Lollapalooza Goes Down – Again

"Our plight is a true indication of the general health of the touring industry and it is across musical genres...We are taking Lollapalooza back and plan on rebuilding and recreating the festival in surroundings more conducive to the cultural experience we've become known for." – Perry Farrell

In 1997, Lollapalooza – Perry Farrell's alternative music and lifestyle road show – shut down after a strong seven-year run. The traveling festival ended on a dissonant note, squeezing underwhelming bands like Prodigy, Korn, The Orb, and Orbital onto the stage that once housed giants like Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Wu Tang Clan, Ice Cube and the Beastie Boys.

The tour was revived in 2003 with a lackluster lineup – with Farrell's Jane's Addiction, supergroup Audioslave, Jurassic 5 and the Donnas headlining. The reduced starpower contributed to weak ticket sales, but Farrell still carried the torch: Fast forward to 2004, and Lollapalooza seemed to be burning bright.

Farrell and company believed, some would argue rightly so, that a line-up consisting of the Pixies, Morrissey, PJ Harvey, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Sonic Youth (again) and Wilco would be enough to get iPod Nation up off its recliners this summer. Apparently, they guessed wrong. Lollapalooza 2004, citing million dollar losses and anemic sales, had to pull up stakes on the two-month, cross-country sonic spree.

Whether or not this is a massive bummer depends on whom you're talking to. If you're talking to the MTV-addled bubble-poppers who've made tired Gs like 50 Cent and Us Weekly-selling starlets like J.Lo into platinum superstars, well, they'll get over it. And if you're talking post-slackers that helped explode alternative music through the Lollapalooza aorta since the festival took its first breath in 1991, it seems that they might not have the economic clout they had in the '90s.

But whomever you're talking to, either they're not interested, not aware, or not in possession of the ample funds it takes to gain access to a festival concert these days. As Perry notes above, the health of the touring industry is bordering on convalescent, and it's not just Lollapalooza that has breathed its last gasp. Last year, the diverse indie rock festival All Tomorrow's Parties – curated by Matt Groening (you may remember him from such hit TV shows as The Simpsons or Futurama) and featuring compelling acts like Patti Smith, The Breeders, Nick Cave and a host of innovative bands – had to cancel its Los Angeles date due to sluggish ticket sales.

Not all is lost when it comes to blockbuster package tours. Vans Warped is still going comparatively strong, and it's landing in just as many cities as Lollapalooza. But Vans Warped, as the name implies, is heavily sponsored; everyone from big guns like Vans, Hurley, MTV and Dodge to small fries like Slim Jim, Ernie Ball and Hot Topic are lending their weight and support to the skateboarding phenomenon. Plus, with what looks like – according to the event's official site – around 200 bands along for the ride, most of them skewed to a much younger demographic, they're arguably giving more bang for your buck.

But demographics don't tell the whole story. Consider OzzFest, which is still going strong – though Ozzy Osbourne himself has been running on empty for years and his TV show is a shadow of its former self. If critics of Lolla think Sonic Youth and The Pixies are too old, then how to explain the attraction of OzzFest's 2004 headliner, a reunited Black Sabbath? They've got the Pixies beat by two decades in the age category. True, OzzFest remains relevant by lumping in younger acts like Slipknot, Hatebreed and others, but their main stage acts in 2004 – Sabbath, Judas Priest and Slayer – reads like a headbanger's history book.

As usual, age doesn't explain everything. Sure, Lollapalooza fans are getting old, but they're still getting involved. In addition to the stellar headliners, the tour had partnered with MoveOn.org to provide, as the festival always has, discussions, solutions, and avenues for change during what's shaping up to be the Armageddon of election years. This year's model was going to be the Revolution Solution Tent, a teach-in of sorts focusing on environmental concerns, workers' rights, media deregulation, free speech and other issues vital to the arts community; they even had a solar-powered stage geared up for action, featuring punk veteran and Minutemen bassist Mike Watt as a headliner. The always engaging Watt also penned a running diary for Lollapalooza on their official site, but a quick click of the site's "Sponsors" tab tells the whole story. Blank page.

Some of the blame may lie with Farrell, who had similar problems launching 2003's comeback Lollapalooza. Originally planning to kick off the festival in Ionia, Michigan on July 3rd, Rolling Stone reported that Farrell cancelled the date and rescheduled; in what may be debated as a symbol of Farrell's ego or a funny coincidence, the Lollapalooza party line argued that the Jane's Addiction's set simply couldn't fit on the Fairgrounds stage. But officials at the venue replied that Farrell's excuse was a red herring; the show had only sold 4,000 tickets and the Fairgrounds main stage had played anywhere from two to five times that capacity before. Making matters worse, the tour had a scheduled stop in Detroit, which, some asserted, cut into Ionia's sales. No matter how you slice it, that show had problems before the curtain ever lifted.

And they continue. The problem of "poor ticket sales" takes its place with the others – "too mainstream," "too old," "too masculine," "too white" – plaguing Lolla since it more or less ended in 1997. Which is truly a sorry State of the Slacker Union address, considering the impressive firepower Farrell amassed for 2004's old college try. After all, the Pixies have sold out almost all of their other reunion dates within minutes; but even they couldn't keep the Lolla boat afloat. Which if you ask diehard fans (like myself, I admit), it just goes to show that Farrell should've tabbed them for his journeying think piece back when they were changing music forever.

Which is another way of saying that Lolla's 2004 line-up might have caused a Who-like stampede had it hit the stage in 1991 or 1992, when most of the headliners were at their best. But now yesteryear's teenagers and twenty-somethings are well on their way to middle age, and shelling out a Trump-load of cash for water bottles and bad fries to sit in the blazing sun for two days straight amongst drunks and frat boys just doesn't sound like fun anymore.

So whether you're blaming Farrell, the aging lineup and its older demographic, the ailing "health of the touring industry," Clear Channel's stranglehold on the live show circuit, or the fact that most Americans just don't have the kind of disposable income they possessed last decade, Lollapalooza's cancellation is a wake-up call to all of those who think that crafting an attractive lineup is all is takes to pack them in.

Lollapalooza 2004's brilliant lineup is perhaps too little, too late. Too bad.

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