This weekend, tens of thousands of music fans will pour into — and trample — Chicago's verdant Grant Park for three days of around-the-clock music called Lollapalooza, an annual gathering of some of rock's biggest names and most buzzed-about upstarts, and the brainchild of ex-Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. But as far as Farrell knows, none of the tens of thousands of people who'll be there to watch Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine and hometown favorite Kanye West perform will be named Barack Obama.
In recent weeks, rumors have surfaced suggesting that the presumptive presidential candidate would take the stage to introduce West's set. "I've heard that," Farrell said Wednesday afternoon (July 30) from his Chicago hotel room, just days before the festival's commencement. "That's definitely been the rumor, and it's been coming from their camp, so I really can't conform that at all. I positively cannot confirm that. I hear that it's his birthday that weekend, so he might be in town. But these guys — you're never going to know anything until the last minute anyway. That's what I've been told. I've heard those same rumors, and that would be really cool, right? But there are definitely no guarantees. You'll just have to settle on listening to great music."
But even if Obama does prove a no-show Sunday night, Farrell said he's got another Harvard graduate in his 40s, born of a white mother and a black father, to dazzle the crowds: "Tom Morello, man ... I tell you what, Tom Morello is the real deal, and you will not be disappointed."
During this, the calm before the rock-saturated storm, Farrell said he's doing what festival organizers do. "Well, you start walking the grounds, and they start loading everything in, and you see sort of how your blueprint's working out," the singer said. "You've got everything from the stages to the sound and lights to your backstages, your artist area, your VIP area, your cabana area ... and then you get floods of friends and guests that want to come, and where are you going to accommodate them, and you get new areas you're putting in. You always have sound issues because you have so many stages, so you have to position each stage and the speakers so they don't affect that other area."
Farrell is also concerned about maximizing shade — spots where concertgoers can get away from the blaring sun, thus avoiding heat exhaustion. "We've got a ton of trees in Grant Park, and we're really maximizing those trees this year," he said.
New to the Lolla layout this summer are two new "bar" areas, Farrell said. A beer garden, featuring microbrews from across the country, and a shade-bathed "proper club" called Perry's will be located in the middle of the park, near Buckingham Fountain. Here, Farrell said fans will be able to hear authentic club tracks and down sangria. The imbibing havens will add to the overall social vibe of the fest.
"Aside from the music, the other thing we're creating here is a scene," he said. "It's the most important aspect of Lollapalooza, aside from the music and the musicians themselves. It goes right to the audience and who's there. People want to bop around and meet people and maybe hook up, so we're always looking to create social situations and social stimulations within the grounds."
At this point, Farrell said Lolla is pretty much sold out, and it's the headlining acts that helped make that happen.
"As far as our single-day ticket counts, Radiohead seem to have taken this year," he said. "Radiohead sold out first, and their production is just incredible. I'm excited to see their production. And when Rage touches the stage, there's going to be an electricity. ... It's something you'll remember your entire life, if I know my guys. I am really excited to see if Kanye gets up there without a hitch and just delights people. I have been getting a lot of questions about him. 'Do I think he's going to show up on time?' Look, it's his home crowd, so I think he'll come here and put on the best show he's ever done.
"We also have Nine Inch Nails, and Trent Reznor's production is one of the best in the world," Farrell continued. "I can tell you that, on the inside, he's ramping up. If you thought Nine Inch was great before, and the production was great before, they're stepping it up that much more now. And when Jack White came in with the Raconteurs the first time, lots of people said it was the best act we've had. I am assuming these guys have developed and evolved together, so that's going to be a great rock show."
As far as whether there will be any surprise reunions this weekend, Farrell said don't count on it — especially if you were hoping to see Jane's Addiction. Even though the band's original lineup shared a stage back in April for the first time in more than 15 years, Perry said they won't be repeating that moment in Chicago.
"Not this year," he said. "This year, I couldn't ask for a better lineup. But it's going to be quite something to top 2008. We are the biggest festival in the country, overflowing with 75,000 people a day, so I think this year, we're done. We've done it. But next year, we're already speaking and planning, and guess what? Next year looks fantastic. It really is unbelievable."
Could there be a Jane's reunion at Lollapalooza 2009? "Look, we are at each other's throats almost every step of the way," Farrell explained. "So the concept of it sounds unbelievable, right? Wow, man — that would be a trip. But then the reality of it starts to set in, and it becomes one of those things where — you know how somebody can just get under your skin and things can just become just unlivable? I go through that process, but let me tell you this. When I think about the party and I think about the aftereffects, it may be worth it. It may be worth it. But don't hold me to it. It's one of those things, man. I have a fantastic life, and as much as I'd love to have Jane's in my life, I know there's a window. We should try, shouldn't we? We're all still able to kick ass. Musicians, we get good up until we get really old. Our career goes twice as long as an athlete's, but not three times as long. There's a certain age where, all of a sudden, your fingers aren't flying, and you can't jump off the riser anymore, and you can't take your shirt off. So we'll see what happens."