Lollapalooza 2021: Good Vibes and Music Lovers Kick Off an In-person Festival Season

Walking in - Skyline Lollapalooza 2021An estimated 385,000 attendees descended upon Chicago’s Grant Park for Lollapalooza, July 29 through Aug.1, kicking off a festival season that has thus far proved unlike any other.

The festival instituted a number of precautions to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, from the required proof of vaccination or, alternatively, a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival at the event, to ubiquitous signage detailing proper safety protocols. Event organizers report that an impressive 90 percent of attendees were vaccinated, and, two weeks after the festival concluded, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health declared on Twitter that despite the loud chorus of alarm bells sounding on the Interweb, there was, in fact, no evidence indicating that Lollapalooza was a super-spreader event.

Still, photos of tightly-packed crowds surfaced online while the festival was happening, drawing criticism from media outlets and concerns over the potential of spreading the virus at one of the largest public gatherings we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. But we’re here to tell you that the scene on the ground was quite a different story. It was one of the experiential industry’s first opportunities to engage with consumers in person after a long, painful hiatus, and the crowd was—in a word—elated to be there.

Indeed, the good vibes were palpable, and sponsors took advantage. From Toyota’s graffiti-clad music den to Cupcake Vineyards’ wine lounge to Grubhub’s expansive Refuel Station, a range of brands delivered experiences for the festival crowd that—much to our delight over here at EM—reminded us of pre-pandemic environments. So, let’s take a tour of the best brand experiences on the ground, plus a few that deserve a nod for providing services on the go.

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Lollapalooza 2021_Toyota 1Toyota’s compact footprint, tucked away among the trees near the northeast corner of the map, offered attendees an intimate experience with a roster of select artists performing on a small stage; branded swag; a sideways photo op; and a tour of a Toyota Corolla vehicle.

Festivalgoers approaching the activation were instructed to register online using a QR code and answer a series of questions about their vehicle preferences before queuing up for Toyota-branded swag, including festival bandanas and personalized, graffiti-themed fanny packs, as well as a rainbow cotton candy treat and a photo op.

If the long line was any indication, the swag to snag was the neon fanny pack gifted to attendees after making their way through the photo op and taking a quick tour of the Toyota Corolla on-site. Designed to simulate floating in mid-air, the photo op’s set was a room turned on its side, so to speak, creating the illusion of levitation in the final pic. Then, while festivalgoers sat in the Corolla (masked up if unvaccinated, according to signage), a staffer designed a personalized fanny pack. Color options were semi-transparent neon pink and green. Attendees chose a word in graffiti-style font (no more than eight characters long and no emojis) that was ironed onto the bag. Hat tip to Toyota for creating a fanny pack that fit within Lollapalooza’s new bag policy allowing only small-sized, transparent bags on the festival grounds.

Meanwhile, a separate activity gave attendees the chance to appear in a music video for “Todo o Nada,” a track by Puerto Rican reggaetón star Lunay, featuring a Toyota vehicle—and also your own face superimposed upon a character in the video. Festivalgoers first scanned a QR code and then chose a male or female character, snapped a selfie, filled in details such as their name and email, and then waited for the sharable video to download.



Over at Cupcake Vineyards’ wine lounge, attendees queued up for “Frozies,” a selfie and frozen wine cocktail combination. How it worked: A brand ambassador snapped a pic, which was then sent over to a Ripples machine that imprinted your face on the foamy top of one of two sweet cocktails featuring Cupcake Vineyards’ wine—the Festival Frosé Frozie or the Chi-Town Chiller Frozie, each going for $12 a pop. For those who didn’t want their face on a drink, the brand offered pre-set iconic Lollapalooza art designs as another option.

Moving through the footprint, attendees next encountered several different photo ops and backdrops supporting the pop-up’s message to #ChooseJoy: a bright blue wall featuring a “Summer is Back” tagline and a pink flamingo; two wooden beach chairs resting in a plot of sand in front of a pink neon sign that read “Joyfulosophy;” and a dj in a lifeguard chair (the “Joy Guard”) playing live electronic drums and music tracks.

A second tented bar, with beachballs hanging from the ceiling, offered up Cupcake’s low-calorie, “Light Hearted” wine for purchase. Rounding out the touchpoints were a shuffle board and a machine that sent bubbles in the shape of large smiley faces into the air and soaring over the festival.

Lollapalooza 2021_Cupcake 4



Lollapalooza 2021_Grubhub 2Beyond a sponsored stage and a series of “Chow Town delivered by GrubHub” stands selling a line-up of tasty local food vendors populating Grant Park’s central walkway, the food delivery service activated a large, tented Refuel Station at the south side of the festival with oodles of picnic table seating, myriad charging stations (the kind where you can securely leave your phone unattended), techno beats and a few activities popular with fans of rave culture.

