Unlike the rest of the working world, Perry Farrell very rarely comes down with a case of the Mondays. Instead, the rock ’n’ roll icon and founder of Lollapalooza charges into each new week armed with an arsenal of ideas for brainstorming sessions, dubbed “Monday Morning Meetings.” The Lolla staff, outside promoters and other collaborators gather to pitch future lineup ideas for the mammoth three-day music festival that descends upon Grant Park each summer (landing this year Aug. 2-4). “We discuss groups that are touring or have new records out, groups that are coming up that agents or managers want to get on the bill, personal favorites and people that we’d like to see on the bill,” Farrell explains from his home in Los Angeles.
His days are now entrenched in Lolla logistics, but it wasn’t long ago that Farrell, 54, was headlining festival stages himself. Best known as the singer and co-founder of the band Jane’s Addiction, he’s considered a figurehead of the American alternative-rock movement that sprouted in the 1980s and dominated airwaves with aplomb in the 1990s. While they were pioneers of the sound, Jane’s Addiction dissolved in 1991 amid struggles with drug addiction and interpersonal squabbling.
It was from the demise of Jane’s Addiction that Lollapalooza was born, conceived as a sort of farewell tour for the group. It was so successful that Farrell stuck to it, and in the early ’90s, the festival was the premier destination for the biggest punk and alternative acts of the day. But by 1998, alt-rock’s reign was overthrown by a shifting musical landscape and the fest was canceled. Farrell attempted to revive Jane’s Addiction and Lolla in 2003, but the fest was canceled again in 2004 due to poor ticket sales. Farrell was undeterred. Along with friends and collaborators, he scrambled to re-imagine Lolla’s format: The third attempt needed a permanent home and a more diverse lineup.
In 2005, Lollapalooza debuted as a two-day stand-alone affair in Grant Park. Farrell was unsure that it would succeed. The bill had been locked down just four months prior to opening day, a scary timeline given that a lot of agents won’t even consider booking an artist that close to a fest’s launch, not to mention a reworked one that had been previously canceled. Add to that the fact that Farrell had spent months hustling to secure permits and get everything up and running in Chicago. “We were only using half of the field [at Grant Park],” he recalls. “We were able to get, like, three baseball diamonds from the city of Chicago — that amount of land.”
The relief Farrell felt once the gates flung open was palpable, but he was still a bit unsettled. “It felt good, but it was new. You know how sometimes you’re just not sure about things?” He recalls a poignant moment that turned the tables. “By the time Arcade Fire went on, there was a moment when I looked over my shoulder at the rest of the crowd behind me,” he remembers. “The feeling Arcade Fire puts out is very grand and very … I want to use the word ‘communal.’ I noticed that everyone was just kind of in the same place I was, musically and spiritually, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, it worked! We’ve arrived.’ ”
Eight years later, Lollapalooza spans the length of Grant Park for three days, with eight stages showcasing 150 acts — and ticket sales are no longer a concern. In fact, this year the festival’s three-day passes sold out before the lineup was even announced, confirming its spot as an indie and alternative juggernaut.
For Farrell, the fest is full of memorable moments. For instance, four years ago, before Farrell was set to take the stage with a reunited Jane’s Addiction, a mutual friend introduced him to Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. “He offered to go out and do a set with us,” Farrell recalls excitedly. “So we quickly practiced ‘Jane Says’ before we went out there. That was a rush!”
In that same period of time, electronic dance music, or EDM, has become a force of its own: Each year, young fans swathed in neon and glitter flock to Perry’s Stage, Lolla’s hub for dance-music kids. “It was something I enjoyed and appreciated, and I just wanted to have a place for DJs on the grounds,” says Farrell, also a longtime DJ, performing under the name DJ Peretz (he’s been known to spin a set or two over the weekend). Baauer, the young producer responsible for 2012 Internet earworm “Harlem Shake,” performs in the tent this year, and Farrell is particularly excited for a set by young Los Angeles DJ Cole Plante. “He’s 16-years-old and he already has a record deal,” he says.
I wouldn’t say we settled on Chicago. We chose Chicago. And in return I guess Chicago chose us.
Despite booking some of the EDM’s hottest names — Skrillex, for example — Farrell insists that he remains of the old electronic guard. “I’m not particularly crazy about EDM; it’s more like pop music to me. [Perry’s Stage] wasn’t born from a place of like ‘EDM is going to explode in five years.’ I just wanted to throw a good party.”
As Lollapalooza has thrived — it now hosts concerts in Chile and Brazil — Farrell has continued to make music. After the breakup of Jane’s Addiction, Farrell went on to form the bands Porno for Pyros, the Satellite Party and PerryEtty, alongside his wife of 11 years, Etty Lau Farrell. “My wife and I, we’re topliners. We get a dance track and sing over it. So you bring melody, voice and song, and somebody else brings the beats and the synth melodies.”
Each year after the festivities wind down, Farrell makes a point to explore Chicago with Etty and sons Hezron and Izzadore. “We like going to all of the art exhibits at the museums and to the Pier. At night we like to take in the different restaurants.” He also has a thing for Chicago’s hotels. “They give me ideas for interior decoration.”
Though the city’s central location and big airport were what initially caught his eye, Farrell is a firm believer that Grant Park’s beautifully kept grounds and proximity to the lake, hotels and public transportation make it the best spot in the entire country for a music festival. “We scoured the country for where we wanted to go, and I wouldn’t say we settled on Chicago,” he says. “We chose Chicago. And in return, I guess Chicago chose us.”
Matter of Act
Unsure of what to see at Lolla? Use our day-by-day festival breakdown to craft your ideal concert agenda.
Headliner: The Killers. They’ll probably perform cuts from their latest album, “Battle Born,” but we’re banking on classics like “Mr. Brightside” too.
Also playing: Sultry songbird Lana Del Rey, Swedish DJ duo Icona Pop and radio mainstay Imagine Dragons.
Don’t miss: British neo-soul siren Jessie Ware (above), who rocked her last Chicago appearance. We expect no less of her here. Rising local talent Chance the Rapper hypes up the crowd with infectious beats and his bratty delivery.
Headliner: Mumford & Sons. If you caught the English folk rockers’ last Lollapalooza set in 2010, you can say you saw them before they were cool. Three years and a Grammy later, they’ve solidified their headliner status.
Also playing: “Ho Hey” rockers The Lumineers, country crooner Eric Church and British singer-songwriter Ben Howard.
Don’t miss: Former James Brown impersonator Charles Bradley has soul to spare. Craving some sugar? English electro-pop chanteuse Ellie Goulding has you covered. Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” topped almost every “best of” list last year, and he definitely delivers when performing live.
Headliner: The Cure. We never pass up the opportunity to sing along to these guys — not in the car, and certainly not in a giant field with the sunset and the Chicago skyline as a backdrop.
Also playing: Lolla veterans Vampire Weekend, multitalented twins Tegan and Sara (above) and SoCal folk/pop group The Mowgli’s.
Don’t miss: NYC duo MS MR (Miss Mister) is garnering comparisons to Florence and the Machine. And don’t let Jake Bugg’s rough bluesy sound and soulful lyrics fool you: He’s a newcomer and only 19.
Photos of Perry Farrell by Melissa Rodwell