Lollapalooza has joined the flurry of music festivals set to come back after a year without live music. Slated for the weekend of July 29, the festival will feature more than 170 artists performing over four days. Its already widely circulated lineup poster boasts big-name headliners like Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters, and Tyler, the Creator up at the top in oversized type. And, like those of most music festivals, Lollapalooza’s poster also features 20 lines of tiny text, cramped with dozens of artists whose names can—and will—inevitably get lost in the crowd. The smallest, least legible text is reserved for the last row, which features the names of eight up-and-coming artists hoping to make their mark on the festival. But when your name is in the fine print, your festival experience has got to be a whole lot different from that of big-print Miley Cyrus.
The day that Lollapalooza organizers unveiled the 2021 poster, Slate spoke with three artists featured in that infamously tiny last row of text—lead singer and bassist David Stewart from alternative rock duo Migrant Motel, lead singer Melissa Brooks from “mermaid rock and roll” band the Aquadolls, and Brooklyn-based pop artist Julian Lamadrid—about what it’s like to be a part of Lollapalooza for the first time. Even if you have to squint to see that they’ll be there. (Each of these acts was booked for the 2020 festival, but they didn’t get to play because of the pandemic, which led to the festival’s cancellation.)
Sofia Andrade: Tell me about how you got started in music.
David Stewart: [Migrant Motel] is comprised of myself and Chava Ilizaliturri, who’s the drummer. We’ve been around for a minute. We put out our debut album in 2017. Chava and I met in Boston when we were going to school out there for music. It was one of those things that, you know, I wanted to make a rock ’n’ roll band, and so did he. We both kind of moved to Boston for college with that in mind. And I just remember seeing him wearing a Sum 41 T-shirt in the cafeteria, and I was like, “Oh, well, there’s my guy.”
There’s been a lot of ups and downs. … There has been a lot of really challenging gigs and a lot of really challenging moments. But I think, overall, we’ve always tried to make the music that we wish we could hear ourselves. And with that kind of as our North Star, it feels really, really good to finally be on the poster.
Melissa Brooks: After spending my formative years gushing over Paramore, No Doubt, and Vivian Girls, I decided to start the Aquadolls in 2012. Joined by my best friends, Keilah Nina on bass and Jackie Proctor on drums, we have been aiming to shake up the male-dominated rock scene with loud tunes and fun times!
Julian Lamadrid: I grew up in Dubai with no real form of self-expression and no artistic community, and so, as teenagers do, I was angsty. … Inevitably, I formed the quintessential teenage rock group.
Quite quickly, I realized I have a very particular vision of what is perfect and what sounds like beauty to me, so I realized I should just go solo and give it a go. [In college,] I made a record, and I finished it off in the studio, and I started playing it around to people—and I realized that everybody thought it was actually quite good. … Since that moment, I’ve been working really hard on my second record, on singles, and obviously live shows, and that got us to this point now.
How has COVID impacted the progression of your music career?
Stewart: We were in a kind of an interesting situation because I’m in L.A., and Chava, the drummer, is in Mexico City. We talked all day long, and we kind of had already worked out the kinks to a virtual studio system of sending ideas back-and-forth and not being able to be in the same physical place. … We were like, “OK, everything’s going to shit. This is our opportunity to hone down and get ready and pretend like we’re playing Lollapalooza.” And now we’re actually fucking playing Lollapalooza. It’s very strange.
Brooks: We were on a U.S. headline tour in 2019 coming off of Warped Tour and Austin City Limits. And we were starting our second leg of our tour in 2020 when COVID happened. We had a whole plan of takeover for that year, but because of COVID, we had to social distance for a while and work online. During that time, we started doing a lot of covers and doing TikToks and stuff like that. … [On TikTok,] we posted a 15-second clip of us playing “Take Me Away” from Freaky Friday, and it went kind of viral. [The video currently boasts over 300,000 views and 90,000 likes.]
Lamadrid: I was gonna go to Mexico to play my first show [there], which is my home country where my parents are from and all my family is. I had that lined up and then that summer I was going to play Lollapalooza. I had a couple of singles that I was ready to release. I was meant to just go to Florida and stay with my girlfriend’s stepmom for a week, and I ended up being stuck in Tampa, Florida, for two months. … It was actually this almost transformative experience for me because I was kind of forced by the universe to take a step back and reflect, appreciate, and honestly get better at what I do.
Is this year’s Lollapalooza going to be your first major festival appearance?
Stewart: Yeah, this is the first.
Brooks: This will be our first time at Lolla, but we’ve played Warped [and] Austin City Limits in 2019. And then we also did Ohana Fest, and we will also be doing Ohana Fest this September.
Lamadrid: This is my first major gig. Every gig that I played was in small bars or clubs in New York and in L.A., and it was for intimate crowds. The largest one was about 150 [people]. So to go from there at this early days in my career to playing a festival? It’s going to be really incredible and really exciting to feel that amount of energy.
