Industry Reacts To A Year Without A Lolla

Some say the pioneering festival tour couldn't keep up with increasing competition.

Too many one-hit wonder bands. Too many competing tours. Too much segmentation of the music audience.

These are just a few of the varied explanations offered to the question: "What happened to Lollapalooza?"

For the first time in eight years, Lollapalooza won't be hitting U.S. sheds, and everyone seems to have ideas about why and wherefore and what the festival -- co-founded in 1991 by Porno for Pyros/Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell -- has to do to return to its former perch atop the summer-festival mountain.

"We just think there's a dearth of headlining acts going out on tour this year and an abundance of touring festivals," said Adam Schneider, Farrell's manager. "So we'd rather sit this one out. We're disappointed, but we would rather not put anything out than put something out there that doesn't have the highest standards."

Jane Cohen said she doesn't think that the cancellation of this summer's Lollapalooza is such a big deal. "It doesn't really mean anything," said Cohen, editor in chief of concert industry trade magazine Performance. "Because you have so many more festival tours out there."

Cohen, citing such recent competition as Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest and last summer's most successful tour, Sarah McLachlan's female-laden Lilith Fair tour -- not to mention the Blues Traveler-anchored H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) tour and the Warped punk and skate festival -- said Lollapalooza may have paved the way for the proliferation of multi-artist tours. But, as she sees it, Lolla's organizers have lost their focus over the last two years.

"The last two years have been sluggish," said Cohen, referring to the heavy-rock-centric 1996 tour, which featured Metallica, Soundgarden, Rancid and the Ramones on the main stage, and last summer's tour featuring rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tricky, Tool, Korn and, for a few dates, Prodigy.

One of the problems, Cohen said, is that Lollapalooza's initial strength was as a stage for introducing new alternative music to the masses. With music once considered alternative now firmly in the mainstream, that venue's purpose has been lost to some extent, she added.

"They needed to reinvent themselves a bit and offer different things ... because the whole concept [they started with in 1991] was that they were presenting alternative music. But there's no such term anymore. 'Alternative' doesn't exist in the music vernacular anymore."

Farrell, who earlier this year told SonicNet Music News that he was going to be less involved than he was last year, argued that 1997's show may have been one of the best Lollapaloozas in years. "I personally thought it was an excellent show," Farrell said. "It was very underappreciated by Rolling Stone, who put bad words out about it, and Spin, who labeled it 'Losers of the Year.' But if you added it up and put egos aside, you would have seen the Prodigy, Snoop and Bob Marley's children [Julian and Damian Marley].

"I felt like that's the way of man," Farrell added. "We worked on it out of love and I was really excited, and I feel like the son sometimes rejects the father and then comes back to understand the father later on."

But Cohen also pointed out that, unlike Ozzfest, Lilith or H.O.R.D.E. (with the exception of last summer's tour), Lollapalooza has not had an anchoring headliner to give the festival a sense of continuity. "Another problem is that it seems like the industry is lacking career artists lately," Cohen said, citing the proliferation of one-hit wonder bands that lack the drawing power of such previous Lollapalooza main-stage acts as Hole, Nine Inch Nails, Ice Cube and the Beastie Boys.

Artist development via radio, records or management is definitely missing in the industry, according to tour co-founder Ted Gardner, who counted the lack of this development as just one of the reasons that the tour didn't happen this year. Lollapalooza was lucky, he added, to have launched the festival at a time when there was an emphasis on the development of long-term careers for bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam.

"But the whole thing is cyclical," Gardner said. "We were fortunate then and those bands have lived through that period and are now world-class, arena-style acts. But there's a change now and it's a very pop mentality where bands have great singles or two songs, and when a second record isn't as strong, they're not given a chance to develop."

And while you'd think that the loss of Lollapalooza would make the organizers of competing packages jump for joy, H.O.R.D.E. tour director Heidi Kelso isn't exactly dancing on graves. "I don't know that this summer will necessarily be any different," Kelso said, noting that this will be the first summer since H.O.R.D.E.'s inaugural 1992 season that the festival won't go head-to-head with Lolla.

Whereas the two tours shared similar musical directions over the last two years, Kelso said H.O.R.D.E. made a conscious decision to return to its jamming roots this year with the return of Blues Traveler and bands such as Rusted Root and Barenaked Ladies.

"Lollapalooza definitely pioneered the festival concept in this country," Kelso said. "But I have to say that the terrain has definitely changed since 1992. There are more festivals and it's more competitive because the kid who wants to go to H.O.R.D.E. and Lollapalooza and go see Dave Matthews or the Wallflowers has to pick two or three shows. They can't afford to go see all of them."

"I'm not [famed mentalist The Amazing] Kreskin," Schneider said when asked to predict whether the tour would return. "But I do think Lollapalooza is totally viable. I have zero doubt about that. People gathering in a communal setting is as timeless as history and it will continue to prosper. It didn't start with Lollapalooza."