Every year around this time, the good folks behind Chicago's Lollapalooza finally unveil the daily schedule for the three-day festival by the lake. It's an occasion both exhilarating and heart-rending for ticket holders looking forward to 72 hours of musical nirvana in the shadow of the big city. Exhilarating because they can finally figure out where to be when, and heartbreaking because, inevitably, they'll realize there's no way to be in two places at once to catch their favorite acts facing off at opposite ends of the more than mile-long festival grounds.
And so, we offer you this year's allotment of musical "Sophie's Choices," which, to be honest, are not as fraught as past years (when, for instance, you had to choose between dueling headliners such as Tool and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Kanye West versus Nine Inch Nails).
Day one, August 6, starts out pretty chill, with a few minor nailbiters — the subdued rock of the Walkmen or the acid jazz/funk of Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisible? — as well as tough calls, including one pitting gospel great Mavis Staples against modern R&B master Raphael Saadiq. Some picks are easy, though, such as the British shoegaze sludge of the Big Pink versus the swampy rock of the Drive-By Truckers, or the New Pornographers' twisty indie pop against revived new wave veterans Devo (my picks are Big Pink and Devo), but as the night goes on, you will have to hustle.
You might be able to catch a couple minutes each of the simultaneous sets from F---k Buttons, Matt & Kim and the Dirty Projectors, but you'll have to make a choice between the Black Keys' funky blues or Hot Chip's techno stomp, because they're at opposite ends of the park. If you play it right, you can catch some of Jamie Lidell's British soul, then slide over to see a few minutes of Chromeo's vocoder dance jams and the tail end of Jimmy Cliff's classic reggae vibes.
And then it's decision time: Do you go all in for the Lady Gaga eyeball searing dance pop experience? Or opt for the more subdued comeback set from the Strokes at the other end of the concourse?
The second day (August 7) also has an early tough call between Rogue Wave's dark indie vibe or Harlem's falsetto garage rock rave up. Things mellow for a while, with plenty of time to hear a bit of the gauzy sounds of the XX, taste some of Gogol Bordello's gypsy rock and then take a breather during Grizzly Bear's head-tripping late afternoon set.
Then it gets a bit crowded, as tour founder Perry Farrell debuts his latest dance sensation sound, PerryEtty vs. Chris Cox, at the expanded, triptastic Perry's rave area (which you must visit at some point in the weekend, trust me), around the same times as punk icons Social Distortion play the main stage and just a half hour later, cerebral indie pop faves Spoon crank up at the other end.
As night falls, you can catch a full 45 minutes of Green Day's two-plus hour set before deciding to bail to see some French techno from Phoenix (though I doubt too many people will).
The final day, dawns strong with a nooner from trippy Los Angeles noise rockers HEALTH and then a long stretch of time when you might want to check out Nigerian singer-songwriter Nneka, literate rock band the Ike Reilly Assassination, pastoral folkers Blitzen Trapper, British buzz band Mumford & Sons or quirk rockers Freelance Whales. The only problem? They all basically play around the same time. Oh, as do England's punk popsters the Cribs, who totally rock.
By 4 p.m., it's a given you’ll go check out Yeasayer's downtown dance sounds, then maybe wander over an hour later for some sweet boho soul from Erykah Badu. But you might also want to check out Scottish indie folkers Frightened Rabbit, who are up against Ms. Badu and whose new album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, has gotten rave reviews for its anthemic sound. Around that time things get a bit squirrelly, as cosmic trippers MGMT stumble on at the same hour as Australia's hard-charging Wolfmother, who crushed it the last time they played Lolla.
If you're not totally spent, I'd recommend catching however much you can of Australian soul revivalists the Temper Trap and then wandering through the haze of Cypress Hills' set on the way to see moody masters the National.
And then you're almost home free, because, really, how hard is it to decide if you want to get your head smashed by reunited grunge icons Soundgarden or if you'd rather get righteously rocked by the more cerebral Arcade Fire?
See? That was easy. Now you just need to get a good pair of shoes, a proper hat and some day-glo hula hoops to twirl in at Perry's.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Lollapalooza?