Lollapalooza began in 1991 as a vehicle for co-founder Perry Farrell’s band Jane’s Addiction. Inspired by multiple-day European events such as the Glastonbury Festival, Lollapalooza revolutionized touring fests in ways we now take for granted: Second stages, carnival midways, genre-crossing lineups — all were either invented by or came into their own under Lollapalooza during its initial seven-year touring run.
By 1995, Lollapalooza was a reliable brand and its organizers were in a mood to take risks. They enlisted underground heroes Sonic Youth as main-stage headliners, where they were joined by Hole (featuring a newly widowed Courtney Love), Cypress Hill, Pavement, Sinead O’Connor (before she left the tour early on), Elastica, Beck, the Jesus Lizard and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. (The side stage, which featured Dirty Three, Moby, Superchunk and Coolio, among countless others, was similarly adventurous.) Most of them were club acts, with small-but-devoted followings, who were playing outdoor venues for the first time.
Tension was built in: The bands hated the shift from the first years’ open field settings to the smaller-sized, fixed-seat amphitheaters colloquially known as “sheds” and the fact that they often played to row upon row of empty seats as their die-hard fans watched from a distant lawn area. They were also ambivalent about the attendees, and the feeling was mutual. In post-Nirvana America, “alternative” meant platinum acts like Bush or the Smashing Pumpkins, not the truly subterranean indie rock of the Jesus Lizard — and the difference between the Lollapalooza many fans expected and the one they got still rankles.
Lollapalooza ’95 would mark alt-rock’s peak, and the beginning of its decline. Metallica would headline the festival the next year, radio station megashows would begin to compete for headliners and the genre eventually collapsed on itself with the arrival of shamelessly commercial bands such as Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind.
But on the road, in those twilight days of alt-rock, life was crazy, fractious, boring — and hot. While some made friends for life, there were outcasts, at least one backstage brawl and even an altercation with the audience.. It was the world’s strangest summer camp, populated by artsy rock stars, a disappearing diva and one giant, inflatable Buddha.
Marc Geiger (Lollapalooza co-founder): ’94 was the year it was supposed to be Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys. That was right when Kurt [Cobain] was in trouble. That year, the show was so big, we decided to anti it and go indie in ’95.
Stuart Ross (Lollapalooza tour director, 1991-7): In ’94, the press was starting to take shots at us. They said, “Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys are platinum-selling artists, and Lollapalooza was never a show for platinum artists.” In ’95, the same press came back and said, Lollapalooza’s a rip-off, there’s no headliners.
Lee Ranaldo (guitarist, Sonic Youth): For Sonic Youth to be given the headlining slot was a confirmation of our status at that point, at least in the underground. We weren’t selling the kind of records that Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins were, but in terms of influence and status, we were easily there. It was kind of a risk for them, because it was much more of an eclectic lineup.
Duane Denison (guitarist, Jesus Lizard): Even Pavement had songs on commercial radio. They had “Cut Your Hair,” which was almost like a novelty hit. Other people had songs on the radio, except us. That really was the high-water mark of that indie rock culture.
Ranaldo: There was this slightly strange pall hanging over the whole tour, like, this is the spawn of Nirvana. . . . For a lot of people in the indie community, there was a bit of ambivalence. People wondered, is this good for our community, that these bands we’ve come up with are now on this big, high profile tour? Is this the beginning of the end? Or the end of the end?
Bob Nastanovich (percussionist, Pavement): It was a real culture shock for us. I’d never seen a shed in my life. It quickly became apparent the first day at the Gorge that we were in way over our heads. We were just better suited to indoor venues. We felt badly, performance-wise, that we couldn’t pull off what our peers could pull off. Sonic Youth had a beautiful light show and Hole had Courtney at the peak of her insane celebrity power. Cypress Hill had their schtick with this inflatable Buddha character. It was a great relief to us that Jesus Lizard had a similar approach. They were gonna take the greatest 1 a.m. act in rock-and-roll and try to pull it off at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and they got a similar response, even though David Yow is a better performer than anybody in our band. You had to have more than music.
Kevin Lenear (saxophonist, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones): I was only 25 then, and I was in awe of everybody. We hadn’t had a big hit yet. That was our first big tour. It’s like, “Oh my God, we’re finally playing with real bands.” I was so in awe of those top three, four headlining bands. I didn’t have the [nerve] to go talk to them. In the Bosstones, we call people who stand around and ask questions and outstay their welcome “punishers.” I didn’t want to be a punisher.
Nastanovich: The Bosstones were so pumped, and their act was so physical, it was like an aerobics class. They had outfits. They were made for that type of thing, and we just weren’t.
