizkit.
The question that remains is whether or not this is the time. Think of Lollapalooza as a large-scale litmus test. God knows that everyone on social media and elsewhere certainly is.
The truly shitty thing about COVID-19 is the way that the markers for the finish line keep moving. And popular opinion is that Lollapalooza might have, completely irresponsibly, just moved that finish line in a way we should all be scared of. For, insanely, Journey. And Limp Bizkit performing “Break Stuff”, which admittedly was probably insanely cathartic given the past 16 months.
It’s one thing to imagine what a return to normalcy might look like. It’s quite another to see photographs of it.
Based on what we saw at Lollapalooza, Darwin, evidently, was right. And more than ever, it’s hard not to feel like we deserve what we’ve got coming.