What does it take to put on the Aug. 3-5 festival?
Perry Farrell is nothing if not ambitious. The Jane’s Addiction frontman’s mission for Lollapalooza, which he co-created in 1991, is nothing less than “trying to get the greatest musicians on the earth into Chicago” for the three-day music festival, which kicks off this Friday, Aug. 3 at Grant Park.
This year’s lineup is certainly a colorful attempt at that feat with headliners including Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Keys, Black Sabbath, and Jack White.
They are joined by nearly 130 other acts who span the musical spectrum. Farrell started the event as a traveling festival 21 years ago. After two brief hiatuses, it returned as a stationary festival in Chicago in 2005 and has grown into one of the premier summer music events. Over the years, as the headliners have fallen into place, he says, “my ambition is a little different these days...What I’m trying to do is break the greatest young artists in the world. I cast that net pretty far out there.”
As Lollapalooza has expanded to after-parties throughout Chicago, that has given Farrell greater leeway “to let people in who may have promise that aren’t great [yet] to people who have really developed their craft.”
He and his partners, booking agency William Morris Endeavor and concert presenter C3, have weekly conference calls to discuss potential performers. “I get to open up [WME’s] portfolio and look them over, but we are absolutely not limited to them,” Farrell says, adding that the debates over whom to book for Lollapalooza “can get very heated at times and it can really spin your brain.”
As a musician, the rise in the number of multi-act festivals has been great for artists who can “can get paid good money to get in front of a good audience 10-20 times bigger than you’d normally play to,” Farrell says, but when he puts on his festival organizer hat, it’s a different story. “The other festivals are looking to outbid you, so it drives up the cost of the artist, so you have to be really careful because now you’re talking about a dozen or more groups that are operating on inflated fees,” he says. “It’s becoming a lot like pro sports.”
Finding the right talent is just one part of the equation to pulling off a successful event. Farrell worries as much about what happens off stage as on: “You want to make the accommodations for the patrons great and have their experience be great,” he says. In fact, he sees attending a festival las a vital part of growing up for kids now, a rite of passage just like getting their driver’s license. And he wants Lollapalooza to be the festival that every kid remembers as his or her first.
For the full Lollapalooza line up, go here.