Eric Erlandson (guitarist, Hole): That was only 14 months after Kurt’s death, and a year after [Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff’s] death. We were still in recovery mode. Courtney was obviously stirring up a lot of stuff and going through a lot of stuff emotionally, and mourning publicly in everybody’s face. They say after a suicide, it doesn’t really hit you till one to two years after, so there was still a lot of craziness coming out. I think that we weren’t in the best shape to be running around the country playing festivals.
We had bulk candy backstage. I go, “Courtney, there’s [Bikini Kill frontwoman] Kathleen Hanna. You should offer her some candy.” She grabbed the candy and just threw it at her. Everybody was like, “Oh my God, she punched her in the face,” but from what I saw, she threw the candy, and kind of slapped her in the direction of her face. I don’t know if she actually hit her, or what. It doesn’t matter, it was not cool. . . . The whole tour started on that note.
Melissa Auf der Maur (bassist, Hole): Courtney did a fake cat hiss, like a joke. Like, “We’re at war” kind of a thing , like “Sss!” . . . making a weird joke in passing. Next thing you know, there’s this explosion of arguing. Maybe a shove, I can’t remember. Kathleen Hanna screamed at the top of her lungs: “I challenge you to a feminist debate in any university in America!” I was like, “What is this?” It was hilarious.
Erlandson: Courtney’s erratic, everybody knows Courtney, but she was somebody who was reasonable most of the time. Her violence was more onstage.
III. Someone gets arrested: July 18, Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati
July 18, Riverbend Music Center, Cincinnati
Denison: Cincinnati is just a weird location. It’s kind of where morality starts.
David Yow (singer, the Jesus Lizard): I used to occasionally have a tendency to drop my pants, or whatever, and that happened in Cincinnati. As soon as the song was over and I pulled my pants up, the girl who was roadieing for us said, “The DA is here, and he says if you do that again, you’ll be arrested.” I said, “Okay, I won’t do it again,” and they still arrested me. We were going offstage, and two cops handcuffed me and took me downtown. They fined me I think, like, $250.
Denison: I don’t remember even seeing it. The times where that had happened with David onstage, it wasn’t like some leering, obscene act he was doing. If anything, it was clownish. Usually, when that happened in other places, people would laugh and move on.
Yow: I remember Cypress Hill thought it was cool. After that, they’d be like, “Hey, man! What’s up, man?”
IV. July 18-23: Exit Sinead, enter Elastica
Yow: She [Sinead] was so much prettier
in real life than in photos. The first
show was at the Gorge, and our trailer
was connected to her trailer, and she
came in in a slip and a bra, asking if I had
a safety pin, and I didn’t. I was like,
“Oh wow, she’s really pretty.” The next show in Vancouver, I got a box of safety pins. But she never came back.
Abby Travis (bassist, Beck/Elastica): I was blown away by how great her voice was. Her singing was unbelievable. I don’t know why she left.
Erlandson: The day before she left the tour, she hopped on our bus and went into the back lounge area, which was reserved for Queen Courtney. Talking to her in person, I just was blown away by how down-to-Earth [Sinead] was. We get off at four or five in the morning at the next hotel, and I just have a vision of her walking into the Four Seasons barefoot. Then she left the tour the next day. It was almost like, “I wonder what Courtney said to her [laughs].”
Auf der Maur: Her band didn’t know. Nobody knew. She just left.
Erlandson: At the time, I thought that she was looking for an excuse. She was not happy with what was going on with her life, then talking to Courtney somehow gave her the inspiration to head to the airport and just quit. I never really found out what happened. She definitely was like an outsider.
Sinead O’Connor: I didn’t feel like an outsider, and I didn’t know anyone else felt that way.
Ross: I called [her] tour manager and said, “Is there something going on I need to know?” He says, “No, no, she has an intestinal problem, she’s going to be fine.” Then we found out it was true, that she actually left her hotel, left everything, took her passport, went to the airport and flew home to Dublin without her shoes, without anything.
O’Connor: I was disappointed to leave, because I enjoyed the camaraderie. I love Americans in any circumstances, so for me, I was just having a ball. I left the tour because I was afflicted in the heat by the same condition the poor Duchess of Cambridge [Kate Middleton] had on both her pregnancies. Acute puking at all hours, basically. I had no idea I was pregnant until I found myself puking all the time.
Ross: Courtney did come up to me at the next show and said, “Stuart, I just want to tell you, Sinead’s crazy.” And I said, “Courtney, coming from you, I consider that expert testimony.”
Geiger: We weren’t totally dumb, so we knew there was some instability there, and we had a list of artists who really wanted to play.
Ranaldo: They scrambled for a few days to figure out who was going to replace her. I thought Elastica was a much more of a good fit with that bill.
