Lollapalooza...The Early Days
A personal account of one of the biggest music festivals in the world
Pearl Jam in 1992 at Lollapalooza II in Waterloo Village, NJ. Credit: Amy Rachlin
For some time, I've wanted to write about my experiences, both as a fan and a writer, from various Lollapalooza tours. As luck would have it, I was recently asked by the admin of the Facebook group, The Grunge Legends, Michele Mangiapane Gardner, to do just that.
The Grunge Legends is a large, and passionate group that discusses all things, well...grunge! If my memory is correct, Michele had posted something about one of the early Lollapalooza tours and I responded that I had attended the first four as a fan and then again in 2007 for Festival Preview Magazine, does anyone remember magazines?
This led to the idea for me to share some of my experiences, memories, and takeaways from my time at Lollapalooza I, II, III, IV, (1991-1994), and '07. Thanks, Michele!!!
By the time the first Lollapalooza had arrived at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ, I was an 18-year-old high school graduate getting ready for my first semester of college. What a fitting summer sendoff into "adulthood". A bizarre, traveling music/arts festival the likes of which no one had ever seen before. Some people would refer to Lollapalooza as the "Gen X Woodstock" but that wasn't the case at all. Perhaps what the festival had evolved into many years later, where it's stationary like it was in 2007 when I went as a writer is more reminiscent of Woodstock, but certainly not during the early days.
We take it for granted now, 32 years after the festival's initial assault on youth culture, but back in 1991, people had trouble pronouncing Lollapalooza [ lol-uh-puh-loo-zuh ], let alone understanding what it was. Created by Perry Farrell, lead singer and co-founder of Jane's Addiction, along with their manager, Ted Gardner, Lollapalooza was designed as a farewell tour for Jane's as they were ready to break up and wanted to go out with one last bang.
On a warm summer day, in 1991, some friends and I piled into someone's car (quite possibly mine) and made the 49-mile trek from Brooklyn, New York to a place called Stanhope, New Jersey. Living in Brooklyn, we'd all been to New Jersey dozens of times throughout our young lives but I'm pretty sure none of us had been to or even heard of Stanhope. We didn't care though...we were on our way to this new, exciting, and bizarre festival...Lollapalooza.
This group of friends, some of which I've known since grammar school, others from high school, and are still friends with today, were all fans of Jane's Addiction. That was the main draw for most of us, as well as the fact that nothing like this had ever graced our shores before. We'd all read about Britain's Reading Festival before and our own Woodstock of course, they were our only true points of reference. But those festivals were stationary. The feel and vibe of Lollapalooza seemed to be something different. My guess is that this festival was ours, not our parent's like Woodstock and Reading before.
As we pulled into the massive concert grounds and were directed to park by workers trying to keep some semblance of order as they turned this grassy plain into a makeshift parking lot, I already knew the $28 or so dollars I spent on the ticket (that is not a typo by the way) was going to be the biggest bargain ever.
Kids were everywhere, tailgating to kill time before going into the area where the real festivities would be held. It was a sea of frisbee tossing, hacky sack kicking (depending on your age, I'm positive some of you have no idea what a hacky sack is), long-haired, music fans just waiting to barnstorm the concert grounds and become a part of forever.
Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester. (not from my time at Lollapalooza, but you get the point)
Photo Credit: Stephanie Bruce/ The Tennessean
It's difficult to remember all the details from that fateful day, but it had a lasting impression on me which has only grown stronger in the days, months, years, and decades since. I do recall loving the sets by Rollins Band, Ice-T, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Jane's Addiction. Those were the highlights as I remember, but not a single artist disappointed. I left that place a new person with a new purpose. Seeing this music live, which I was introduced to in 1987/1988 had officially entered my bloodstream and fueled my thoughts, and it's only gotten stronger the older I get.
I still talk and write about the early 90s music scene because it was that impactful. Not just for me or those reading this article, but to the millions of people still listening to (and in many cases, introducing their kids to) and benefitting from it. If you're a part of Generation X, or maybe just an adopter of those times (people born between 1965-1980), you know, and history dictates, that this musical revolution of the early 1990s, was the most significant since the British Invasion of the early to mid-60s. This era of music was and is ours, and Lollapalooza I helped deliver it to us!
By the time 1992's version of Lollapalooza had rolled around, the beautiful chaos and world domination of the alternative and grunge music genre had engulfed the globe. The lineup, as seen on this flyer from Molson Park in Canada, shows that even the event's coordinators, including Perry Farrell, had no idea how huge the scene was going to be. Pearl Jam, listed second on the bill, was one of the biggest bands in the world by this time and should've played much later. The meteoric rise the band and the scene had taken was a surprise to most so when this bill was first conceptualized, placing them second probably made sense.
For the second year of this touring musical monstrosity, a new wrinkle, which still lasts to this day, was added. The side stage, which different bands played on in different cities throughout the tour, was the start of something that helped to truly define what Lollapalooza was. It was a free-for-all of different musical styles and genres with arts and crafts, political, social, charitable, and even sex-related booths and areas to get involved, have discussions, and share information.
Bands such as Tool, Rage Against The Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, House of Pain, Cypress Hill, Temple of the Dog, Porno for Pyros, and the infamous Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, all got their Lollapalooza starts at various side/second stage appearances. This became a staple of the festival which continues today.
Back to year II...with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and headliners, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, this lineup was more in touch with what the decade would be known for than what Lollapalooza I offered, as great as that lineup was. That being said, the highlight for me was Pearl Jam's set. Although some of the other bands were great, what happened with Pearl Jam had as much to do with energy and crowd excitement as it did with the band's performance.
