Earlier this week, a music-obsessed buddy of mine IM'ed me with a hypothetical question: "If you could attend any concert in history, what would it be?"
The default answer, of course, seemed to be Woodstock. After all, it was arguably the most monumental musical event of the 20th century (and there were plenty of drugs too). Amadeus' 1784 Trattnerhof concerts probably would've been pretty great to see. Kool Herc's late-'70s "back-to-school" parties in the rec room of 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, too (since, you know, that's where he perfected "the break" and inadvertently created hip-hop). The Wattstax concert at the L.A. Coliseum in 1972. The Talking Heads/ Ramones double-bill at CBGBs in 1975. U2 at Red Rocks in 1983. Nirvana at Reading in 1992. The list goes on and on.
Anyway, I said Woodstock. But then I thought about it for a while, and I changed my mind. I mean, sure, it would've been great to be there, to frolic in the mud and watch Hendrix blast "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a Monday morning. But, to be honest, Woodstock is sort of the "rock critic" answer. If I really could've attended any concert in history, it probably would've been the August 16, 1994, Lollapalooza date at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in Deland, Florida. Mostly because it never happened.
See, back in the summer of '94, I was a 15-year-old kid just starting to fall in love with music. The Breeders' Last Splash album had a lot to do with that, and they were on the Lolla bill that year, along with heavyweights like the Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys, curiosities (at least for me) like George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars and A Tribe Called Quest, the legendary Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and a little band called Green Day, who were just starting to make waves. None of those bands ever came to Orlando, or, if they did, I wasn't old enough to see them. Needless to say, Lollapalooza was shaping up to be the music event of the Central Florida summer. I had gone to Lolla the previous summer, had gotten kicked in the head during Rage Against the Machine's set, and had become a man. I couldn't wait to see what would happen this year. And then, a few days before the show, I had watched — on MTV — as Billie Joe Armstrong and company engaged in an epic mud fight with the crowd at Woodstock '94, which only added more mystique to the Lollapalooza bill. This was shaping up to be the greatest day of my life.
But on August 16 (and, as I recall, the day before, too), it rained. A lot. Still, I figured that the show would go on — and, given the sloppy conditions, a mud fight with Green Day seemed all but certain — but then, as my friends and I were getting ready to head out to the fairgrounds (one of our pals had his license and a car), they made the announcement on the radio: Lollapalooza had been canceled.
I remember all of us standing around our friends' car, packs of cigarettes in our pockets, not really knowing what to do or say. Surely, this was a joke. Didn't the tickets say "Rain or Shine"? But then, we called Ticketmaster and a pre-recorded message informed us that the show was, in fact, canceled due to "inclement weather," and that refunds were available at point of purchase. We were all so crushed that we never bothered getting our money back. I still have my Lolla '94 ticket stuffed away in a desk drawer. To this day, it remains the greatest show I have never seen.
Who knows what would've happened that day? What memories was I robbed of? How would my life have been different had I seen the Pumpkins at the height of their powers, or the Breeders when Jim MacPherson and Josephine Wiggs were still in the band? These all seem like fairly stupid questions, but I still think them, even today, as a 31-year-old who has seen every band on the bill many times since then. Lollapalooza 1994 haunts me. It probably always will. I wish more than anything that I had gotten to see the show.
I bring all this up because I have spent the majority of the week going through MTV News' old Lollapalooza tapes for a series of stories called "Lollapalooza Lookback." Watching old footage of Perry Farrell talk about "cyber tents" or a wire-thin Trent Reznor trash the stage at Lolla '91 has filled me with a mixture of nostalgia and depression. The former because I can vividly remember seeing all of these moments on "The Week in Rock," and the latter because I know things can never, ever be that innocent, that idealistic, that all-encompassing again. The early days of Lollapalooza were a moment, and that moment is gone.
But after thinking about things for a while, I'm filled with another emotion: hope. It may be too late for me — since, like I said, I am 31 and have seen pretty much everything there is to see, music-wise. But there are millions of kids out there who have Lollapalooza circled on their calendars (or iCalendars or whatever), kids who can't wait to see the bands they loved, or get kicked in the head, or get ushered into adulthood. It's pretty much what makes Lolla so great: It is where moments happen, where memories are made. And so, as I head off to cover the 2010 edition of the fest, I'm trying to remember all that, trying to not be the cynical old rock journo I am most days. I am trying to be 15 again, to channel the roller coaster of emotions I had in the days leading up to Lollapalooza 1994. Because there are always going to be kids out there who are praying it doesn't rain. Let's hope the Rock Gods are listening.
MTV News' Lollapalooza Live will be streaming Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. right here on MTV.com, and stick around for show reports, interviews and more from this year's festival.