Geiger: “We didn’t see it as competitive. All those festivals were about ignored forms of music that were very legitimate and those fans deserved the same value as Lollapalooza. I’d love to say Lollapalooza changed everything, but it was the other way around. The times were already changing. The Cure kicked the door (in the ‘80s), it didn’t give. With Nirvana and Jane’s and a bunch of credible bands that immediately followed them, the door came down.”
1994 Tribune: “At its slimiest, Lollapalooza is the selling of “ ‘cool’ “ to legions of MTV-bred youth. But this edition will also be remembered for other reasons. It was possible to jump from Palace Songs’ spooky Neil Young and Gram Parsons reductions to the overcaffeinated punk-jazz of the Boredoms, then catch up with Guided By Voices’ secret history of rock, before braving L7’s hit-and-run ferocity — and that was just the first 90 minutes.”
1995 Tribune: "'I have a relationship with this town that’s just sadomasochistic,' said Courtney Love. If youth culture had a single voice, it might say the same thing about Lollapalooza, the traveling music festival that exploits, panders to and occasionally challenges its audience, all in the name of a good time. For its fifth incarnation over the weekend, Lollapalooza dimmed the star power and upped the artistic ante, with a handful of knockout performances on the main stage by Sinead O’Connor, Sonic Youth and Love’s band, Hole.”
1996-97, 2003: Time for a rethink
Farrell dropped out for a year, and the festival lost its way.
1996 Tribune: “With founder Perry Farrell out of the picture, the Lollapalooza brain trust has sold out in a big way. The alternative mask is off and the goal has become to get the biggest acts available to bring in as many people as possible. This year, Lollapalooza hauled in a whopper: Metallica, one of the heaviest mainstream acts of the ‘90s. For the first time in Lollapalooza’s short history, there was no hip-hop act on the main stage, and a distressing shortage of female, African-American and other minority performers.”
1997 Tribune: “Once designed as a gathering of tribes from different corners of the rock and rap spectrum, Lollapalooza has lately become a showcase for best-selling acts to promote product. This year, the festival tried in vain to return to its original spirit, a melting pot including reggae (the Marley clan), hip-hop (Snoop Dogg), art-metal (Tool) and the uncategorized (Tricky).”
2003 Tribune: “Playing to a half-empty house on a gorgeous summer day, Lollapalooza ‘03 opened the question of whether the ‘90s rock festival boom had run its course. Farrell’s vision spawned numerous imitators: Ozzfest, H.O.R.D.E., Smokin’ Grooves, Lilith Fair, Area 1 and 2, Warped. Now many are either extinct or running on fumes, part of a general downturn of the concert economy.”
Geiger: “The model broke. We started by fishing from a group of highly credible artists, and that pond got restocked with imitators. We began drawing from fourth-, fifth-, sixth-generation artists. We thought better to kill it than drive it into the ground and pollute it. Alternative music in the U.K. and here had ended its cycle, which was roughly ‘76 to ’96.”
2005-11: A different Lolla lands in Grant Park
After Farrell and William Morris struck a deal with the Texas promotion company that would become C3 Presents, the revived festival started off as a two-day event in Grant Park. It drew about 65,000 people in its first year, and has grown ever since. Now it’s a three-day affair covering 115 acres (instead of the initial 80) in Grant Park, and will draw 90,000 people a day. It will deliver $1.2 million to Chicago parks, and a study by a Texas consulting firm estimates that the festival will inject about $85 million into the local economy.
Geiger: “Consumers wanted a better experience than going to an amphitheater and being confined to a seat for 12 hours. You had European festivals and Coachella (in California) that presented a better experience for the consumer, a weekend experience with 120 artists. What makes Lollapalooza different from every other festival-concert you’ll see? It was easy to differentiate in the ‘90s because Lollapalooza was in its lane, serving a particular audience with a particular type of music. Now the walls are down, it’s liberating. Now maybe exposure and eclecticism are the key points. It’s a consumer-fan model that has become part of the fabric of growing up and experiencing music. It’s like college, it’s not about differentiating anymore.”
But there is no question the festival’s character has changed, with more mainstream bookings and a greater emphasis on DJs and electronic music (this year’s DJ stage will command a space accommodating up to 15,000 fans).
Farrell: “Everyone was so excited about rock ‘n’ roll and running out to see new bands in LA when I was coming up. Today people are excited about the DJ-producer. The industry took a hit and it’s not weaning rock bands anymore. It used to give a new group a five-year window, there was tour support, they would sign them for five to seven records. Now if you don’t have a hit on your first record, they’re on to the next one. You look at our headliners, they’re going back further and further in time. There was a day when the Smashing Pumpkins would make a new record and they’d be headlining. We don’t have that luxury anymore. They’re not making rock bands like they used to.”
Geiger: “We did something that we thought could work, and it served its original purpose. Now it’s like we’re running version 2.0 of the software. To revisit the 1990s model at this point would be pointless.”