At check-in, a wall listed the 35 vendors at the festival and a map of where they’re located locally. Attendees scored $10 off a future food delivery of more than $12 using the code REFUEL or GHXLOLLA. Or those who were hungry right then could pick up some chow at a discount at the festival itself. To score the coupon, festivalgoers answered trivia questions and read icebreakers on kiosks, such as, “Did you know… Froot Loops are all the same flavor? Also that’s not how you spell fruit.” The brand was promoting its new “Grubhub Guarantee,” which promises on-time delivery from local restaurants, and if not, consumers are rewarded with perks.

As for the activities, attendees could pose for a photo op in front of a wall of adorable stuffed foods—donuts, hot dogs, cannolis and more—or make Kandi friendship bracelets to trade with friends and strangers. For the unfamiliar (ourselves included), Kandi bracelets are a tradition at festivals and raves and are traded freely among partygoers as a symbol of friendship. Made with numbered and colored beads that made us nostalgic for childhood, the bracelets were a massive hit: Wait times were up to two hours when we popped in. Luckily, many don’t keep their appointments so attendees were likely to receive a text in less time. (Agency: MKG)



Tito's 2_Lollapalooza 2021The 21+ area, dubbed the Cocktail Lounge, was primarily occupied by Tito’s “Party in the Shack” and its multiple swag grabs. A Plinko wall awarded attendees sunglasses, fanny packs, Koozies or bandanas, depending on where the chips fell. A “Snag the Swag” claw machine, featuring Tito’s-branded fanny packs stuffed with prizes, was a mega hit. Custom dog tags were another giveaway, which lined up with the brand’s “Vodka for Dog People” mantra and mission to house rescue pets in need.

Another cause marketing component: Attendees could write postcards to out-of-work concerts workers and pin them to a wall featuring the brand’s “Love, Tito’s” tagline. For each postcard written, the brand planned to donate $5 toward a nonprofit that provides the workers with grants to help keep them afloat during trying times. As for the Tito’s shack itself, the interior was lined with a wall of vodka bottles and housed various djs for an all-day dance party, while attendees played Jenga and cornhole in front of it.



Tucked away in the Cocktail Lounge beside the Tito’s activation was an interactive art walk from Jack Daniels featuring works from seven local Chicago artists. Each painting, featuring graffiti, the Chicago skyline, the “L” transit system and other Chicago themes, had a QR code beside it that led to the artists’ social media accounts. And since they could all be classified as micro-influencers (having around 10,000 followers), the visibility legitimately helped boost their followings. We were told that the artists painted the works live on-site on Wednesday and Thursday of that week while a crowd looked on and djs spun tracks. (Agency: Cold Chillen)

P.S. We hear that over in the VIP lounge JD popped up an airstream trailer, but we can’t confirm. #NoInvite.

Lollapalooza 2021_Jack Daniels



You could not miss the Bumble Hive activation if you tried. The bright yellow, hexagonal-themed pop-up, a pared-down version of its Hives found at festivals like SXSW and at one-off events with programming, panels and activities, caught our attention with its entryway sign that read, in neon lights, “We’re Back. Finally.” (Agency: Manifold)

Festivalgoers were asked to download the app as a means to entry, and then lounge with friends, visit its “Hydrated, Never Thirsty” hydration station, chill at a charging table and visit a kiosk for Bumble merch, including Bucket and dad hats with the messaging “Meet me at the main stage” and “The bass is back;” hexagon yellow sunglasses; and hologram visors (while supplies lasted—the visors were in demand). Festival-focused conversation starters decorated the walls—such as “What was your first concert?” and “What artist would you want to go on a double date with?” The final touchpoint, as festivalgoers exited the pop-up, was a photo op featuring the messaging “We’re Back. Finally.” once more.

Lollapalooza 2021_Bumble Photo Op


Small Stages

Bud Light activated its Seltzer Sessions on a smaller stage for more intimate performances from the festival’s roster of big names. It also popped up a Stitch Shop in the area, which customized attendees’ own items or merch for purchase using one of three styles: heatpress, patch or embroidery. Bud Light Seltzer was on hand for purchase as well.

VIP Treatment

The T-Mobile stage saw some of Lollapalooza’s biggest acts come through, with its Club Magenta nearby providing a private bar open to all, photo ops and a raised view from which to enjoy the music. T-Mobile charging stations were scattered throughout the festival grounds, and a separate GIF “Headliner Photo Op” invited attendees to pose amid a sea of microphones hanging from above.

Digital Marketplace

Using the blockchain network Solana, Lollapalooza launched a digital marketplace featuring NFTs of artists performing at the event, like Steve Aoki, Modest Mouse and Band of Horses, among others.


The on-site Rock and Recycle Program encouraged attendees to gather recyclable products in exchange for a commemorative Lollapalooza t-shirt, and volunteers from the Divert It! Composting program educated festivalgoers on reducing food waste. Hydration Stations provided free, filtered water in order to divert plastic bottles from landfills. And the festival committed to using biodiesel for all generators and equipment as well as to fund renewable energy projects with carbon offset purchases.

Livestreaming It

Expanding the festival’s reach beyond Grant Park, the event partnered with Hulu to livestream performances from some of its top artists—including Foo Fighters, Post Malone and Journey—for on-demand subscribers.

This story appeared in the September 2021 issue

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