I mentioned earlier that what seemed like a good idea to have them play second on the bill in the middle of the afternoon when the show was originally booked, turned out looking silly by the time the tour kicked off. The band was huge and getting bigger by the day at this point and I'm willing to bet that a large number of concertgoers were there to see them as much, if not more, than anyone else.
Festivals are interesting in that they are all-day affairs and the daylight hours are usually spent eating and drinking on your blanket or walking around the grounds taking in the sights, with whoever's on stage supplying the soundtrack for those activities. On this day though, nothing could have been further from the truth.
After Lush had finished its set, a slow but steady tension began to build. There was nervous anticipation being passed around the 15-20 thousand (this is speculation on my part but I think I'm close to the actual number) people at the festival. Remember, this was the middle of a sun-drenched summer day, not an indoor venue where the lights go down to signal a band is ready to hit the stage. Unless your eyes were watching the roadies clear Lush's equipment and saw that Pearl Jam was ready to go, you had no indication of when they would start until you heard or saw them.
Before I saw anything, I heard two sounds I'll never forget. First was the intro to the song "Even Flow" from the band's debut album, Ten. If you're unfamiliar with the song, (who reading this would be?) it begins with a quick, aggressive guitar slide, immediately followed by the full band blasting into the main hook of the song. Naturally, I turned my attention to the stage. Milliseconds after hearing that however, another sound quickly emerged.
I've never witnessed a real stampede of buffalo but if I had, I imagine it would sound something similar to what I heard that day in Stanhope, NJ. As Pearl Jam played the very first notes of its set, thousands of crazed, and as it turns out, very fast, fans came charging from behind us. I knew instantly that I had two choices...gather my stuff from the blanket and get out of the way, or leave it all behind and join these mad sprinters towards the stage. I chose to run with thousands of my newfound friends.
Admittedly, the rest of their set was a bit of a blur. I was never in one spot for more than a few minutes at a time because in order to stay alive, I had to allow my body to ebb and flow with the crowd and go wherever it took me. I had been to enough shows prior to this one where moshing or crowd-surfing was the order of the day, but this was just different. I had never been in a place with so many people moving all at the same time. It was some sort of demented synchronized dance and it had a vibe all its own.
By the time Lollapalooza III arrived, some cracks in the pavement of this new and exciting traveling musical circus began to surface. It didn't take away from my personal excitement though. I had just turned 20 years old and was still looking to party as long and hard as humanly possible. So I did.
What I mean by "cracks in the pavement" is that as new and refreshing as it was in 1991, just like most great ideas, the corporate mainstream mongrels got too involved and it started to show at Lollapalooza III. Ticket prices were still very affordable, $30-$35 or so. Once inside, however, prices were getting inflated. Water, beer, food, t-shirts, etc., had all increased more than it seemed necessary from just one year earlier. Sponsor signage seemed more prevalent as well, and the vibe suffered because of these changes.
I was there for the music first and foremost and from what I remember, the bands delivered once again. The flyer I posted for this section isn't from Waterloo Village, I couldn't find any, but the lineup was the same. Babes in Toyland, Alice in Chains, and Arrested Development were standouts for me, and I certainly walked away a very happy customer from yet another Lollapalooza summer day.
I don't remember much about the '94 version of Lollapalooza except that it was no longer in Stanhope, NJ but at Downing Stadium in Randall's Island, NY. This flyer isn't from the show I attended and I have no recollection of the Boredoms. I looked online and I didn't see them listed on the bill of the Randall's Island show but we're basically talking about pre-internet/infancy of the "world wide web" as it was often referred to then, so information about the first few years has been proven sketchy at best when it comes to accuracy.
Lollapalooza IV would prove to be the last one I'd attend in its heyday. Fresh off of Kurt Cobain's death, full-on media saturation of the scene, and Madison Aveune's (not to mention the runways of Paris and Milan) piracy of the grunge "look", it had pretty much run its course by 1994. I'm not complaining and I wouldn't trade any of those shows or experiences, as they helped shape my musical path which I still walk on today.
Lollapalooza and I would reunite in Chicago's Grant Park in August 2007. It was an arranged marriage as the publisher of the now-defunct Festival Preview Magazine asked me to cover the event for a series he'd asked me to write.
It was a blast...I wrote about eight blog posts between April and September which amounted to over 20 pages of previews, history, reporting from the festival, and a wrap-up. Maybe I have to compile all of that someday and release it in one form or another. I'm currently finishing up my first book, SLACKER - 1991, Teen Spirit Angst, and the Generation It Created (Inspired By You Books, 2023) so I can't take on a challenge like this Lollapalooza retrospective until the book is finished, but maybe it's something to think about for the future.
I didn't know what to expect from this "new" Lollapalooza setup. I was a grizzled vet by '07 and an original Lolla participant. My experience with the festival was showing up, partying from morning until night with friends, food, beer, and of course, music...then going home. The 2007 version was certainly not going to be like that. I had to be concerned with multiple stages, conflicting times, more bands than I could count, hotels, and oh yeah, the job I had to do while there.
Musically, the weekend was incredible. So many great performances by the likes of The Fratellis, Ghostland Observatory, Viva Voce, Perry Farrell's Satelite Party, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Muse, Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Tapes N Tapes, Stephen Marley, The Roots, The Black Angels, and finally Pearl Jam.
I'm leaving out some others but those mentioned were my personal highlights. Aside from the music, the rest of the festival was...ok. It had none of the feel and excitement from the early days of Lollapalooza and honestly, with so many bands on so many stages, you will absolutely miss some of the bands you were hoping to see. That alone leaves you with more than a tinge of disappointment.
Don't get me wrong, as a writer/correspondent, it was an incredible time. As a person who loves to meet new people and discuss music all day and all night, it couldn't have been better. As a music fan and festival goer, it left me a little empty as I longed for the glory years of the early 1990s...I seem to be doing that a lot these days.
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