Originally planned as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza went on to become one of the world’s biggest festivals. In the early Nineties, it was a literal traveling circus that paired the rising stars of alt-rock – including Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers – with the grotesque stunts of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. In 2005, it transitioned to its current status as a one-off annual fest in Chicago, with spinoffs following in South America and Europe. This weekend, Arcade Fire, Chance the Rapper and Lorde are among the marquee names at the 2017 U.S. installment. Fest mastermind Perry Farrell looks back on some of his favorite memories from Lollapalooza’s illustrious history.
Nine Inch Nails weren’t yet famous when they traveled the country on the first Lolla (which included Jane’s Addiction, Butthole Surfers, Living Colour and Ice-T), but they already knew how to stand out. “They were the only group that was messing with electronica to that degree,” says Farrell. “One time, all of Trent’s electronic gear went down. He was left with nothing more than a guitar and voice, so he destroyed everything on the stage and got off.”
Pearl Jam had no problem bringing the energy of their raucous club shows to huge stages when they joined Lollapalooza as Ten was blowing up. “I remember Eddie [Vedder] did a second-story dive off the speaker stacks into the crowd,” says Farrell. “I thought, ‘For sure this guy broke something.’ It gets harder and harder to impress a panel of experts, but Pearl Jam had that ‘It’ factor the minute they took the stage.”
By this point, Lollapalooza was the biggest party of the summer, with an incredibly diverse lineup that included Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, back when the Funkadelic king did more drugs than artists half his age. “I remember partying really hard with members of his crew in Miami,” says Farrell. “I don’t know if I can talk much about that. It took me, like, days to recover.”
Lollapalooza transitioned into a yearly festival in 2005, regularly drawing 100,000 people to Chicago’s Grant Park over a weekend. In 2007, an unknown performer named Lady Gaga played the tiny BMI stage in the afternoon. When she came back to headline three years later, she added a tiny surprise set for stunned fans. “She was wearing this see-through body stocking, and she started diving into the crowd,” says Farrell. “They started ripping at her body stocking, ripping at her hair, her ears, but she loved it. Every once in a while I’ll look at the YouTube video. Not many things can make me laugh for a good hour.”
Nirvana were supposed to headline the 1994 edition of Lollapalooza, but they canceled soon before Kurt Cobain’s death. It would take 17 years before Dave Grohl finally got to play Lolla, even if it came during a downpour that turned Grant Park into a mud bath. “I went out to give him a big hug and almost fell on my ass in front of 100,000 people,” says Farrell. “I really felt that it had gone full circle, and finally we were all together.”
When Lolla finally hit Europe, it took over a shuttered airport near Berlin once used by Nazis. Headliners Muse played an epic prog set, jamming out to Hendrix and Rage Against the Machine riffs, and their own Drones LP. Promoters hired circus acts, some dressed as gorillas, to mingle with the crowd. “It was fucking hilarious,” says Farrell. The fest had to be moved the next year when the airport became a camp for Syrian refugees.