Auf der Maur: Elastica came on, and a couple of shows into it, it was clear that their bass player was suffering from heroin addiction, and they asked me to join the band. Courtney decided the public perception would be too confusing because I had just joined Hole. I was kind of bummed. Luckily for Elastica, there was two female bass players on the tour.
Travis: I had a day to learn their whole set. Beck was fine [with my playing in two bands]. In fact, he was really nice about it.
V. Backstage camaraderie
Nastanovich: She [Courtney] was terrifying to me. I remember scolding her one time, she threw a temper tantrum in the dressing room. She took two jars of salsa and threw them against a concrete wall, and I had just had enough, and I went in there and yelled at her. I was like, “Some poor person’s gonna have to clean that up.” Everybody was concerned about her; that kind of brought everybody together. It was kind of a really nice group.
Sen Dog (rapper, Cypress Hill): There was a lot of socializing. We quickly became really good friends with Sonic Youth. Beck felt like he was from our neighborhood. Every time, I’d walk into our dressing room and there he was.
Nastanovich: Cypress Hill didn’t seem to want to get to know any of the rest of us [in Pavement]. They thought we were a bunch of college-boy nerds, and they were right. They weren’t into our schtick. I’ll never forget the famous day we got covered with the mud in West Virginia, they were laughing. They thought it was hilarious. It’s like if they had their druthers, they would be throwing mud at us, too.
Sen Dog: No, heck no [laughs]. We still had that hard exterior to us at that point, but I never felt that about any of the bands. I may not walk down the streets with a big old grin on my face, I’m not that guy, but I didn’t think anything negative of any of the bands on there.
Travis: My stepfather was Jack Germond, who used to write for the Baltimore Sun [and loved horse racing]. When Lollapalooza happened in the D.C. area, they did it at the old Charles Town race track in Charles Town, West Virginia. We had a day off, and Bob from Pavement was a big handicapper and totally into the horse races, so me and my mother and Jack and Bob went to the racetrack. I enjoyed watching Bob and Jack totally bond. That’s a fond memory. That was a great meeting of the generations.
Nastanovich: I just remember going. I’m sure I lost, so I just put it out of my mind.
Auf der Maur: My personal experience was nothing but amazing with everybody. I remember having them all sign this program, like my yearbook, at the end.
VI. Sonic Youth vs. Hole
Ranaldo: It was the very fledgling days of the internet. [Blogging] wasn’t the commonplace thing it is today. We started posting our daily missives online, and I was encouraging other people to do it. We thought it would be an interesting view from the backstage ranks.
Auf der Maur: I was saddened by what I almost perceived as Sonic Youth’s bullying of Courtney. That lady was a widow, and she was on a survival path [after] a very traumatic moment in her life, and I didn’t think the cool kids should be bullying and picking on her. She was an easy target. . . . I never would think Lee [would speak] against her, because Lee was very nice. I just remember hearing, like, Sonic Youth is blogging, and they’re dissing Courtney.
Ranaldo: Oh my God, you could write a book on just Courtney from that tour. We remain friends to this day . . . but it was a messy time. I think she had a big chip on her shoulder, I think she thought she should have been the headliner, because she was maybe the most newsworthy act on the bill. There’s no doubt that there was a certain contingent of people who just came to see the train wreck that was going to be Courtney every night, and were filing out halfway through our set.
Erlandson: That created tension between the bands, because in our eyes, Sonic Youth was clearly headlining. They were playing last, and those looky-loos [in the crowd] didn’t really care about them.
Auf der Maur: I always thought of it as [Sonic Youth and Hole] co-headlining.
Ranaldo: To us, it was kind of a bummer. You’d be playing the headlining slot, watching people stream out the gates.
Mike Watt (performer, side stage): I remember telling Thurston [Moore, of Sonic Youth] that if they were smart, they should’ve let Courtney play last, because that’s the worst slot at a big festival. Politically, that’s what I would’ve done.
VII. Onstage struggles and the second coming of Patti Smith
Geiger: I feel bad that we were in sheds in the first place.
Jim Wilbur (guitarist, Superchunk, side stage): There’s so many people that it just kind of becomes impersonal, and you’re going through the motions. Playing those large stages, we’ve gotten better at it, but at the time it wasn’t scary or daunting, it was almost kind of boring.
Ranaldo: Beck had just hit with “Loser.” The record was a studio creation, and he put a band together to go out on tour, and it took him a while to sort out a band that really gelled for him. It certainly wasn’t happening that summer. People watched because they were waiting for “Loser,” but it was pretty ramshackle, it wasn’t a tight, well-oiled band. It was kind of like he was grasping at straws, trying to figure out, “Well, what do I do in a live context?”
