When I first arrived in Chicago in the summer of 2008, I knew it would be a musical experience unlike any other. I was a second semester student at Berklee soaking music like a sponge. But now, I ended up far exceeding my expectations and living the ultimate rock and roll event. Over the next three days, I watched bands like Radiohead, Battles, Explosions in the Sky, John Butler Trio, Brazilian Girls, Wilco, Gogol Bordello, MGMT, Rage Against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails. I was in Lollapalooza.
Lollapalooza is the world-known music festival that brings the best contemporary bands in genres like alternative, classic and heavy rock, pop, electronic music, reggae, hip hop, and punk. Lollapalooza has especially exposed alternative rock groups like Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, The Strokes, Green Day and Depeche Mode. Thousands of fans come to watch from all around the globe. In addition, dance and comedy performances at Lollapalooza provide a meeting space for non-profit organizations and political groups.
Perry Farrell, the flamboyant front man of Jane’s Addiction, launched Lollapalooza in 1991 inspired by Bill Graham, the iconic concert promoter. Farrell, along with Ted Gardener, Marc Geiger, and Don Muller, originally thought of a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction. Unlike other music festivals which were one-time events held in one venue (such as Woodstock, A Gathering of the Tribes, or the US Festival), Lollapalooza became a touring festival that traveled across the United States and Canada. It was originally meant for a new breed of bands emerging in the West Coast scene and the first stellar cast included, in addition to Jane’s addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Henry Rollins Band, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Fishbone, Violent Femmes, Ice-T’s Body Count and Butthole Surfers. The Lollapalooza name refers to “something outside of its kind or excellent,” and comes from a Three Stooges short .
Another key concept behind the original Lollapalooza was the inclusion of non-musical acts. Performers like the Jim Rose Circus Side Show (an alternative freak show) and the Shaolin monks stretched the boundaries of traditional rock culture. There was a tent for display of art pieces, virtual reality games, and information tables for political and environmental non-profit groups promoting a counter-culture with more political activism.
In 1992, as grunge took over rock, Lollapalooza 2 became huge. The Mainstage lineup was made up of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and, at the last show of the tour, Temple of the Dog–a grunge supergroup featuring Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. That would have been enough to ensure 2’s place in history. But many still say that it was the best Lollapalooza ever because it also featured Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Ministry, Jesus And Mary Chain and Lush.
The explosion of alternative rock in the early 1990s propelled Lollapalooza forward; the 1992 and 1993 festivals leaned heavily on grunge and alternative acts, and usually featured an additional rap artist. Punk rock standbys like mosh pits and crowd surfing became part of the canon of the concerts. Both years saw increases in the participatory nature of the event, with the inclusion of booths for open-microphone readings and oratory, television-smashing pits, and tattooing and piercing parlors. After 1991, the festival included a second stage (and, in 1996, a third stage) for up-and-coming bands or local acts. Grunge band Nirvana was scheduled to headline the festival in 1994, but the band officially pulled out of the festival on April 7, 1994 due to Kurt Cobain’s death. The Smashing Pumpkins used some time from their performances on the tour to let Courtney Love, Cobain’s widow, talk about his death.
In 1996, many fans saw the addition of Metallica as going against the practice of featuring “non-mainstream” artists. Efforts were made to keep the festival relevant–including more eclectic acts such as country superstar Waylon Jennings and a heavier emphasis on electronica groups like The Prodigy. By 1997, however, the Lollapalooza concept had run out of steam and sponsorships. In 1998, failed efforts to find a suitable headliner resulted in the festival’s cancellation. This cancellation reflected, to be sure, the declining popularity of alternative rock.
In 2003 Lollapalooza was brought back when Farrell reunited Jane’s Addiction. Even though bands like Audioslave and Incubus were playing, high-ticket prices kept people away from the festival. The 2004 edition was eventually cancelled for this reason as well.
Farrell then partnered with Capital Sports & Entertainment (now C3 Presents) to produce Lollapalooza. CSE, Farrell and the William Morris Agency—along with Charles Attal Presents—resurrected Lollapalooza as a two-day destination festival in 2005 in Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, with an even greater variety of acts than the touring festival. This version included seventy acts on five stages. The festival was generally successful, attracting over 65,000 attendees, despite a 104-degree heat wave.
Lollapalooza returned to Chicago in 2006, and in October of that year, the Chicago Park District and Capital Sports & Entertainment agreed to a five-year, $5 million deal, keeping Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago until 2011. Lollapalooza ran from August 3-5 in 2007, August 1-3 in 2008, and August 7-9 in 2009. After the successful 2008 festival, another deal was signed to keep Lollapalooza in Chicago through 2018.
Since the rebirth of the festival more than seventy bands have made the trip to Chicago every year. 2006 featured Panic at the Disco, Queens of the Stone Age and Ween. 2007 featured Pearl Jam, Daft Punk and Muse. Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, and Kayne West headlined the festival in 2008. In 2009 the show featured Tool, Depeche Mode, Jane’s Addiction and the Beastie Boys.
Lollapalooza 2010 has a very exciting lineup that in my opinion will bring many new types of fans to the table. Lollapalooza has expanded to pop, reggae, electronic and dance music in addition to alternative rock. This year it will be featuring Soundgarden, Green Day and Lady Gaga as headliners and there will be an amazing followi up lineup including Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Phoenix, Social Distortion, MGMT, Jimmy Cliff, Hot Chip, The Black Keys, The National, Spoon, Devo, Cypress Hill, Erykah Badu, Grizzly Bear, Gogol Bordello, Matt & Kim, Switchfoot and the Latin band Los Amigos Invisibles, among many others (see http://www.lollapalooza.com).
In my personal experience, Lollapalooza really has been an unforgettable adventure and I wish I could return every year. The price of the tickets is fairly reasonable given the amount of talent on display. In addition to this, Chicago is a beautiful city with a very positive energy that should be visited by every music fan. It is a perfect excuse to see an exciting place and experience amazing music.
The three days of the festival went by so fast in 2008 that it was a bit overwhelming. Imagine rocking out from 10AM until 12AM under the blazing sun for much of the time and being surrounded by thousands of people, feeling like the temperature was well over 100. The blasting music keeps your adrenaline going. I must admit that, in the excitement of the overall experience, I did almost faint once, although the spirit of joy was so contagious that it lifted me up almost immediately.
I encourage the reader not to miss out on Lollapalooza. Check the lineup at the website this year, and if you cannot attend, keep it in mind for next. You get to see your favorite bands and discover many new groups you may never have heard of, which gives you more appreciation for other genres. Besides, you also get to have a great time with your friends and meet people from all around the world who join to celebrate the existence of music.
Lollapalooza marked my experience in the USA and at Berklee forever (I come from Argentina). Music has the capacity to moves us, and it really matters at Lollapalooza. Lollapalooza, like music, can make us happy, make us look forward with anticipation to the next day, and, quite literally, get us to travel, like I did to Boston.
By Silvina Moreno
Michael Fox “The History of Lollapalooza”; see http://www.helium.com/items/1515096-history-of-lollapalooza ; no date given (probably 2007).
Grimes, Taylor and Longton, Jeff. “Lollapalooza History Timeline” Billboard. 2007.
Larry Nager, “A history of Lollapalooza”, The Enquirer, July 13th 2003.