Lollapalooza, the best-known alternative rock festival in the
country, died this week.
It was 13.
Lolla's organizers pulled the plug Tuesday, citing lousy ticket
sales as the reason for anesthetizing the event. They said they would
have lost millions of dollars if the tour had gone on as scheduled.
Headliners were to have included Morrissey, the Flaming Lips, the
Pixies and PJ Harvey.
Those picking through the debris of the tour have offered a
variety of theories as to what happened to Lolla. There was too much
competition from other package tours like OzzFest and Projekt
Revolution, some say. It's an off-year for concert ticket sales in
general, others say.
I'd say the problem is that in an age when nose rings and tattoos
no longer raise an eyebrow and most people under 25 hear an extension
of themselves in hip-hop music, alternative rock is no longer an
alternative. With its slate of bands that appeal primarily to
30-somethings, Lolla lost its edge -- and its audience.
This year's Lolla headliners Morrissey and the Pixies had their
heyday more than a decade ago. High school kids, college students and
underemployed 20-somethings, the prime demographic for daylong rock
concerts, were watching "Barney" when these acts were last
on the charts.
Fans who loved Morrissey and the Pixies the first time around now
have a mortgage, a toddler and a depressingly grown-up job. They
can't take the day off to stand in the sun for 12 hours and watch a
rock show, and frankly, they don't want to.
They will buy the CD, thank you. Or they will just wait till the
act they want to see goes on a solo tour. Why risk skin cancer to see
an abbreviated set by a marquee artist?
To attract the rock festival demographic in 2004, you've got to
put some hip-hop on the bill. That's where the edge in music has
gone, to bands like Jurassic 5 (an L.A. group comprising a bunch of
DJs that was on the Lollapalooza tour last year) and Kurupt (a West
Coast rapper with an innovative bicoastal sound).
To find its audience, Lollapalooza 2004 needed bands with
turntables as well as bands with guitars. It needed to be younger and
Instead, Lolla was lily-white and middle-aged.
Not only was there no hip-hop on the bill, but also one of the
headliners was the jam band String Cheese Incident.
It doesn't get any whiter and more middle-aged than a jam band,
The supporting acts didn't help, either. Wilco, Modest Mouse,
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Great acts, all, and far from the
stifling rock mainstream, but too white and too guitar-driven to
attract the young and the cool.
Back at Lolla's beginning in the early 1990s, its organizers
inherently understood the need for diversity in the festival lineup.
Early Lolla headliners included Ice-T (a rapper who ignited a
national controversy with his song "Cop Killer"), Coolio,
Ice Cube, the black metal band Living Color and the genre-mixing,
multiracial band Fishbone.
One of the founding tenets of the alterna-nation was embracing the
Other, whether it was body piercing, poetry slams, tofu wraps or a
black man rhyming about the evils of the white establishment. (Yes,
those were all edgy back in 1992.)
In 2004, it looks as if the alterna-nation of Lollapalooza has,
musically speaking, bought a minivan, tuned the radio to a '90s
nostalgia station and moved to a gated community.
Leanne Potts writes this column weekly for the Journal. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.