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25 Years Ago: The First Lollapalooza Brings ‘Alternative’ to the Nation

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Long before Lollapalooza became a corporate-sponsored, multi-stage, multi-national festival designed to showcase, well, just about any act that people will pay to see, it was a rather innocent experiment. The first incarnation, which began on July 18, 1991, was merely an attempt to do something interesting with Jane’s Addiction’s farewell tour.

By 1991, the members of Jane’s Addiction (Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins, Eric Avery) weren’t getting along. Instead of quietly breaking up, the members decided to play one last tour, but do something a little different this time. The idea of making it a festival was inspired by the band’s (failed) participation the U.K.’s Reading Festival. The idea for the name came from the Three Stooges.

“I got a phone call at home at one in the morning from Perry,” Jane’s Addiction booking agent Marc Geiger told Spin in 2011. “He goes, ‘Hey Marc, I got the name! Lollapalooza!’ I say, ‘Where the f— did you get that from?’ He goes, ‘I just saw it in a Three Stooges episode!’”

Farrell also had done his homework, discovering that the antiquated term referred to an unusual thing or event or, alternatively, a colorful lollipop. Lollapalooza would soon become synonymous with alternative music.

Perry and Marc began assembling a lineup for a festival that would travel North America for 20 dates in July and August. They picked some of Jane’s Addiction’s favorite bands, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour and the Butthole Surfers, and also drew from their Los Angeles-based buddies, such as the Rollins Band, Fishbone and Ice-T with Body Count. EBN and the Violent Femmes also joined the festival, in which everyone would play on a single stage.

“Punk rock couldn’t last, only because their attitude was ‘F— everything,’” Farrell said, years later. “Mine is ‘Include everything.’”

Geiger, on the other hand, remembered having a mission: “We were hoping to kill hair bands and MTV. Get the crappy music out and the good music in.”

But Lollapalooza almost ended as soon as it began. The tour’s first date in Tempe, Ariz., featured blistering heat and more than one onstage fracas. The members of Nine Inch Nails threw a mid-afternoon fit when their sound malfunctioned (due to the heat) and stormed off stage. Later, Farrell and Navarro got into a fistfight over whether or not to do an encore. The story goes that Perry body-slammed Dave and Jane’s Addiction played a little more.

From there, things seemed to go better. Sure, there was plenty of controversy, from Ice-T and Body Count performing the infamous “Cop Killer” at every stop to Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes often firing a shotgun (loaded with blanks) at the crowd. However, the artists all seemed to get along, often appearing as guests during each other’s sets.

“I’ve never had that experience of camaraderie again,” Body Count guitarist Ernie C. reflected, decades later. “It was like one big band.”

Although Lollapalooza would continue as a touring festival until 1997, its growth (more bands, stages and sideshows) and the changing landscape of popular music (Nirvana) would alter its impact as a celebration of outsiders.

“What happened with Lollapalooza, and this is Perry Farrell’s genius, is it commodified ‘alternative,’ simultaneously carving out a new market and ending it,” observed Living Colour’s Vernon Reid.

In the ’90s, Lollapalooza spawned other traveling festivals, such as Warped Tour and Lilith Fair, seeking to repeat the annual tour’s success. Soon, those mobile events would give way to the current slate of American destination festivals, from Bonnaroo to Coachella and even the “new” version of Lollapalooza, which became a yearly, Chicago-bound event in 2005 (and later expanded with incarnations in South America and Europe).

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