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20 years ago today: Looking back at Lollapalooza '91

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Perry Farrell leads Jane's Addiction in concert during Lollapalooza's first stop in 1991 at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park. (Jon Sall/Sun-Times)


Lollapalooza wasn't supposed to last 20 years. It was a miracle it survived 20 dates. The tour was a death knell, a tick on a bucket list, the proverbial last hurrah. That first tour, Lollapalooza 1991 -- that was meant to nail a particular coffin shut.

"It was the farewell tour for Jane's Addiction," says Perry Farrell, leader of that storied -- and now revived -- alt-rock band and inadvertent founder of Lollapalooza. "Marc [Geiger, his agent] called me up to discuss what we wanted to do, how we wanted to send ourselves off. He said we could do whatever we wanted. Well, my background was putting on shows and parties in L.A. I would never play the straight clubs, I was always finding the weird loft or setting up in front of a hot dog stand or taking people into the desert. I was used to putting on parties that had extra things. And Marc said 'whatever you want.' So I said, 'All right, I'll call you back.' I wanted to really think about it."

Geiger, now head of music at William Morris Endeavor and still booking the new stationary Lollapalooza, recalls the idea for a roving festival being sparked in London.

After a Jane's Addiction club show, Farrell lost his voice, thus forcing the band to cancel its appearance the next day at Britain's Reading Festival, an annual multi-band music event dating back to the 1970s.

"I went on to the festival the next day and had an amazing time," Geiger says, "and we go back to the hotel, where the band is sitting around pretty depressed, and said, 'Man, you should have seen this. This is what we should try to do with the breakup tour.' Perry said, 'Absolutely,' and we sat in the lobby sketching out the format and making lists of bands. ... This being Jane's Addiction, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on. One day a while later, Perry called me at 1 a.m. and said, 'I've got the name!' He'd heard it on a Three Stooges episode."

Fried from drug abuse and exhausted from touring, by 1991 Jane's Addiction was ready to call it a day. Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro were at each other's throats. They finished recording "Ritual de lo Habitual" and were able to agree on one last thing: the tour supporting that album would be their last as a band.

Farrell had no reason to think it would repeat itself.

"I wanted a longer lineup, just because I wanted to have a wilder, bigger party," Farrell says. "If it's a farewell, then let's invite some of our musical friends and peers. Nothing was supposed to come of it, you know. I had no intention of doing it again. I mean, the thing was over and William Morris and Marc and these guys are all really enthusiastic and saying, 'We think we can get the Red Hot Chili Peppers for next year!' -- and I went, 'Wait, what? Next year?'"

Farrell's musical Frankenstein (created also with help from Jane's manager Ted Gardner and booking agent Don Muller) would become the undead monster stomping through popular music and the summer concert scene for years to come. Lollapalooza lived, died, and in 2005 was born again as an annual, stationary "destination festival" in Chicago's Grant Park. This weekend the event is sold out, meaning 90,000 fans a day over three days will hear 130 bands on eight stages.

Humble beginnings

Lollapalooza -- one day and one stage -- debuted July 18, 1991, at a dusty, shade-less amphitheatre in Phoenix. For the next month and a half, the tour's nine performers visited 21 cities, including Aug. 3 at the World Music Theatre (formerly the Tweeter Center, currently the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre) in nearby Tinley Park.

By the end of Lollapalooza that year, Jane's Addiction would be over -- but more popular than ever. The rift in the band, however, was clear from that first show.

"The guys in Jane's Addiction got into a fist fight on stage. It was a hell of a way to debut," recalls Andy Cirzan, vice president of Chicago's Jam Productions. Jam would be producing the inaugural Lollapalooza when it reached the Chicago suburbs, so Cirzan had flown to Phoenix to see how it was going down. "The fight continued off stage. There was some definite roundhousing going on. I don't know if anyone landed a punch, but I specifically saw some punches flying as they left the stage."

"Yeah, well, that's why we were leaving," Farrell admits.

The rest of the Lolla lineup that first year: Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice T & Body Count, the Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, the Violent Femmes and Fishbone. (See where the Lolla class of '91 is now.)

Emergency Broadcast Network, a group of video artists, bewildered fans at some of the shows by projecting soundtracked films between sets (basically the kind of electronica videos now all over YouTube). In San Francisco, an all-black heavy metal band, Othello's Revenge, played 1991's only side stage.

