With new music festivals popping up every year, it’s hard to remember a time when large-scale music gatherings were more of a rarity. But that was the case in 1991, when Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell and his team launched Lollapalooza. By recognizing a bubbling, alternative-rock movement and pinpointing a severe festival void in the American concert market, the musician instigated a true cultural moment. And with Lollapalooza’s impact in the years to come, even Farrell couldn’t have predicted the enormous level of its influence.
In so many ways, Lollapalooza laid the groundwork for the Coachellas and Bonnaroos that would soon follow suit. But how exactly did Lollapalooza change the festival and music world at large? From creating a unified community of music fans to being early adopters of EDM, here are fives ways Lollapalooza made its mark.
Lolla created a tight-knit music community that extended to large-scale commercial gatherings
Subsections of the music scene had existed for years—from the punks to the headbangers to the budding hip-hop heads—but with Lollapalooza, Perry Farrell united his own creed: alternative rockers, a group that at the time was largely considered an underground collection of musicians. Farrell gave them a platform to play directly to their fans, and eventually, he also showed them how to generate massive profits.
“We realized the importance of Lollapalooza from a timing standpoint,” says fest co-founder Marc Geiger. “It was more than just an exciting show and potential experience; it was a beacon and a symbol for the changing musical culture. After we saw the excitement from the musical community and the camaraderie from these kinds of bands playing together, we thought we had something that was later coined ‘Lollapalooza Nation.’”
As bands like Green Day, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers grew in popularity with each passing year, Lolla provided them a captive and highly dedicated audience of fans who felt part of something larger than themselves. For the alternative bands that followed a take-no-prisoners model like Farrell did with Jane’s Addiction, the members had the “faith and confidence to be genuine, original and authentic,” Farrell says. “They didn’t have to follow the prescription that the record company had.”
Lolla proved music festivals could spark social conversation (without ramming it down fans’ throats)
Musicians have long played a crucial role in sparking social debate, but all too often the message was one-sided with little room for provocative discourse. (Remember 1985’s “We Are the World” and Live Aid?) From the outset, Lollapalooza—or more specifically, Farrell—insisted on providing a platform for meaningful social and political discussion that, most importantly, showcased varying viewpoints.
“Perry said ‘We’ll have the NRA set up next to PETA, we’ll get Army and Navy recruiters,’” Lolla tour director Stuart Ross recalls of Farrell’s initial vision for the festival.
Lollapalooza was also one of the pioneers in the Rock the Vote movement. “I want there to be a sense of confrontation. But I’m not declaring myself left wing or right wing, I’m actually bringing both sides into it,” Farrell said of his vision for the fest in 1991. “It would be way too easy for me to take everything that’s obviously politically correct and have this hip, left-wing event. But I don’t want to make out I have the answers. All I want to do is pose the questions.”
Lolla introduced the ‘Second Stage’
Large-scale festivals had long thrived in Europe, but in the U.S., Lollapalooza was one of the first to successfully draw large numbers of bands and fans alike. As the festival expanded, it became increasingly necessary to find a way to showcase as much musical talent as possible. This led to Lolla organizers introducing a second stage for up-and-coming talent. As Ross recalls, beginning in 1993, festival organizer John Rubeli recruited the hottest new bands “and the coolest of the very deep underground alternative” scene and put them on the second stage.
“John put the word out if you wanted to play the second stage at Lollapalooza send in a tape,” Ross says. “I used to walk in his office, and it would literally be three-feet deep with cassette tapes. It was unbelievable. And he listened to every one of them! Now every festival has four or five stages. Coachella has like seven. It all started with John Rubeli having a second stage at Lollapalooza.”
Lolla helped pioneer the American EDM explosion
In hindsight, it’s easy to believe Las Vegas was early to the North American electronic dance music explosion, but Perry and Lollapalooza were introducing dance music to massive audiences years earlier. Farrell got into dance music starting in 1996; he’d attend makeshift raves on the regular and even put on his own Enit festival in San Francisco.
“We had actually debated doing one day of regular Lolla and one day of Enit as a transition step,” Geiger recalls. “It was very much where Perry wanted [the fest] to head.”
When re-launching Lolla in 2005, fest organizers made dance music an “anchor tenant” of the festival, according to Geiger. “We were really the first festival to emphasize DJ’s and dance music,” he adds of the dance-music stage they named ‘Perry’s.’ “We didn’t know it was going to play up that big when we created Perry’s but we definitely were into it for a long time before. And then as it really started to look like it was coming to Papa and getting big, we were really well positioned.”
Lolla invited pop music (and even country) to the party
In its first run, Lollapalooza was largely a means by which fans of alternative—and later indie music—could come together with a common purpose. But with the revamping the festival after finding a permanent home in Chicago in 2005, Lolla made a concerted effort to diversify its lineup and even book pop acts for what was long viewed as a rock-minded affair. “It means better crowds,” Farrell says.
“The finite parameters on what people wanted to define Lollapalooza as—what bands were ‘Lolla bands’ and which ones were not— we thought was really stupid and narrow,” Geiger says in response to booking pop acts like Lady Gaga, Lorde and Sam Smith and country acts like Eric Church and Sturgill Simpson in recent years. “The community reflected that good music wasn’t trapped in one definable alt-genre. And so Chicago became a much broader palette for more artists of more types.”
The 25th edition of Lollapalooza will stream live on Red Bull TV, July 28-31.