Launched in 1991 by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, the new music-minded festival -- in conjunction with Nirvana's "Nevermind" album -- propelled the so-called alternative rock movement of the `90s into a mainstream force. Named by Spin magazine as the "#1 Tour That Changed the World," its seven-year run vaulted the careers of groups such as Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Tool, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Beck and others. Its cross-genre orientation exposed mostly white rock audiences to hip-hop stars like Ice Cube and Ice-T.
And now it's back.
A new era of Lollapalooza kicked off last Saturday in Indianapolis, headlined again by Jane's Addiction and also featuring main stage acts Audioslave (comprised of members of former Lollapalooza bands Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine), Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age, Jurassic 5 and the Donnas.
The 30-date tour will also feature a second stage of up-and-coming bands, as well as a midway of games, food vendors and other merchants. Political and environmental organizations will hawk their causes at the World of Just (Be)Causes.
"Things fell into place pretty perfectly," Farrell says of Lollapalooza's renewal after a six-year hiatus. "In the past years when I was looking at putting together a package, I found it was very slim pickings. So for the last few years we had let Lollapalooza rest and gathered information and energy and ideas.
"This year I think that there's something in the air that has changed the course of music or led the course of music back onto the path Lollapalooza was on. The climate is once again begging for socially relevant music."
Farrell notes that, ironically, the first Lollapalooza was launched in the wake of Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq, while the festival resumes with military forces once again in that part of the world. His theory: "When there's no war and no adversity or anything socially stimulating to think about and discuss, the musicians kind of fall back on pop, and that overrides the scene. You have people that don't have much to say, but there's nothing really to talk about, either."
But, he adds, "when there's something to talk about and the need for valued opinions, the ear wants to hear a more intelligent conversation, and you'll find musicians that start putting the music out. That music fits the bill for Lollapalooza."
Perhaps no musician fits that bill better for this year's Lollapalooza than Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello. Morello is co-founder of the Axis of Justice, a consortium of political organizations that will be on the road with Lollapalooza. And with Rage Against the Machine he helped deliver strident, politically pointed songs; in a demonstration for free speech on the 1993 tour, the group members even "performed" its entire set standing onstage naked, with their mouths taped and the letters PRMC taped on their chests in protest against the Parents Music Resource Center, a watchdog group founded by U.S. congressmen's wives.
Audioslave does not share the political focus of its predecessor, but Morello is still "psyched" about being on the tour.
"I've never been more excited about a tour than this one," he says. "The thing that distinguishes Lollapalooza from the other festival tours that came in its wake is that this is really artist-driven. The artists choose the bands, we choose the political activities on the concourse.
"It's like a real great summer camp with a purpose."
Farrell says that he also tapped into other cultural developments over the past six years -- particularly video gaming and cellular technologies -- for Lollapalooza's extra-musical offerings. But he acknowledges that the endeavor's reputations, and drawing potential, rest overwhelmingly with who's playing.
"Someone told me great music comes in waves of 10 years," says Farrell, who also recorded a new album with Jane's Addiction, "Hypersonic," that will be released on July 22. "We feel like we're in one of those cycles now."
Of course, there are many more tours than Lollapalooza looking for that great music to be part of their packages, too. But Farrell says he's not in competition with OZZFest or Warped or any of the other children of Lollapalooza.
"It's a big world out there," he says. "There are a lot of different personalities, and those personalities need a certain sound. I would never look to put other musicians down. I feel that musicians should be unified because we truly gather the people, and that gathering force is important."