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GMG 40: 21 Years of Peace and Celebration: Perry Farrell’s Guide to Lollapalooza

By Adam Valeiras on August 2, 2012


GMG 40: 21 Years of Peace and Celebration: Perry Farrell’s Guide to Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza found its beginnings as a goodbye. Back in 1991, just after Jane’s Addiction formally announced their break-up, lead vocalist Perry Farrell planned and curated the first-ever “Lolla” as a rollicking farewell tour for his group. Since that first happening 21 years ago, the festival has had its own series of break-ups and revivals—perhaps echoing the “are they/aren’t they” nature of Jane’s Addiction themselves—but now, in its 16th active year, Lollapalooza has found seeming permanence in the open fields and open arms of Chicago’s vast Grant Park.

The success of Lollapalooza rests heavily upon Farrell who, since the festival’s conception, has not once stepped down as curator and producer, leading it to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed music events in the country. To celebrate, the Guide went right to the source and asked Farrell to take us on a stroll through Lollapalooza’s history—a question for each year and one extra for good luck—from performers past and present, heat strokes and hailstorms, international expansion and, naturally, sexy ladies.

Photo by Steve Wrubel



1. Years for the best and worst weather

We’ve had to come to a dead stop and watch lightning ripping through the air [2003]. The people reveled in the lightning and rain, creating mudslides (not so cute when it all passed). Our first year in Chicago [2005] was so hot that the city brought out buses to line the festival and keep people from getting heat prostration—that was nice of them. We have had, on average, great festival weather, though.

2. Best lineup to bring back

I would if I could bring back the ’94 lineup that had Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and George Clinton—mostly because then Adam [Yauch] would be here with us again and perform. Partying with George Clinton’s folks was also quite unforgettable, but Adam was a gem.

3. Favorite band that played Lollapalooza before becoming huge

There have been many great artists that grew up on the Lollapalooza stage and went out in the middle of the afternoon and paid their dues. At one time, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon all played in front of less than ideal audiences (crowds of 1,000, more or less). But the band that stands out to me most was Pearl Jam because they came at the crowd with such strength and confidence. I felt they were going to explode (they sure did).

4. Most absurd stage antics

Jim Rose had a guy in his troupe who would exhume his own human bile from a tube he would place down his throat into his abdomen, then ask audience members to come up and drink from his cup of bile. He had people waving their hands franticly to have a taste. Yick!

5. Best Jane’s Addiction set

Year one was very special to me. I hand-built the set design for Jane’s myself with my best friend Bill. I edited all the video as well. We carried a beautiful violinist with us (the lovely Meghan) that Henry Rollins fell for. It was remarkable seeing Henry woo this lass every day.

6. Best show of 2011

My favorite moment of 2011 was watching deadmau5 barrage the Lolla crowd with his sound and lightship as rain glided down from the sky (cool-off time). I looked to my side and saw both my boys “shuffling.” I said nothing. I didn’t want to ruin the moment…

7. Most anticipated band on this year’s Chicago lineup

This year, I look forward to Black Sabbath coming to our festival (their only American date) and dropping the heaviest metal thunder onto Grant Park. I’m also looking forward to the happy sounds of Avicii to bring the crowd to the highest place of spirit.

8. Closest call regarding a headlining performer’s appearance

We had originally lost Black Sabbath from our lineup. With Tony Iommi’s illness wavering back and forth we were told that they would be unavailable, but we remained in touch throughout the year with Sharon Osbourne, who was our greatest ally. As the last days approached, Tony’s health made a turn for the better, and he was cleared to perform for a limited amount of appearances.

9. Best artist-fan interaction on festival grounds

The Perry’s Area has some of the most sincere and sweetest people you’ll ever meet. They are so kind and enthusiastic—really dear young people. They remind me of tropical fruit ripe on the vine.

10. Best year for festival fashion

To be honest, people expressed their individuality more in the early years. They were exciting times; different haircuts and colors, wardrobes represented the type of music you listened to—your slant on life. People may not think it matters anymore; I think it makes for a much better time when I am around people with style.

Photo by Steve Wrubel

11. Favorite festival food  

The lobster corn dog by Graham Elliot has to be the most original food we’ve had to date. I do have to mention the old giant burrito we had that fed a group of four because your four precious dollars went a long way in those days…

12. Most surprising guest appearance

Maynard [James Keenan] from A Perfect Circle came out with Jane’s and an all-star lineup at the end of ’03 in Portland and performed “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin with paper lyrics in hand. It was an odd ending to an odd year.

13. Most outlandish stage set-up

Gaga had us purchase a stage that was wider and higher than anyone had ever required. She needed the space to place a giant monster puppet on stage that bore down on her and her dancers.

14. Most surprisingly awesome show

Eminem gave a performance that exceeded my expectations. He had a great video wall, a few props (bullet-hole-leaking bodysuit) and some special guests (Bruno Mars sang their hit [“Lighters”]). I love when an artist puts effort into their live performances. Much appreciated!

15. Youngest musicians to play the festival

Our Kidzapalooza area has the School of Rock All-Stars that plays backup band to people like LeAnn Rimes and myself.

16. Sexiest performer

My wife Etty has my eyes. But for the ladies…we’ve had Chris Cornell, Brandon Boyd and Jared Leto. I’ll throw in Frank Black, I think he’s sexy…

17. Craziest crowd

Skrillex last year was zaniness. People used to mosh back in the day—well, they were moshing for Skrillex. I saw people trying to peek under the dance tent, their little heads poking under. Hello, curious little person!

18. Favorite international experience

The camaraderie between the musicians at the international Lollas is always a little tighter. Maybe the fact that we are all far away from America and our safety zones makes everyone more friendly. We eat and socialize more. I invite musicians to take trips outside the festival. The government of Chile offers musicians trips to places like Patagonia and Easter Island.

19. Favorite aspect of international events

The places we travel to are amazing. I always take the time to go off with my family and explore the countryside and beaches.

20. Best year for the audience

It would be easy for me to be sentimental and reminisce about the Lollas past. But I can also tell you that we have had greater and greater success with every Lolla we build. I love watching the audiences grow and change with the evolving sound of music—watching the generations change, come of age and come together.

21. First year it became clear it was going to last

It was said that if you could keep a festival together for five years, you knew you would have something and you would begin to make money. These days, you get two to three years. I never really stopped to consider whether I “had something.” I was asked to do it again and again. That’s the way I like it, “by invitation.”


22. Best reason for Lollapalooza to go on forever

To me, Lollapalooza represents peace and celebration. Where there is war, there is no music; when there is music, there is no war.  F

Final Perry photo by Dave Mead