Are You Ready for Lollapalooza?

Precautions and tips you need to know before attending Chicago's summer music festival

With nine stages and over 170 performers, Lollapalooza is expected to draw roughly 100,000 attendees from across the country for the four-day music festival. Before festival goers flock to Chicago’s Grant Park for this summertime staple, RUSH experts want attendees to be prepared and take proper safety precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19 and other dangers. 

COVID-19 crowd concerns and precautions

Chicago’s COVID-19 risk level is currently high, and the new omicron subvariant, BA.5, is particularly good at dodging your immune system’s defenses. 

“What’s fun about these festivals is that they bring people from all over the country,” says Rush emergency medicine physician Carolyn Clayton, MD. “Attendees need to be mindful and increase their awareness and be a little more cautious than you might be normally at an outdoor park.” 

Festival goers also need to be wary of crowd density and the increased danger that brings. “People will be packed tightly together singing and cheering — these aerosolizing activities carry an increased risk of transmission for COVID-19,” Clayton says. 

To mask or not to mask?

Although it’s not required, Susan Lopez, MD, a hospitalist at Rush University Medical Center says it’s always safer to wear a mask in cramped spaces. “It’s safer, of course, for everyone to be wearing a mask, even just one-way masking — meaning you’re the only one wearing a mask — is going to provide a good level of protection.”

Even if you are vaccinated, you can still get infected. If you have someone in your household who is immunocompromised or unvaccinated for whatever reason, “you really want to be considerate of that and be more mindful to wear a mask – even if you are outside,” Clayton says.

“If you’re not feeling well, even in the face of a negative test, or have any COVID-19 signs or symptoms it’s best to stay home,” Clayton says.

Additionally, a number of after-hours concerts with Lollapalooza performers are held at other venues around the city throughout the weekend. “I would highly recommend masking if you’re at a tightly packed indoor venue,” Clayton says. 

Substance dangers

This will be the second Lollapalooza since marijuana became legal in Illinois. While Clayton does not recommend the use of marijuana, she cautions those who will to be mindful of where they purchase it. “Ideally you’re buying this from a licensed dispensary so you are more confident that what you are purchasing is regulated and pure,” she says. The other issue she warns of is the use of edible marijuana — which often takes a while for the desired effects to kick in. “There’s sometimes a tendency to overtake because you are not feeling the effect you hoped for,” Clayton says. “That can often kick in all at once leading to significant side effects such as hallucinations and agitation.”

Overuse of alcohol and illegal substances is a common occurrence at music festivals. “These festivals are usually an all-day event for over 12 hours,” Clayton says. “Sometimes the alcohol can sneak up on you so it’s really important to stay hydrated and be mindful of how much you are consuming.”

Drug use is common at music festivals — particularly drugs that are thought to enhance the musical experience. According to Clayton, these drugs can be dangerous and should not be used for several reasons:

  • You don’t know what you are consuming and these drugs can often be cut with more harmful, life-threatening drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, ketamine and more. 
  • There can be unintended or unexpected side effects. For example, a common side effect of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, is a disruption to the body’s thermoregulatory system that can cause you to get overheated. Add in a hot summer day, with hours of dancing and little hydration — you can have serious complications including hyperthermia, seizures, liver failure and death. 

Sun safety and hydration

When you’re outdoors for hours on end in the summer heat, sun safety and hydration are crucial. Clayton shares the following tips: 

  • Protect your face and wear a hat 
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
  • Apply sunscreen before you head to the festival. Pack travel-size sunscreen to get you through the day and be sure to reapply often. Learn more sunscreen tips.
  • Remember to stay hydrated and drink water consistently throughout the day. Dehydration can often creep up on you at events like this. 
  • Take dancing breaks and rest in the shade as often as necessary.  

Protect your hearing

Before you even enter the festival grounds, you’ll hear the loud music bumping from Grant Park. At any concert, it’s important to protect your hearing. Consider bringing earplugs.

"I'm amazed at how many people don't wear earplugs," Robin Stoner, AuD, an audiologist at Rush University Medical Center, says. She believes that people attending summer music festivals, or any rock or pop concert, need to be as concerned about hearing damage as they are about sun damage.

"Like the sun's rays," she says, "exposure to loud sound can have a dangerous, irreversible effect over time."

Read more tips to help protect your hearing.

Photo courtesy of Charles Reagan Hackleman.