My first great music festival was Lollapalooza, in 1991. I imagine most people my age would count one of the early iterations of Lollapalooza as their first real experience with the joyous carnival experience of multiple stages and a host of musical acts. Lollapalooza wasn’t the first, but it was a pretty epic experience and helped touch off the alternative music revolution.
It was a pretty cool day, under the hot July sun in a giant empty field in Fairfax, Virginia. Jane’s Addiction, led by the festival’s founder Perry Farrel, caped the day with what remains one of the most epic sets I’ve ever seen, complete with semi-nude dancers in suspended cages. Coming Down the Mountain sounded a little like what I figured the Second Coming will: thunderous, earth-shattering and transformative.
The next summer’s festival and line up was even better—it was the first time I saw Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, sparking a life-long love affair with not only the Seattle Sound, but with Pearl Jam in particular. Eddie Vedder started off the set hidden in the crowd while the rest of the band got on the mic and play-acted at wondering where he was. “Hey, where’s Ed?” “Anybody our singer?” To which Vedder replied by sprinting through the crowd, leaping the barrier and vaulting onto stage. My sister was closer to the stage than I was and Eddie ran right by her, brushing her shoulder. I was jealous, so jealous. But, man, what a set. They opened with Once, did Hunger Strike with Chris Cornell and added a tag of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion to Alive.
Of course, like most of my festival experiences, I don’t recall all that much too clearly. All day in the sun, youthful exuberance and stupid bravery: who really does remember what happened at festivals? I went and looked their set list up and it was a nice walk back through not only that day, but al lot of my memories of the 90s and all the great festivals I got to see. Lollapalooza lots its edginess within a few years: its uber-commercialization is a well-known criticism of the gathering’s history. But for the first few years, it was amazing: a truly diverse gathering of multiple genres and fans. Crossover defined, to be sure.
I haven’t been to Lollapalooza since 1995. I’m glad I got to see Sonic Youth. I regret seeing Courtney Love and Hole…It’s funny: in 1991, at 19 years old, I felt like I was in the only place I needed to be at a festival (I’ve written about the amazing experiences I had at the ‘HFS Festival—a uniquely DC rite of passage). Festivals were not just music, but a kind of tribal gathering, fueled by music and a million other beautiful distractions and vices. But, one of the saddest realizations I came to as I got older and left college was this: When I went to a festival, I started to feel old. I felt out of place and uncomfortable and I started skipping big shows that only a few years before I would have been totally at home. I think the last big festival I went to was the Tibetan Freedom Festival at RFK Stadium in 1998.
I suppose I belonged—the bands were still mine, so to speak. Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Pearl Jam—all the music I’d grown up to. But, I just didn’t belong. Not anymore. I wasn’t that young, I wasn’t in college, I didn’t have my gang of hoodlums I was used to making merry with for hours on end, desperately joyous with the flush and promise of youth, young blood flowing free like some kind of miracle wine, moved by music, solid and sure as a rock…No, sadly, I’d passed some unseen, unknowable, certainly unrecognizable line from youth into adulthood and rather than surrender to the kind of careless and wild abandon I’d known, I was busy thinking of the things that I felt adults had to think about: rent, or quitting smoking, or waking up with a hangover and going to work…cliché as it gets, and about as maudlin, but true nonetheless. Like I said, the Tibetan Freedom Festival was my last big show. But, I’d prefer not to look at it as an end to my youth but a start to a more refined era. I still go see Pearl Jam, I still rock, I’d like to think. I just do it in better places, with a more select crowd…
So, no specific song to talk about here, so I will share this track, a live recording of Pearl Jam doing Even Flow at the Colorado stop on the Lolla tour, Summer 1992.