Monday, August 04, 2008

Lollapalooza 1991

I would say Lollapalooza seems safely back as one of the premier music festivals, seemingly leaving ACL Fest (at least this year) pretty far in the dust.

When I was 16, my parents gave me a strange taste of freedom. It was not the usual for Karebear and The Admiral to hear out a plan, and just agree to it. But it was also an unspoken indicator that my folks recognized Jason and I were now older (he'd just graduated high school, so perhaps no big a deal to him after living on his own for a year as he wrapped high school in Austin while the rest of us had zipped off to Spring), but somehow I landed permission to attend that first tour of Lollapalooza, back in 1991.

This was, for our younger readers, before Nirvana and Pearl Jam and that awkwardly affixed title of "alternative music". The show was at the then-titled "Dallas StarPlex Amphitheater", and I think we attended the show they scheduled after the first show sold out (but which wound up scheduled for the previous night). Which means the line-up that's listed on Wikipedia isn't actually the line-up I saw in 1991.

They have:
Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T & Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, Violent Femmes, Emergency Broadcast Network

I saw:
Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice-T & Body Count, Fishbone, Butthole Surfers and Rollins Band.

Jason is going to need to correct me if I'm wrong about that line-up. I mostly recall that the sun was very high in the sky to have to come face-to-face with the Rollins Band, which I'd never heard of at the time. And we thought Butthole Surfers were just great, but probably needed rehab.

Mostly, I remember the first roadtrip. For some reason we'd included a friend of Jason's from Austin, so our travel was a jump from Spring to N. Austin, to Dallas. Which, despite the breakneck speed of Jason's champagne colored '84 Camaro, was a lot of miles. Especially when we had a moment of panic, realizing that our directions to crash at Cousin Sue's house were coming in on I-45 from Houston, not I-35 from Austin.

So, sometime before it got too dark, we picked out a two lane farm road on a map to make the jump from I-35 to I-45, adding on more time to our drive, but getting lost in Dallas in the dark seemed even diceyer. Keep in mind, this is all pre-cellphone. And I have this memory of us driving west-to-east down this two lane road between corn stalks and wheat and sorghum an hour or so before dark, driving just way too fast, and probably doing exactly what Karebear was hoping we wouldn't do, playing freeway tag with two cars with the sun coming in over the head of the crops in this lovely amber light.

Anyhow, Sue let us crash on her wood floors in urban Dallas.

Lollapalooza itself was never the same after that first year. After the first year, when it got all the good (and well deserved press) in SPIN, Rolling Stone and the MTV, the festival which had been one stage with regular beer concession and a few tents selling art and hemp bags and whatnot turned into a corporate sponsored alternative event. Any of the feeling of "we're gonna do this ourselves, because it sounds like a good idea" was gone. And looking back, it seems so very strange that the press was initially skeptical of this "festival" idea. And that Perry Ferrel (a man prone to believe his own BS) had given it this whimsical nonsense name that in itself somehow stewed up controversy. Within two years, the "Palooza" suffix would be universally attached to any event, but at the time...

The next year Houston had its own stop on the tour, and the thing had quadrupled in size, along with creating a traffic nightmare that lasted hours (I missed Lush and part of Pearl Jam). And while I enjoyed it, partially because my group of friends ballooned from 4 of us in total to two cars full of people, you could see the places where the MTV's and Budweisers were getting their hooks in.

Another year later, and the conversion was mostly complete. The term"'Alternative Music" had been coined, thanks to the press's inability to categorize Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and the Sorority Girls had started showing up to see Arrested Development.

By '95 I'd lost interest in the bands they were putting in the line-up, and I'm not sure Perry Ferrell was involved anymore. But the point is: I didn't show up. Mostly, honestly, because I was so poor that summer, that I made the decision to make money instead of spend it.

And by 96', despite the fact the Ramones were going to be included, the thought of Metallica fronting a music fest that had been inititally set up for overlooked and somewhat underground acts seemed preposterous. It was moving towads the "Monsters of Rock", and I just wasn't interested. And I could see the Ramones any time. They weren't going anywhere any time soon...

Although, looking at he '97 line-up, one can only wonder about the ephemeral nature of rock stardom. One day you're Orbital and almost unknown, next you're pretty much headlining Lollapalooza. By 2001, you're forgotten.

And yet Goo Goo Dolls and Blink 182 are still around. There's no @#$%ing justice, I tell you.

But I guess my point is: It's tough to share what it was like to be at the StarPlex on that balmy day in 1991. Being the second show, it hadn't sold out, and so while there were a lot of tickets sold and folks there, it wasn't the crushing thing that Lollapalooza became. It was just a few thousand people. And like all good, fun things, it wasn't something everyone knew about. Not yet.