What are your expectations for playing a smaller stage at a big festival?
Stewart: Honestly, we’re so grateful to be part of it and to have been thrown this bone, so to speak. And I think we have the very realistic expectation that, understandably, we’re probably going to be on at, like, Sunday at 10 a.m. It feels like [the show] is the easy part. The hard part, the really crazy part, is getting up to that. And now that we’re a part of this whole Lollapalooza thing, it’s a part of our history. There’s Latinos being represented on the Lollapalooza stage. I found out this morning that I’m the first ever Peruvian frontman to be at Lollapalooza in Chicago. It’s almost like we could fucking botch the whole show and it wouldn’t even matter. It feels like the accomplishment is already done, and now we have all this time to just enjoy it and have fun.
Brooks: I don’t think we know what stage we’re playing on yet, but since we’re on the bottom of the flyer, I assume we’re [playing] kind of early. So maybe show up a little early for us, and all the other smaller bands too. We all need love.
We’re nervous and excited. We’re rehearsing right now, dusting off all of our instruments, getting back to rock and rolling hard. … It’s crazy, because we haven’t played a real show to actual human people that are not behind a Zoom call or a YouTube Live, and actually being able to interact with human people I think is going to be so awesome, and I cannot wait. It’s going to be great to see all of the bodies sweating together, getting together, and breathing and being alive, safely.
Lamadrid: My expectations are that there’s gonna be a lot of people walking around, and they’re gonna be hearing the music, and my goal is that they’re magnetized by it. Even if it’s, I don’t know, a couple hundred more people that listen to my music and are aware of my name, it’s gonna be a big victory and a big party. … At the end of the day, this is the first of many [festivals for me], and I know that it’s gonna be a great show, regardless of the size of the audience.
When did you first see the Lollapalooza lineup and that your name was featured on it?
Stewart: Chava called me about 400 times while I was sleeping. And then he decided to call my mom, and my mom, who was up, grabbed her phone and woke me up and was like, “You’re on the poster! The poster is out!”
Brooks: I honestly didn’t sleep last night because I was too hyped trying to figure out who was playing on the lineup. … [When I first read it,] I was in bed, and I heard my phone going beep beep beep with all my texts. And I leaned out of my groggy sleep state, off of two hours of sleep at 7 a.m., and tried my best to read the lineup. I see Foo Fighters. I see Miley. I’m like, “Whoa, whoa. Yes. Let’s go.”
Lamadrid: I’ve just been in my apartment today, and my girlfriend actually graduated today, so we’re celebrating graduation, and then all of a sudden I got the text from [my manager] with the lineup, and my name’s on it. So, it was kind of a double celebratory moment.
What was your first reaction to seeing your name on the festival poster?
Stewart: I was really overwhelmed. It felt real with us seeing [the poster]. And the whole time I’m thinking, We’re gonna be the smallest name, we’re going to be on the bottom right. And I just felt an overwhelming underdog spirit. Miley Cyrus must have looked at the poster and went, like, “Fucking dope.” You know what I mean? We’re over here crying and calling each other every five minutes. Eventually, when we’re the top name, we’re also going to look at that in the morning and go, like, “Yeah, cool, dope.” But for now, it’s a huge underdog feeling of that’s exactly where we want to be, that’s exactly where we need to be.
Brooks: I see us at the very bottom, and I’m like, “Yes, I love that for us. Like, that’s perfect.” I’ll take it. I’ll take anything I can get. I’m hyped. I was like, “Oh, my God, I need to announce it now.” I posted on Instagram, and the support from our fans and friends and family has been incredible all day. … To me, the placement on a flyer doesn’t really matter at all. At the end of the day, we’re all at the same festival. We’re all here to perform and have fun. And I just hope that we can get some people to come out early and check out and support underground artists like us.
Lamadrid: This is the first time that I’ve seen my name on a lineup. And it’s lovely, sitting comfortably in the bottom left corner. Which I’m glad about, honestly, because the names can always get lost in the crowd if they’re in the middle. And I think it’s always just gonna be amazing memorabilia to have this poster and to see my name on it as my first festival gig, and it was just today for the first time that it felt like a reality.
What’s next for your career post-Lollapalooza?
Stewart: This falls right in line with what we were hoping our year looked like. We just released a new single a week ago. We’re releasing an official music video for that single next week. And we will release our second album right before the festival.
Brooks: We are hoping to go on tour, either in fall or winter or maybe early next year. Whenever it makes sense and it’s safe to do so. But we’re hoping to just play as much as we possibly can, and Lollapalooza is going to be the best possible way to kick off a year and a half of waiting for this moment. … We can’t wait to play our new music at Lollapalooza and get ready to rock faces off.
Lamadrid: We’d love to play some more gigs. … I’m going to be dropping my second record around August and I’ve been working on a lot of different marketing strategies and new methods to get the music out. … I’ve told my manager that the mission is to start playing shows wherever they will have me, even if it’s 50 people in some dim bar.