Ross: We were at Randalls Island [in New York], and I got a call from a friend of mine who used to play in the Church, Jay Dee Daugherty, and he’s played with Patti Smith for a very long time. He [asked for comp tickets]. Patti Smith had not played [much] in well over a decade, and I said, “Ask Patti if she wants to play the second stage.” He called me back an hour later and said, “Yeah, she’s in.” . . . I think she was a little stage-shy. We moved some things around and put her on the second stage unannounced, and it was truly one of the most astonishing performances I’ve ever seen in my life. It was kind of like the Second Coming. Literally every band that wasn’t playing was at the side of the stage.
Nastanovich: Pavement sucked a lot. We didn’t live anywhere near each other, we were ill-prepared on many occasions. We could be awful, not to say that if things clicked we couldn’t be great. Sometimes we were. There was just this sinking feeling of disaster, and yeah, it was hard to take, because you always want to be good.
Denison: [The Jesus Lizard’s Yow] would sometimes sit in the [empty front] seats and sing while looking at us. If there was someone there, he would sit next to them and read the paper with them, or something.
Yow: We just kind of assumed it would be like that to begin with. I just tried to entertain myself.
Watt: We call those kind of gigs “character-builders.” It was so early in the day, they were playing to nobody. Those people who bought [the expensive] seats, they didn’t want to show up till nighttime.
Maurice Menares (tour merchandise): I always thought it was like a family. When Jesus Lizard performed at 11 a.m., you had 70 percent of the bands on the side of the stage, watching and supporting them. That was not an easy tour to do.
Denison: It was a long, hot summer. That thing went on for seven weeks.
VIII. Pavement vs. the audience
(Aug. 3, Charles Town Races, W.Va.)
Aug. 3, Charles Town Races, W.Va.
Nastanovich: It was one of those brutal Mid-Atlantic days where it’s like a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity, so it’s kind of dangerous. At certain points during the day, they would hose down the crowd with great big hoses, and the ground immediately turned into a mud pit. Then we started playing, and the crowd wanted to party, and they didn’t think they could party to what they were listening to, so they started to trash our stuff. They started hurling pretty huge handfuls of mud at us. My father was there, too. His mind was blown. It became a travesty, and it was just a matter of how much we could take. Then [frontman Stephen Malkmus] got hit right in the middle of the chest, either with a very heavy clod or a clod with a rock in it. So he just walked off.
Ross: I remember the guy from Pavement being very upset at me. He’s backstage and he’s trying to clean his guitar amp and his pedals, and he’s really upset that mud was being thrown at him.
Menares: It was a ton of mud. The whole stage was covered in it.
Nastanovich: Then [guitarist Scott] Kannberg threw a temper tantrum and mooned the crowd, and that started a mini riot. It was kind of typical. It was them lashing out, like, “What is this band? How come we’re not listening to the Offspring?” It kind of felt good in a way, that we just didn’t fit in.
IX. The tour’s aftermath
Ranaldo: We basically used all the money we made on that tour and outfitted ourselves with a proper professional recording studio we still use to this day. We made 10 years of records on gear that we paid for with Lollapalooza.
Denison: Considering we were one of the top independent bands at the time, we could’ve gotten more [money]. It helped as far as status and elevated perception, because we could forever say, “Yes, we were on the main stage at Lollapalooza ’95,” but as far as large groups of people who had never seen us actually seeing us for the first time, no, that didn’t happen.
Ranaldo: I think [the organizers] felt like, this is really what Lollapalooza should be for, to put forth all these great bands that are [less popular] than Metallica or Pearl Jam, and it kind of blew up in their faces. I think they took a hit that year. They didn’t sell as many tickets, and it wasn’t as well attended.
Geiger: It was huge. They were all huge.
Ross: It was a hugely successful year. The event was huge at that point, so it almost didn’t matter who the lineup was. We could get anybody we wanted. . . . We changed things. There were no second stages before Lollapalooza. We pushed the envelope as much as we could. We changed history. Seriously. End of story.
Geiger: Alternative became its parents. The indie alternative scene at that time, money came into it and it lost its way. The late ’90s to 2002 was a creative wasteland for indie and alternative music. It was in transition, after the scene had polluted itself with third-tier bands. Even the big bands didn’t matter at that point, because the scene had started to suck itself dry. There was too many imitators; it wasn’t good.
Sen Dog: It was one of those tours where you wished it didn’t have to end. . . . It puts you right on the front page of America [in terms of] what’s going on. To be on the main stage, you’re a household name now.
Erlandson: It was good and terrible. By the end of the tour, I was a mess and I was being self-destructive in ways I’m normally not. Dealing with all that tension was not healthy for me.
O’Connor: I had a ball and was sorry to leave and would give my left [breast] to do it all again.
Ranaldo: It was a very strange summer. There’s no doubt about that.
All interviews were conducted individually by either telephone or e-mail.