Saturday, May 18, 2024

Lollapalooza, Rock n' Roll and where we're at in 2024


Back in the summer of 1991, with a newly minted driver's license, I drove from Spring, Texas to Austin.  We picked up a friend of my brother's, and then we pivoted, driving into Dallas just before dusk.  

The next day, my brother, his buddy Mike, my buddy Scott and I attended Day 1 of the first two dates in Dallas of the first Lollapalooza tour.  Back then, Lollapalooza was fairly small, and a roving event that moved the artists and associated folks from city to city.  Dallas had sold better than expected, so they added a second day, which was, because of scheduling, the day before the original date.

We kind of knew about the music festivals in Europe, but at the time, music festivals here had sort of died out except for the very successful Monsters of Rock thing (the history and complexity of which I won't get into here).  Bands mostly played 2-3 acts together at most.  Something like Reading was way out of reach on our shores.  You had to have Farm Aid to see anything like a festival that I was really aware of.

Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell somehow cooked up the idea of his caravan of 120 Minutes friendly bands (we did not have the term Alternative in 1991), pulling together a fascinating herd of musicians, hitting cities all across the US.  That I could see Jane's Addiction, Ice-T, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Rollins Band in one day was mind-boggling.  As promised Farrell also brought along artists and international food I wasn't familiar with (I recall looking for food from Africa every year and never regretting it).

The next year, the tour came to Houston, and we went, this time with a literal vanload of friends.  And I think I went for the next two years after that.   I have no idea why I quit going.  I just did.  I have a vague memory of feeling like the thing was too big the last year I was there, and the vibe of 1991 was long gone.  

At some point Lollapalooza fell over and quit happening, only to be resuscitated and come back as a Chicago-based weekend or two.  And, over time, more festivals cropped up and/ or I became aware of some that existed.  Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, Coachella.  Of course, the long running television show, Austin City Limits, spun off a festival which folks now call ACL Fest (and I'll argue that here in 2024, at least half of the attendees have no idea a TV show exists).  

Unfortunately for me, I moved to the Phoenix area back in 2002, just as the ACL Fest was coming into being.  And it was scheduled at just the right time that it happened during the worst part of my working year, so there was no flying back to stay at my brother's and go see what the fuss was about.

And I wound up actually moving back to Austin the weekend of ACL Fest 2006.  So it was 2007 at least before I finally got to go.  

By then it was already a 3-day commitment, and in September, which can be face-punchingly hot here.  But I was 32 and could handle it.  To me, the highlight, really, was coming home with a few new bands, at least one of which I still listen to.  

League of Melbotis 2007 ACL Fest Opinions:  Day 1  /  Day 2  / Day 3

The next year I was only able to go Saturday and Sunday because of a work SNAFU.  And if memory serves, even those two days got messed up, and I basically had a terrible time.  You can hear me complain about the scheduling of the acts in a post from 2008.

League of Melbotis 2008 ACL Fest Opinions:  Day 2  Day 3

I don't want to throw anyone under the bus here in 2024, but getting stuck as part of a group of people going to a festival means a lot of things, and very rapidly you're stuck with other people's decisions/ indecision.  And with the cost in mind, that was kind of it.  

But, look, by 2009, I was 34, I was working a somewhat taxing job.  The idea of spending 3 days in a hot field where you were buying water, and being around that many people (and everything people *do* at concerts, let alone festivals) held pretty much zero appeal.  Sharing a port-a-potty with 100,000 other people is not my same idea of a good time.  I'm indoorsy.

And it was getting expensive.  And I had no idea who a large number of the acts were, and the ones I did know were mostly not people I'd be in a rush to pay to see.  And, you know, I'm pretty comfortable with not endlessly chasing new music.  Or feeling like if I don't see the latest bands, I'm somehow falling behind.  

Is Rock n' Roll Forever?

I spent my high school, college years, and after, going to shows as money and time allowed.  I put in my time.  I've seen a wide number of acts, from Ministry to the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  No regerts.  But at some point I just started losing interest.    

I'd read the articles explaining brain function and that you're going to lock into the kind of music that you like by the age of 25, and that was used to explain why your parents still put on the Oldies Station or Magic 95.5, so we all grew up awash in the music of our parents' generation - after all, at malls and restaurants and in movie musical selection, our forebears were in control of the dial.  So, I had observable evidence of what was coming.  And I was, honestly, fine with it.  So it goes.  

But I also had worked with people who were older than me who did a far better job of keeping up with (radio-play) music than I could dream of at the time when I should have been popular-music-generation-adjacent.

All that said, despite being a guy who liked going to shows, who had subscriptions to Spin and Rolling Stone, who spent what money he had on CD's and tapes for quite some time (prioritized over comics, believe it or not), who constantly had something playing - I lost track of music in my early 30's.  Or, at least, my relationship to music changed on a fundamental level.

Radio is a mess.  Even the "Bob" type stations that say they play "anything" aren't being honest.  They're playing familiar stuff, and it's often stuff that I wonder - does anyone actually like this song, or is it just a staple of radio because it's always been a staple of radio?  But, you know, it's fine for the seven minute drive to the gym.

