By Crescent Seward
Lollapolooza just wrapped an epic 2017 but it was not so epic in the beginning in 1991. Tens of thousands flocked to Chicago’s Grant Park last night as Arcade Fire and Justice closed out the event on the Grant Park and Bud Light stages. Known as the launch pad for alternative rock bands like Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails (the first electronic assault!) to bond together with Ice-T without the risk of getting shot, the festival has always been about the music.
Here are five things you probably didn’t know about this famed festival:
- Origin. Lollapalooza is the brainchild of Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Ferrell and the band’s agent Marc Geiger. Inspired by the Reading and Leeds festivals in England, it was actually designed as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction. In an interview, Ferrell talked about the early stages of planning: “Listen, it’s going to be our last tour. Let’s go out, we’ll have six opening acts and we’ll get a bunch of art and we’ll get political booths—we’ll have the NRA set up next to PETA; we’ll get army and navy recruiters; and we’ll get crazy huge burritos and enormous drinks.” It was by no means mainstream at the time.
- The name. ‘Lollapalooza’ reportedly came from a Three Stooges episode Ferrell watched. When C3 Presents partnered with the organizers in 2005, they wanted to change the name to Chicago City Limits. Ferrell broke down: “You can’t do that to me. My heart’s going to die. You got the property because you said it was Lollapalooza.” It remained Lollapalooza.
- First on stage. Henry Rollins’ band was the very first performer on stage. Rollins remembers: “On the first day, the amps that powered the PA were threatening to overheat. There were dry-ice blocks being fanned into them. We were the first notes struck at Lollapalooza.” Rollins was a game-changer just as Lollapalooza was.
- K bye. Lollapalooza had a five year break, and much like its co-founder Ferrell, it almost didn’t make it. When Metallica was added to the lineup in 1996, Ferrell quit to work on other projects because he felt Metallica was in opposition of his vision for the festival. Ticket sales got dismal in the following years, Ferrell came back, the tour couldn’t sign suitable headliners (some years the entire thing was even cancelled!) … until 2005 when Lollapalooza stopped touring and became a multi-day festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. It’s been on the upswing ever since.
- The first Coachella. Geiger and Ferrell created a platform to embrace a wide variety of music and for festival-goers to discover new sounds. “We were really the first festival—before Coachella—to emphasize DJs and dance music,” said Geiger. Ferrel agrees: “I just need music to have heart and not be afraid. Be authentic and the young people will love you and hold you up.”
I grew up listening to grunge music and remember Lollapalooza as a hot ticket when it was a touring festival landing in Seattle. What I love about the whole thing is the drive to continue to explore new music. Rollins said it best:
“Lollapalooza was a game changer. It affected MTV, FM radio, labels and what they signed. Most importantly, it gave young people a way to experience their peers with music as the attractor. These are people who now decide with their votes who the next president will be. This is not small stuff. A lot of people go through their lives without events that socialize and culturalize them, and I think they are not well served by that. Lollapalooza gave young people a chance to have a great understanding of the live-music experience and how it could be so much more than just seeing some bands. On that level, Lollapalooza was and is profound.” Amen.
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