The music festival is a tradition that dates back to the 1950’s when legendary DJ Alan Freed organized traveling rock & roll shows and helped launch the genre into the mainstream. Over the decades such events have transformed into more than just entertainment. They have become lightning rod events that draw like-minded subculturists together from across the globe.
Historic events like Woodstock, Monterey Pop captured the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. In the 70’s George Harrison added activism to the equation with the concert for Bangladesh. Live Aid took that mindset into the living rooms of billions of fans around the world. In the 90's, Perry Farrell once again redefined the format for a new era.
Unencumbered by genre, modern festivals frequently feature acts from across the spectrum of popular music. EDM artists share the stage with rappers, headbangers and indie rockers. The common bond is a general vibe of inclusion and freedom of expression. Such events are commonplace now. However, before Bonnaroo or Coachella, there was Lollapalooza.
The first Lollapalooza hit the road in 1991. Originally organized as a farewell tour for Farrell’s band Jane's Addiction, the concert grew to become a seismic cultural event in one of the most seminal years in modern music. Grunge was exploding, MTV reigned supreme and ‘alternative’ was rapidly becoming mainstream.
The alt/metal Jane's Addiction headlined the show and were joined by a diverse lineup including dark wave pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees, industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails and west coast rapper Ice-T’s hardcore side project, Body Count. The tour played over 20 cities before the final show on August 28, 1991 in the decade’s cultural mecca, Seattle, WA.
Traveling with the musicians was an entire circus of sideshow performers, new age vendors and various lifestyle and cultural advocates. It was a temporary city populated by folks on the fringe. As the show worked its way across the United States, that fringe element became a bit less foreign to the ‘normal’ people they met along the way.
Subsequent years of the festival saw the inclusion of punk, hip-hop, EDM and pop music. The format of Lollapalooza has evolved since its inception. No longer a traveling show, it is now held as a two-day annual event in Chicago with similar franchises held around the world.
The impact of that original concert has reverberated through postmodern culture. Perry Farrell placed the surreal, sublime and grotesque on the doorstep of middle America. In doing so, he fostered tolerance and compassion by making the odd a bit less foreign.