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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

What the Nation Needs Now Is ... Lollapalooza?

November 25, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

In 1991, the U.S. was engaged in military action in an Islamic nation, the economy was shaky and the pop music world was dominated by teen pop on one side and silly hair-metal on the other.

In 2001, the U.S. is engaged in military action in an Islamic nation, the economy is shaky and the pop music world is dominated by teen pop on one side and silly rap-metal on the other.

1991 proved to be the perfect time for the launching of Lollapalooza, a rock festival designed to expose large audiences to urgent music that was new or had flown under the radar of the mass-marketing machinery.

Its first edition brought Nine Inch Nails its large-scale break. The second year featured Pearl Jam, a little-known act at the start of the tour but an exploding phenomenon by the end. Over the years, the tour featured acts ranging from Beck to Ice Cube to Metallica.

But five years ago, Lollapalooza was put on the shelf because of skyrocketing costs and the increasing difficulty of putting together a compelling lineup.

And now?

"We think the time is right," says Peter Grosslight, senior vice president and worldwide head of music of the William Morris Agency, which co-owns Lollapalooza with instigator Perry Farrell and his former manager, Ted Gardner.

The partnership is laying the groundwork to roll the venture out again next summer.

No official overtures have been made to artists, but Grosslight sees an emerging rock world ripe with potential core acts (early speculation raises such names as Staind and Incubus, and the new band featuring Chris Cornell and three-fourths of Rage Against the Machine) and lesser-known discoveries.

"We're seeing bands that are meaning something to kids without great support from radio," Grosslight says. "There is a sort of new alternative scene, so to speak. Obviously, nothing repeats exactly the same way, but we see things happening with the economy and all that.

"We went through a period where people [in the music business] cared about nothing but money, but now that some things have changed, people will be a lot more concerned about ticket pricing and doing business right," he adds.

One thing different today is the competition. Lollapalooza's success spawned many imitators. Ozzfest, the Warped Tour and Family Values are now staples of the summer and fall seasons, although they tend to have a narrower musical focus than Lollapalooza sought.

And then there's the plethora of radio station-sponsored packages in major markets, such as the KROQ-FM (106.7) Weenie Roast and Almost Acoustic Christmas.

This past summer also saw the first go for Moby's Area:One fest, while Farrell's own Jubilee, although scaled down from its original ambitious plans, recently finished with his Jane's Addiction reunion headlining.

But Farrell says he found a lot of longing for the eclectic approach he pioneered.

"When we were out with Jane's Addiction, the most-asked question besides if Jane's will record again was, 'Are you going to revive Lollapalooza?"' Farrell says. "In the past decade, I watched the festivals, and being an intimate part of the original building process, I've been wanting to add something to it--not just have a roster of eight bands and 800 trucks [of equipment]. There's so much more that can be done."

Farrell and Grosslight promise extra-musical elements using new technological developments that, they say, can achieve some of the community building and outreach that Farrell envisioned in the beginning.

"I don't think there's any doubt it could still be meaningful," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of concert business publication Pollstar.

"There is certainly some history behind the Lollapalooza name, but that in and of itself will not sell any tickets. It all depends on whether they can find those couple of key acts that will make it a success."

Oh, one other thing may be different with the new Lollapalooza: sponsorship.

"Before we didn't and wouldn't have sponsorship, and the demands of the bands made it prohibitive to put a bill together," Grosslight says. "We just couldn't afford it."

Would attaching a corporate name to the festival diminish its reputation?

"It hasn't hurt the Warped tour in the least," Bongiovanni says. "It's not like kids are not constantly bombarded with advertising messages and don't know how to sift through this. And it may well be the only way it's economically viable in this day and age."

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