“It was unbelievable,” says Perry Farrell of the US Festival, a three-day concert held in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1982, which featured the likes of The Ramones, David Bowie and The Kinks. For Farrell, then a wannabe musician waiting tables in Los Angeles, attending the Steve Wozniak-sponsored festival was a revelatory experience. “I bopped around on LSD and I had this precognitive [idea] that I’d be up there one day and putting shows together, ” he says.
In the late Eighties, Farrell envisioned a roving multicity fair with music, art and alterna-culture (tattoo artists, pro wrestlers) — “like taking a Woodstock on the road,” he says — that would showcase his popular band, Jane’s Addiction, and others like it. And from its debut in 1991, Lollapalooza enjoyed a strong run as the venue for Nineties grunge and alt-rock. That is, until increased competition, industry corporatization and dwindling ticket sales led Farrell to shelve the concept after 1997. Despite several revivals, Lollapalooza didn’t hit its stride again until 2005, when Farrell and his new partners, Austin-based promoters C3 Presents, anchored the festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. Now, he says, “Our business has never been better, and the quality of our festival has never been better.”
That’s not to say Farrell doesn’t have issues with the state of music today. Take the dwindling drug culture, for example. “They’ve clamped down so much that the youth of today, they’re just not as experimental,” he says. “I know that drugs cause a lot of problems for people, but if I look at it as an artist and as a musician, I would tell you that music that does not have a trace of drugs in it, which is the pop music of today, it’s not very good. It’s not very creative.” He maintains that festival fashion, too, has declined: “The kids at the original Lollapaloozas did not look like [they] had just come off the street; you looked like you had been underground. Kids today, it looks like everything is prefabricated for them, even their look.
“I’m a little sad about it,” Farrell muses. “I’m supposed to be the guy who’s getting older and afraid of the youth, and I’m wishing that they would be wilder.”
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