And certainly before marketing agencies had pegged the audience for non-Top 40 music as a demographic to be marketed to (we'd have the rest of the 90's to suffer through before they finally figured out how to reach that audience with Hot Topic and Suicide Girl chic). And I think for a lot of the kids like me from our bedroom communities, and the kids who were the ones who got beat up living in Hogstick, Texas for their refusal to sport a mullet... it was a revelation to see you and the four pals you hung out with weren't the only ones who liked this album or that band. That, though "Color Me Badd", Amy Grant and "C+C Music Factory" were burning up the charts, if there were enough folks into the same thing, this could be a good thing, even if you had to jump cities to see a show.

Mostly, I remember an odd bit of crying when the last band left the stage and those harsh flood lights were turned on the audience and the Star Plex had to beg people to leave. Who knows? Those crazy kids were probably just having a teen angsty moment, but I can read into it what I want.

I'm old and decrepit, and I probably know less about what the kids are listening to than other folks my age. I'm routinely baffled by the popularity of bands like "My Chemical Romance", forgetting that this is some 15 year-old kid's first time. And that my bands were, no doubt, just as ridiculous to some 30 year-old at the time. And I'm now more than twice as old as I was when we hit the road that summer morning to head out for our three city tour.

And I'm a lot more at ease these days with sponsorship deals, and how you fund a festival like Lollapalooza 2008. And I'd probably feel worse for these kids, not seeing this stuff untouched, but I'm pretty sure that clubs haven't changed that much, and even the kids in Hogstick, Texas are going to wind up in a city as soon as they graduate. And they'll wind up at some bar not too different from where I was trying to get into (if they hadn't closed Liberty Lunch).

It was just fun to be there that first summer.


J.S. said...

My most vivid memory of that first Lollapalooza came when I pushed my way down to the front for Jane's Addiction (security really couldn't keep the lawn and reserved seats separate at that point), and then I noticed that Perry Farrell was singing to and gesturing toward the audience in the far back, way up in the lawn seating. I remember turning, looking back, and seeing a swirling, churning throng of dancing, leaping kids who had started a huge bonfire in the lawn seats up on the hill. They had piled every kind of trash and some uprooted chairs onto this huge, burning pile, and people were dancing around it in some kind of spinning, swirling swarm, with especially crazy kids occasionally jumping over and through the fire. The band loved it, seemed to play even louder, and the whole scene took on some kind of unearthly tribal, Lord of the Flies kind of feel. But The League is right- that first Lollapalooza had a certain sense of community and an awareness that we were at the right place at the right time. After that, the cool kids caught on and it was never quite the same sort of beautiful freakshow again.

The League said...

That's sort of funny. I was reading your comment, and thinking "I don' remember pushing to the front of the stage"... and then recalled: oh, yeah. because Scotty and I were part of the bonfire circle.

Anonymous said...

I missed the boat since I couldn't get away to Dallas, but I do have good memories of Lollapalooza 92, waiting on the highway and walking around to other cars, visiting with folks on their way to the show.

And Anthony Kiedis shouting "Arik! The Freak!" about their short-lived replacement for John Frusciante.

And Ministry and Ice Cube I remember. But not much of the other bands.

The League said...

And you and I teamed for Lollapalooza 1994, I believe.

I mostly remember Nathan spotting Thurston Moore walking across the festival grounds and insisting we go talk to him. Thurston was very nice to us.

Anonymous said...

And I got a sunburn in the part of my hair so bad it blistered the next day.

I wear hats at most outdoor events now.

Anonymous said...

I think Nine Inch Nails got a gig opening up for Guns and Roses at the last minute, so they cancelled the rest of their Lollapalooza tour.

The League said...

It was such a do-it-yourself sort of affair, I'm not too surprised that bands were falling on and off of the line-up. Especially if circa 1990 Guns'N'Roses money was being offered.

Anonymous said...

I was 16 in '91 and remember skipping school as it had just started back in August. I remember during the Siouxsie set there was an impromptu moment when everyone started throwing plastic cups(and probably other things) into the air. It was kinda chaotic but I don't remember getting hurt by anything. And during Jane's set they had 2 half naked chicks sitting in the rocking chair from the "Nothing's Shocking" cover and Perry at one point jumped up onto the rocking chair and writhed in front of the 2 girls sitting there. Good memories.

The League said...

I had totally forgotten about the "Nothings Shocking" chair thing. Bizarre.

I mostly remember Siouxsie was playing a good set, but right at sundown, and it was really hot out. She decided people weren't dancing enough and seemed to get mad. Perhaps that spawned the cup flinging melee? (I can't say I actually recall that... but that might have been on a different day from when i was there).

Elise Logan said...

I was there in 1991, too, and it's one of the strong memories I have - it was the year I graduated HS, so a lot is kinda fuzzy....

Anyway, I definitely recall the Violent Femmes being there, and I definitely recall no NIN - and no recollection of EBN, either. I have strong recollections of the lawn circle and a wicked clear recollection of Living Colour headbanging like nothing I'd ever seen before. And the Rollins Band set sent me into a spin of fan-girl lust that has me reading Henry Rollins poetry even today.

The League said...

Thanks for writing in! Its amazing to see folks finding this post so many years later.