Taking The Show Off The Road: The History of Lollapalooza

31 July 2018

The year is 1991; mainstream music is experiencing an identity crisis. Rock and roll has been in the shadow of hair-metal and glam rock for over a decade. Perry Farrell, whose band Jane’s Addiction was born out of the same music scene that elevated bands like Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue, 80’s Los Angeles, wants to distance his band from the mainstream.

Farrell, the founder of Lollapalooza, inspired by European music festivals, especially Britain’s Reading festival, wanted to bring that experience to North America. The difference he saw between routine concerts and festivals was integrity within the music, a notion well articulated in Simon Reynolds thoughtful article in The New York Times titled, “A Woodstock for the Lost Generation.”

The line-ups for the original traveling music festival were an indication that Lollapalooza’s earliest fans were interested in many music genres. Bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees shared the stage with Rap Artist Ice-T, for example, and in the festival’s second year, it introduced an additional stage that became the hub for indie bands and side-shows like the Jim Rose Circus.

Today, Lollapalooza is a cultural behemoth offering attendees four days of music from over 100 bands that seeps into Chicago’s neighborhoods with after-shows at various venues. Despite expanding to international locations, the festival has enshrined itself as part of Chicago’s cultural identity, with over 400,000 people attending the festival’s 25th anniversary edition in 2016.

But the festival has had a turbulent history, going on a five year hiatus after 1997 and returning as a traveling show in 2003 (the festival was cancelled in 2004 due to low ticket sales.) 2005 was the pilot year for Lollapalooza’s new strategy, corporate sponsorship. To call it the strategic shift a success is an understatement, as the festival enters its 14th year in Chicago.

As Lollapalooza matures, it brings attractions for people of all ages and interests, including Kidzapalooza, a stage curated specifically for the youngest audience at the fest that serves as a reminder that the music junkie in all of us has good reason to find their way to Grant Park — 1000M’s front yard — to enjoy Chicago’s spectacular summer.