(That same Aug. 3, 1991, weekend in Chicago also offered Bonnie Raitt with Chris Isaak at Poplar Creek, the O'Jays at the Arie Crown Theatre, Kelly Willis at Schubas, Dizzy Gillespie at Ravinia, and the South Shore Jazz Festival featuring the Count Basie Orchestra at the South Shore Cultural Center.)

The idea of a multi-band festival wasn't that unusual in 1991. One that moved around the country was.

"The festival scene had been in Europe for a long time, and lot of this was modeled on that idea. But those were all destination festivals. To take this thing a put it on the road, that was unheard of," Cirzan says. "You're not talking about two or three bands and their equipment. Now you're talking about eight or nine bands, stages, vending, kiosks, and moving it all across America."

The more Farrell thought about what he wanted to do, brainstorming after that initial "whatever you want" phone call, the more he wanted to do.

"I was thinking in terms of what else would happen on the grounds. I really wanted an art gallery," Farrell says. "That's the first extracurricular, front-of-house idea I had, to have a traveling art gallery. From there, I started thinking, well, that covers the ground, but what about the sky? So I wanted hot-air balloons. I kept on going. I didn't get resistance on anything except the hot-air balloons. We managed to do it one year, but a balloon only holds two to four people at a time. It wasn't cost effective."

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Siouxsie Sioux leads the Banshees through their Lollpalooza performance in 1991 at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park. (Jon Sall/Sun-Times)


Even the first Lollapalooza provided plenty of extra, non-musical distraction to fill the long hours in the summer sun. In addition to shops full of trinkets and food vendors, numerous organizations were spreading their gospels. Greenpeace had a heavy presence, and informational kiosks abounded for groups such as Rock the Vote, the League of Women Voters, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Abortion Rights Action League, Handgun Control Inc. and the Citizenship Education Fund. The Amok Bookstore sold banned books.

Jeffrey Othello, namesake leader of Othello's Revenge, christened Lollapalooza's first side stage. After working his way through college in concert security for legendary Bay Area promoter Bill Graham, Othello's first band was booked at Graham's 1990 festival, A Gathering of the Tribes. A precursor to Lollapalooza, this two-day event -- a mini-tour organized by the Cult's Ian Astbury, with the first day outside San Francisco and the second outside Los Angeles -- featured a diverse bill that included Soundgarden, the Indigo Girls, Ice T, Queen Latifah, Iggy Pop, Joan Baez and more.

"Our music got resistance from the booking agency for that festival, but you don't say no to Bill Graham," Othello recalls. "He liked our music, so he built a second stage especially for us on this grassy area at stage left. ... We were a big enough hit that we got the call to try the same thing at Lollapalooza that first year."

Lollapalooza '92 included a full-time side stage on all the dates, as well as the addition of the briefly notorious Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.

Diverse but not everything

The first Lollapalooza lineup and several subsequent ones were diverse, which is not necessarily the same as today's smorgasbord, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. In 1991, the industry still filed many of these bands under "college rock."

"The other reason I wanted so many bands to come with us is I felt there was strength in numbers," Farrell says. "This is before the title 'alternative rock.' There was no name for it. It was just this underground phenomenon now getting a presence on radio and showing good numbers on the live circuit. I figured if I just brought my friends and my record collection out there with me, together it would be very powerful."

The booking philosophy of the first Lollapalooza was considerably looser than subsequent tours.

"It was us in a hotel room with the manager and the band, and everybody could pick one band," Geiger says. "It was the non-scientific, choose-your-kickball-team approach. Dave wanted Siouxsie, because he's a Goth. Perky [Jane's drummer Stephen Perkins] loved Rollins. Perry wanted Ice-T. Eric [Avery, former Jane's bassist] wanted the Butthole Surfers. I wanted Nine Inch Nails and the Pixies. I got one. Living Colour was no one's choice; they were exploding at the time, and we thought they made sense."

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Living Colour performs at Lollpalooza in 1991 at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park. (Jon Sall/Sun-Times)


"It was all hair metal at that time," Farrell says. "We were fighting against that. We were not pop, and rock had become pop. I don't want to pick on people like Styx and Journey, but you understand they would say they're rock bands. To me, they're pop groups. We didn't want to be that."

