Looking back on Lollapalooza as fest turns 25
When suburban natives the Smashing Pumpkins first played Lollapalooza, it was a traveling festival in its early years.
Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin of Joliet describes the fest's 1994 stop in Tinley Park as a highlight -- "a big, kind of glorious homecoming." Frontman Billy Corgan had grown up in Glendale Heights, after all, and co-founder James Iha in Elk Grove Village.
"You have to understand: The band was really still getting its sea legs. We had never been on a stage like that," explained Chamberlin, who now lives in Riverwoods. "Lollapalooza now is just a one-shot deal, right? But back then we played like 40 of those. So every other night we would set the circus up and wait for people to show up."
Twenty-five years after the festival first debuted, people are still showing up -- in droves. This year, Lollapalooza expands to four days. The festival kicks off Thursday in Grant Park, its home since 2005.
Last year, it drew about 300,000 music fans. Tickets to this year's Lolla sold out quickly, with four-day passes going in about an hour.
What began in 1991 as a celebration of alternative music and culture now encompasses everything from pop music to electronic dance music, with headlining slots this weekend by artists such as Lana Del Rey, Martin Garrix, Major Lazer and Ellie Goulding alongside more traditional alternative and rap bookings like J. Cole, Future, The 1975 and Radiohead.
A number of suburban acts also have played Lolla in recent years, including Barrington's Wild Belle, Wheeling native Haley Reinhart and Libertyville's The Ike Reilly Assassination.
Back in 1991, Lollapalooza rolled into the area for the first time with a performance at what was then the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park.
Functioning as a farewell tour for alternative music stalwarts Jane's Addiction, fronted by festival co-founder Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza stopped at large outdoor amphitheaters across the country with artists like Siouxsie & The Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Fishbone and Violent Femmes in tow.
"Perry Farrell tells the story that he was ready to cash it in after the first Lollapalooza. He thought that was it," said Marty Lennartz, afternoon host on radio station WXRT. "And then (talent agency) William Morris said, 'We can have Red Hot Chili Peppers if you want to do this again.' And he considered it and decided that, yeah, Lollapalooza should go again. So the only reason that it kept going is because of the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
Red Hot Chili Peppers returned in 2006 and 2012, and the band plays again this year.
"It's nice that they're playing for the 25th anniversary and especially with Jane's Addiction leading into them (on Saturday). Because that really sort of pays tribute to the history of the festival," Lennartz said.
With unprecedented backstage access early in the festival's touring history, Lennartz recalled a favorite memory from Lollapalooza's Tinley Park show in 1992 involving Pearl Jam.
"I was standing on the side of the stage and I watched them in like a huddle behind the backdrop as they were psyching themselves up for the show. And it was really similar to the photograph that's on the back of the 'Ten' record -- where they're all kind of together and their hands are up," Lennartz said.
"When they separated (it became apparent that) they were doing it around a life-size cutout of Michael Jordan. It was the coolest thing. I'll never forget that."
Chamberlin credits the fest for giving Smashing Pumpkins a boost back in 1994.
"It was a crazy experience. It was the first big multicity festival that we had ever done. (Lollapalooza itself) was kind of a new concept," Chamberlin said. "I had seen the original Lollapalooza a couple of years before and always loved the vibe. Then when we got the opportunity to do it in '94 it was crazy. I think it had a lot to do with propelling our career nicely along the way there."
With four days of bands in one place this year, Lennartz sees the 2016 fest as ripe for exploration.
"This year, I think it's a challenge because there are so many acts on the bill," he said. "With four days and 170 artists, this is a festival that's open to discovery more so than any other year."
Chamberlin, for one, is glad to see how Lolla caught on and grew over the years.
"I'm actually excited that it's still going on. You have to hand it to Perry (Farrell) and William Morris and (co-founder) Marc Geiger and all those guys," added Chamberlin. "They have a cogent understanding of what it takes to do something like this. And they've really pulled it off."