FROM CHICAGO Indie rockers and 167,000 fans who love them descended upon Chicago’s sun-baked Grant Park this past weekend to catch Lollapalooza’s 130 bands and performers (Pearl Jam, Daft Punk, and Amy Winehouse among them). Returning for the second year—and running the only swag-and-tattoo concept in town—was the CK IN2U music lounge produced by the New York-based BMF Media Group. The event ran out of the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, offering up an AC-blasted venue for bands and industry V.I.P.s to hang out in between the “Lolla” (that’s band-talk for the festival) shows.
“The bands only get so much time in their trailers before they’re kicked out, so we offered them an indoor retreat away from the sun and the throngs of fans,” said BMF Media talent and branding maestro (no joke, that’s his title) Bruce Starr, who was aided in production by BWR Public Relations vice president Mary Kaye Daniels and senior account executive Joanna Kelsey. “The space is almost like a greenroom, with catering, an open bar, and other amenities you’d be accustomed to on the road. It’s a place for them to recharge, get a haircut and some new underwear.”
Walking through the hotel’s fourth floor—home to the music lounge—felt like an Almost Famous moment. Sweaty rockers in skinny jeans, boatloads of jewelry, and fedoras abounded (the Rapture, My Morning Jacket, Motion City Soundtrack, and many others stopped by), boozing at the bar, chain-smoking on the pillow-bedecked balcony, and jamming on the several Guitar Hero stations set up throughout the lounge. And the sponsors went hand-in-hand with this vibe: PF Flyers gave out a variety of Chuck Taylor-ish sneakers, KY doled out swank mood-enhancing kits, and Red Bull’s logo overtook the DJ booth, which was manned morning through night.
Title sponsor Calvin Klein Fragrances returned this year after experiencing a 25 percent increase in CK One sales following Lollapalooza 2006. “We do not typically participate in gifting suites, [but] we experienced great success last year; we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be part of [it] again,” said CK Fragrances global brand director Ashley Barrett. “The CK IN2U Music Lounge is an interactive experience. It is a hip and fun outlet for us to reach and interact with press and consumers.”
Beyond swag, booze, and (real) tattoos, the music lounge offered bands stopping by another perk: a media outpost for live interviews. On-site outlets included Sirius Satellite Radio, Blender, and International Music Feed. “For us, it’s important that the lounge is a full experience for the artists, so we always build in a media presence,” Starr said. “In this day and age, musicians need the help of radio, Internet, and print to get their name out there.”
A third facet of the weekend—and a new addition this year—was the nighttime Blender Sessions, the music magazine’s backyard performance-esque concerts that take place around festivals and award shows, including Sundance, the X Games, and MTV’s VMAs. Held in the Hard Rock Fender Ballroom from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., each of the three sessions kicked off with performances by well-known DJs, such as DJ Momjeans (a.k.a. Danny Masterson), followed by bands like the Polyphonic Spree, Plain White T’s, and Small Town Talk. “The festival happens all day, and you just want to keep it going,” said Blender marketing director William Gasperoni, adding that the events had garnered 34 million media impressions as of Tuesday. “The performances were a continuation of the fun.”
Gasperoni attended the music lounge in 2006 and saw the opportunity to become a title sponsor this year. “We went last year and thought it was a great crowd and a great vibe—the only thing missing was music credibility,” he said. “It was a good place for Blender to be to lend that credibility, to bring music authenticity. There was only one performance last year, so this year we had the opportunity to get more bands involved and to draw a more music-oriented crowd.” Added Starr, “Last year, we could see where the potential lay in what we were trying to do. This year, we doubled the event's size.”
So is Lolla the next the Coachella? Starr and others involved in the weekend are saying the festival can only get bigger from here—though the Midwest location does require foresight that the celebrity attendees aren’t always known for. “This event is in Chicago, not L.A., not New York. It’s not a drive, it’s a flight,” said Starr.