New Documentary, 'Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza', Explores What “Alternative” Means | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

New Documentary, ‘Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza’, Explores What “Alternative” Means

Those who weren’t in the 1990s don’t understand how central the fear of selling out was in the cultural conversations of those days. 

There was no worse condition in 1993 than being seen as a sellout. So, an entire culture rose, known as “alternative,” and was meant as a bulwark against such fears. “Alternative” was many things – a musical genre (sort of), a radio station format (definitely), a state of mind (undoubtedly)… and a music festival

That was Lollapalooza, a summer concert tour that began in 1991 after it was conceived by Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros front man Perry Farrell. Beyond serving as a farewell tour for the original incarnation of Jane’s Addiction, the idea was to feature “alternative” acts that weren’t exactly in the mainstream conversation at that point. It also had a whole subculture around it, featuring lots of DIY vendors that many people watching will recognize from the Grateful Dead and Phish shows. 

That festival and that moment are the subject of a new, three-part documentary on Paramount+, Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza. It’s an entertaining series that will activate the nostalgia centers for most people watching. But more than that, it shows just how different cultural attitudes were back then. 

Start of Lollapalooza

The first year featured things that were generally transgressive, such as Ice-T and Body Count performing their controversial song “Cop Killer,” as well as a prominent spot for the Butthole Surfers. Rage Against the Machine was a significant act for several years. 

Things got more mainstream in the second year, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden (plus Cypress Hill, House of Pain, and others on the second stage). And the organizers certainly heard from their customers – and even more so later in the decade, when the not-particularly-alternative Metallica was booked as the headliner. 

Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is straightforward, featuring talking-head interviews with Farrell, who looks more flamboyant at age 60 than he ever did in his rock star heyday. There’s also a great deal of archival footage of the bands on stage, and of attendees in the crowd pontificating about the integrity of the operation, many of them seemingly not thinking about how large rock tours are not non-profits and need to actually consider making money. 


This makes a fine companion piece to the Woodstock ’99 documentary from a few years ago, which showed that such hostile fan attitudes had curdled into something much uglier not long after this. 

Another takeaway? In retrospect, those Lolla lineups were very male-heavy, which helped bring about the rise of Lilith Fair a few years later. And why that hasn’t yet been the subject of one of these documentaries, I don’t understand. It’s also established that while the people on stage at the early Lollas were very diverse, the crowds were predominantly white.

There’s also plenty of exploration of Lolla’s decline in the late ‘90s, the various abortive attempts at revivals, and even Farrell revealing that Rick Rubin tried to buy the concept from him in 2004. 

Finally, we see its re-emergence as a seemingly successful annual stationary festival in Chicago, where Metallica returned as headliner, seemingly to little eventual controversy. International versions, including in Mumbai, have also launched, and it appears Lollapalooza is now a solidly money-making venture. All it took was going against the idea of what the festival stood for back when it launched. 

I’d say not to tell those alternative kids from back in ’93. But they likely have mortgages, car payments, and student loans to worry about.

Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is streaming now on Paramount+.

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