We had a four year sojourn in Phoenix where I didn't talk to anyone about new music for the duration.  And this was coming out of 1990's Austin and my post-college 20's where music was discussed somewhat non-stop.  But even in those years, I wasn't in alignment with many of my pals.  They might be rocking out to their electronic beepboops, and I was off seeing Herbie Hancock.  And that's fine.  It is what it is.  But we did have more in common than we had collisions, and I recall it as fairly respectful discussions.

That said - music was then, and I assume now for the youths, a badge of identity.  "I won't listen to country" to "I only listen to DeathCore Speedmetal" or whatever.   And it was maybe helpful for finding your tribe in suburban monoculture.  

But at some point - the sheer vastness of what's out there became a sea that I didn't mind.  It was not a conscious decision, but I seemed to be in a dingy and was fine with going with the currents and washing up on various shores.  What I don't care about is making sure I'm staying in some lane to protect some idea of myself carved out of the early musical exploration.  

Look, I am positive there's a million rock bands out there right now.  And it's not that I'm convinced no one makes new, good music that I don't spend time on them.  It's that there's also a vast ocean out here, and I am not trying to find a specific kind of island.

If there's one thing I am certain of, it's that: you like what music you like, for whatever reason, and you are absolutely positive you are doing music correctly.  And you are equally certain everyone else is doing music wrong.  This is both hilarious and the tragedy of the human condition.

For years, I found that this stance of subtly side-eyeing everyone else's taste made discussing music a painful process.  Now I just find it a curious peek into someone else's psyche.  Less so what they choose to like - although that's part of it.  But mostly how they frame it, how they discuss it, how protective they are of their opinions and how much they're willing to be a dick about what you're listening to.  Or how much they're willing to consider an alternative viewpoint to their thesis.

I won't even get into the post-Pitchfork world of absolutely terrible music criticism and nerds mistaking their opinion as fact.

For me, the days of chasing bands to stay ahead are over and done with.  Maybe how I treat movies and books, I don't really care about what's new.  But I'm also trying not to just re-live being 13-26.  I don't think the idea that my musical tastes locked in at 25 was right at all.  If I'm not interested in new popular and rock music, it might be because I'm less interested in songs about new love and heartbreak of the young.  Sometimes a John Prine song about having done fucked up for decades resonates a lot more than "girl, you're so fine.  Talk to me." 

It doesn't mean I don't enjoy hearing some stuff from high school or write it off, but I also don't want to be locked into just that lane.  Maybe I want to dig into Charlie Parker so I can find out what he's about, or put on St. Vincent.  Or listen to Robert Earl Keen or Dolly Parton.  Or, an album of a variety of people covering Cole Porter or revisit some Darlene Love.  Or put on some Kylie Minogue or Stolti's recording of Die Walkure.  And sometimes I revisit things I hadn't heard in a while and I get that nostalgia hit I was looking for, or even one I'm surprised by.  Got that just yesterday when the algorithm said "hey, you haven't heard Born Slippy in maybe twenty years".  

So, Music Festivals

Look, I have plenty of issues with ACL Fest and what it's done to Austin over the years, as well as the original TV series of Austin City Limits itself.  But time moves on, and one needs to change, shut up or get out of the way.

But, yeah, I'm long past the point of feeling the appeal of navigating 100,000 people for three days in summer.  Of putting down good money to see bands in a bad environment of sound bleeding in from other stages, of people screaming over the music instead of moving to the back of the crowd to talk, of trying to stay hydrated and port-a-potties as my only option.  

I'm sure the music is good, but I don't know it anymore.  And the acts I do know - man, I'm not paying for a three day pass to see one hour-long set.  And, frankly, I get annoyed that some bands think they've played Austin because they played the festival.  I mean, they can think whatever they want and get paid for doing their bit, but it can mean I don't get to see great bands come through, and that's on me.  

But like so many things, and so many things particularly in Austin - we can't just have nice things.  

I don't think ACL Fest was originally intended to be what it is now - but it pushed out the musicians traditionally associated with the show, and made the festival about arena acts.  But as in all things commerce, if you aren't growing, you're dying.  And do ACL Fest just gets bigger every year.  But out where I live, it doesn't matter.  Those festivals do not gum up traffic here, and the few folks who would stay in our neck of the woods can be seen sweating balls at 10:00 AM waiting for the bus to take them into the park.

But I do look at the line-ups and I'm just at that point where the music and culture is not for me.  And that's fine.  I don't have a fraught relationship with these things.  Now it's more like remembering going to high school football games or parties in college.  Those things happened, and someone is still doing them.  It's just not me doing them.

Like so many things in life, it started as something kind of interesting, and then the normies found out about it, money came in, and it became intensely less interesting.

So, yeah, I still look at the line-up every year for ACL, and this year I made my silly little graphic seen at the top of the post.  Because to my Mad Magazine addled eyes, this is what the poster of the line-up looks like.  A jumble of names that make no sense, especially when I do recognize one or two.     

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, and since then, I saw that Paramount+ is about to drop a multi-part series on the origins of Lollapalooza.  If they weren't, I don't know if I would have bothered to finish the post.  

That bass line for Mountain Song still works

But it seemed like a good chance to look at where I was in 1991 when I hit the first Lollapalooza tour, and where I'm at now, and why.  And if you see a sweaty, tall kid in footage from Dallas, that might be me.  You never know.

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