Farrell and Gieger also say they wanted those early Lollapaloozas to stay manageable. That '91 show seemed like such a big deal -- with nine bands. This weekend's hootenanny in Grant Park showcases 130.

"I have to say, that's what was nice -- and, I think, most effective -- about those early tours. It wasn't about a million bands. It was a marquee slot, and everyone lobbied to be on it. It was a strategy about breaking your band nationwide," Cirzan says. "Today, it's, what, 150 bands? The average consumer -- I mean, how could you even digest more than, say, 20 bands in a day? It doesn't seem that helpful to bands, just the promoters."

"The cool part came later," says Debbie Cohen, an English teacher at Glenbrook South High School. She attended Lollapalooza '91 at the World. "After seeing the bands you'd never heard of and then, after they became huge, you were able to say, 'Wow, I saw that show!' ... It was a whole day of music, and that seemed very cool, but it wasn't so much that it was too much, like today. Plus, at 15 years old, Tinley Park seemed very far away and exotic."

Cohen tagged along with her older brother, who was there "because Jane's Addiction was his favorite band in the whole world." They had tickets on the lawn; she remembers the day being slightly rainy. For Jane's Addiction, they managed to squeeze against the barrier between the lawn and the pavilion, and Cohen was hoisted onto "the shoulders of this 6-foot-4 dreadlocked boy named Todd, so I had the best seat in the house."

Her current students were astonished to learn Lollapalooza had a history.

"They were so excited this year, and I'd never heard of most of the bands. I said, 'You know, I was at the first one.' They looked at me like I was an alien," Cohen says. "I named some of the bands. 'Who's that?!' they said. ... They were totally flabbergasted."

Stephanie Katsaros, a Chicago sustainability consultant now who was 16 at Lollapalooza '91 at the World, got her view by standing on the pavilion armrests, "headbanging and fist-pumping to 'Head Like a Hole' during NIN."

Her experience at the first Lollapalooza was so satisfying and eye-opening, Katsaros says she's been to every one except 2008. The music was great, she says, but the crowd was amazing.

"The scope of the people -- it was almost like the high school cafeteria, with punks on one side and preps on the other, had been mixed up," she says. "This mélange of people and ideas. It was the first time I'd seen that kind of movement. ... It started in the parking lot. People had cooler and food and drinks at their cars, just hanging out. It was definitely not a Grateful Dead parking lot scene. I remember black T-shirts and piercings and Mohawks. All these people kind of finding each other. ... We didn't know there was an us!"

Chicagopalooza

Within a few years, the organizers of Lollapalooza began to realize that the scene was as important, if not moreso, than the music. They thought they'd try an experiment -- in Chicago.

"They called us up in '95 and said, 'We want you ready to go on sale next week,'" Cirzan says. "I said, 'Well, you've got to tell me who's on the show.' They said, 'Ah, we're not going to announce the artists yet. We just want to see what we've got, and you're the test market.' I'll be damned if we didn't sell out 28,000 tickets with no lineup."

This is now the routine: Lollapalooza passes go on sale, and often sell out, sometimes weeks before a single artist is announced. That this now occurs in Chicago is because of that 1995 venture.

"When I thought about where we would put this as a destination festival, I never forgot that," Farrell says. "Chicago and I have had a love affair for a long time."

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Trent Reznor performs with Nine Inch Nails at Lollpalooza in 1991 at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park. (Jon Sall/Sun-Times)


That same year, '95, Geiger told the Sun-Times, in response to a question about the festival's scaling back of shows that year: "I think in 2010, people are going to look back and see that we did what we had to in 1995 to ensure that Lollapalooza would still be around. ... It would be nice to be involved with something that lasts that long, given that the trends of the business go so fast."

Just as Lollapalooza came back from the dead, Jane's Addiction also lived, died, lived again and died again, but has reunited once more and is back this week with the first single -- perhaps aptly titled "Irresistible Force" -- from a new album, "The Great Escape," their first in eight years due in late September.

Oddly, given the perfect timing, Jane's Addiction is not performing at this year's Lollapalooza. As I speak with Perry, he's packing for another gig early this week -- in Australia.

"We're going down to do one show at Splendour in the Grass. It's a destination festival!" he says. "We played Lollapalooza there a few years ago. We've got a great lineup this year, they don't need us. Maybe next year. I mean, it looks like this will go on forever, right?"

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on July 31, 2011 4:00 AM.

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