Fans shout and shimmy at raucous Lollapalooza FESTIVAL OF SOUND

August 09, 1994|By Howard Henry Chen | Howard Henry Chen,Special to The Sun

Charles Town, W. Va. -- Lollapalooza, a 10-hour traveling rock concert that played to more than 20,000 mostly young spectators here yesterday, was just plain "cool" to 17-year-old James Evans of Washington.

"It's just a cool place to hang out and listen to cool music, like the [Beastie] Boys and Green Day," said James, who admitted this was the third Lollapalooza concert he'd experienced.

Lollapalooza '94 is the fourth in- carnation of the mammoth rock roadshow. Yesterday's jam at the Charles Town racetrack -- the only area stop of the tour -- featured 13 acts big in the "alternative" rock scene, including The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, the Breeders, as well as a host of lesser-known acts.

Also on the bill was the godfather of funk, George Clinton, with his amazing Technicolor haircut and 23-person ensemble.

The bands played 40-minute sets on the main stage. A smaller, second stage was host to the less established bands, such as the Boo Radleys, Stereolab, Girls Against Boys and Shonen Knife.

Some critics have slammed Lollapalooza '94 as straying from its "alternative" roots (whatever that may mean) by booking successful big- label bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys.

But folks at yesterday's concert didn't mind.

"They've done a lot to make it more user-friendly, and listener-friendly too," said Rachel Feit, 24, of Washington. Ms. Feit was volunteering at one of Lollapalooza's side shows -- an exhibit showcasing the wonders of the Internet computer network.

Whether it was the music or the myriad sideshow activity, Lollapalooza drew thousands of people who took obvious pleasure in having this venue for their unique self-expression. You could see men in dresses, female bodybuilders in mesh-knit bikinis and sombreros, a man in a red-and-white "Cat in the Hat" hat. There were girls with tattoos. Lots of boys and girls with braces. Women with pierced lips kissing. Half-naked suntanned

young men anxiously waiting to mosh.

New to Lollapalooza this year was the Rev. Samuel Mudd's Spoken Word contest, which allowed concertgoers/budding performance artists to wax poetic, reading their poetry and performing skits on stage.

A plucky, fresh-faced young man with a green golf shirt and khaki trousers took the microphone around 12:30 p.m. and launched into a poem about living in suburbia.

"I think you'll all know what I'm talking about," he said before launching into a poetic tirade about a variety of teen-age gripes, such as not being allowed to play in parks after dark and something about sex.

A woman from New York, identified only as Nicole, followed. Her shtick was a five-minute discourse of her life manifestos. She read them with tireless anger.

"I believe," Nicole said, "that Jell-O wiggles too much to eat . . . bell-bottoms are ugly . . . homosexuals are just people who liked themselves the best . . . Woodstock '94 is a joke . . . " The list went on and on, and the crowd on hand loved it.

Next to the virtual reality tent and the poetry tent were stalls of crafts for sale. Linen sun dresses. Beads. Rope and furniture made of hemp. T-shirts (for $25). A woman selling skateboarding equipment was becoming visibly irked at the people who were sampling her wares without paying.

And, lest we forget the spiritual aspect of Lollapalooza, at least three fortune tellers had set up shop. A skinny woman with garish makeup was busy trying to read tarot cards for a guy named Mike. Mike, on the other hand, was busily distracted by a young blonde smiling at him.

New to this year's Lollapalooza was a dating service. People had their mugs snapped and answered some questions that would ostensibly match them with other 'paloozers. You provide your personality essentials -- name, age, hometown, sexual orientation and favorite Scooby Doo character -- and the computer links you with a list of at least three compatible matches. You pick one and leave a message.

Also new are Mist Tents, small canopied tents that allowed concertgoers to strip down to their skivvies and traipse through a fine mist. They're designed to help keep people cool.

"People can go in there and just get wet and cool off," said Che Smith, 16, of Baltimore. He was volunteering as a security guard at the Mist Tent. "I think it's a great idea to keep cool."

A quick check inside one tent, however, revealed that cooling off wasn't the only thing on everyone's mind. There were girls being hoisted in the air and lonely boys. There were people kissing. It was a human carwash. So much skin. So many people.

The abandon of youth, indeed.

And young they were. Most of the crowd looked like refugees from the mall on a Saturday night.

"I think it's because it's Monday and the only ones who could come were kids," said Tim Barrett, 32, of Hagerstown. "Everyone here looks like they're 16."

Mr. Barrett, a Smashing Pumpkins fan, was joined by his brother Tom, 30, who drove from Albuquerque, N.M., to attend yesterday's concert.

The Barretts were waiting in line to ride the Chameleon, a virtual reality ride that simulated flying an airplane. "You're not supposed to do it if you've just had a heart-bypass operation," said Tom Barrett.

At 2 p.m., Green Day, a raucous trio from California, plucked the first chords on the main stage. The crowd, 20,000-plus fans, were drawn to the stage like flies. Soon the fans near the stage were in the throes of moshing -- jumping around, smashing into one another, picking up their friends and passing them above the crowd.

"I came here to see Smashing Pumpkins," said 23-year-old Trae Gore, who was in the front row of moshers. "But if this keeps up," he said, motioning behind him, "I might not make it."

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