To hear people in the concert business tell it, the Lollapalooza concept has been the greatest innovation in packaging since cheese in a can.
At first glance, it hardly seems like blockbuster material. Built around a rag-tag jumble of alternative rock acts, neither Lollapalooza package has had much in the way of mainstream star-power. The lineup for Lollapalooza '92, for instance, features Lush, Pearl Jam, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Soundgarden, Ice Cube and Ministry, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining.
Yet at a time when even the biggest names in popular music have trouble selling tickets, both last year's and this year's Lollapalooza tours have been stunningly successful; the first outing played to a half-million people from coast to coast, while Lollapalooza '92's 36-show itinerary was sold out weeks before the first date.
A stroke of genius, right?
Not really. In fact, Marc Geiger -- who booked the first tour and is part of the team coordinating the current edition -- frankly admits that he and his co-conspirators were amazed that the idea hadn't occurred to anyone before this.
"This idea was not original on our behalf," he says, over his car phone from Los Angeles. "We come right out and say it. There are at least 20 great alternative music-based festivals in Europe and England.
"Glastonbury, which just played in June, had Television and Lou Reed and Morrissey and Primal Scream. And you've got 50,000 kids for a weekend going to see these shows. We were shocked that there was nothing like that in America. We just kind of hit ourselves in the head and said, 'Wow, I could have had a V8,' so to speak."
Geiger, along with manager Ted Gardner and booking agent Don Muller, handle the business side of Lollapalooza. But it's former Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell who has given the tours their artistic vision. It was Farrell, for example, who insisted that there be more to a Lollapalooza show than mere music.
"Perry has always been concerned with not making music the finite part of somebody's day," says Geiger. "Art can be anything from books or paintings to information or film or music for Perry, and he was always conscious of trying to make this as much of a carnival/festival/event as he possibly could."
As such, in addition to the main stage, where the featured acts perform, there's a second stage featuring up-and-coming bands well as such sideshow attractions as Mr. Lifto, Matt the Tube and Slug the Sword Swallower. Rounding out the midway are carnival-style games (although with a political bent; "Safe Sex Wheel of Fortune" and "Wake Up Mr. President" are among the offerings), arts and crafts booths, a mini bookstore, and a host of "exotic food" vendors. (IMP Productions, which is promoting today's show, cautions that bottles, cans and containers are prohibited at Lake Fairfax, but adds that free water will be available.)
How does Lollapalooza look from the performers' side of the fence? Pretty good, says Jesus and Mary Chain frontman Jim Reid. "I've been walking around checking out the side shows, watching other bands and stuff," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Boston. "It's good. When you're on the side of the stage to watch, you don't really get too much of an idea of what the sound is like."
He admits that there are some drawbacks to the touring #F concept. Although some shows have been booked into fairgrounds, others are playing seated concert venues, which Reid thinks is "a bit of a mistake. Nobody in Europe would ever consider doing one of those festivals in a seated venue," he says. "The thing about it in Europe is that you can stroll around, walk whenever you want to, lay on the grass."
On the other hand, Reid rather fancies the idea of playing to listeners who are, in many cases, unfamiliar with his band's music. "You do your own tour for years, and you play to people who bought the album a couple of weeks before," he says. "It's fun to do that, but there's not really any challenge in it, you know?
"With this, we're playing in front of an audience most of whom have never heard us. Probably heard of us, but never really heard the music. It's good to play something like that. You really put yourself to the test then, see whether the music stands up or not.
"So far it has."
That kind of musical diversity is at the heart of the Lollapalooza concept. Geiger in particular hopes that the package will help expand its audience's tastes, and resents it when the tour is portrayed as a strictly-alternative outing. "I was driving out of Seattle recently," he says, "and the alternative radio station there basically skipped Ice Cube's name when they were announcing the show, and didn't play any of his music -- even though they did a Lollapalooza special playing two or three songs by each of the other bands.
"I thought that was horrible," he says. "That's one of the things we really do want to fight against. People come to see different types of music. That's ultimately what we want to promote."
When: Aug. 14 at noon.
Where: Lake Fairfax, Fairfax, Va.
Tickets: Sold out.
Call: (202) 638-2008 for information.