Perry Says

Before he headed out to Chicago’s Grant Park to oversee the 2009 edition of Lollapalooza this weekend, the always surprising Perry Farrell was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about what’s new at the festival this year and where he sees music heading.

So this is year 18 for Lollapalooza and you’re unveiling some new things.

“Exactly. People have often asked me if I see a difference in the audience. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about Woodstock because of their 40 year anniversary. To tell you the truth there’s a great difference between the people that initially attended back in 1991 and the people that are attending today.

I look at the music industry. I look at the drugs people are taking. I look at the way people are making music, both in the studio and out on the stage. And what I see evolving in the music industry, is electronics playing a much larger part in the making of music and in the performing of music.

So we opened up an area they called Perry’s. It accommodates the dance culture. It has live PA platforms and LED screens to accommodate the evolution of the software that DJs are now using. You know DJs started out with records, basically, and then went to CDs and then to computers. The software now has the capability of video, so when you’re DJ’ing, you can also be VJ’ing.

So all of these things are inspiring Lollapalooza to open this area up to a dance audience. We’ve custom built the DJ tower in the round. That’s the big renovation for this year.

The other thing I should mention about renovation is – you know Lollapalooza works with the City of Chicago, right? We are literally partners on the festival. We work specifically with Parks and Recreation.

The entrance of Lollapalooza is a beautiful fountain called the Buckingham Fountain, which was actually given to us by the queen. That has been refurbished this year. We put over a million dollars into it. So expect the entrance to be beautified and looking sparkling.”

Photo: Debbie VanStory /
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, Calif.

I think it’s great that you’ve opened up an area for electronic music like this, rather than relegating it to a dance tent.

“I didn’t like the idea of a tent for us. Everybody does tents. But honestly you go inside of a tent and – it’s just the inside of a tent. In Grant Park, if you head north from the fountain, it’s beautiful tree-lined rose gardens. There’s shade. You can get out of the sun.

I think for certain festivals like Coachella, it’s so hot in the daytime there and they have major sound issues because of the size of their festival. Our festival is a little over a mile and it’s gorgeous. So what I wanted to do was have a proper dance area that wasn’t in a tent. So you’re in the shade and right off the water with a little bit of a water mist. Plus we have a beer garden in that area. That’s how I wanted to do my dance area.”

Now that you’ve expanded that space to accommodate 10,000 people this year, do you see this eventually spinning of into its own festival?

“Yeah. We’ve got some designs that we’re drawing up to play to this dance audience that’s just – you know, in the early ’90s, dance music kind of swelled. There was talk about things like the DJ as superstar. But it kind of went away by the end of the ’90s. In America anyway, it went away.

In large part it had to do with the Rave Act, which is something that happened in New Orleans. There was a promoter, Disco Donny, who’s a friend of mine. I’ve done shows for him. They arrested him by arresting somebody within his club. This kid had ecstasy and so they arrested Disco Donny under the auspices of being a drug dealer. And they created this act called the Rave Act where if anybody catches any of your patrons with drugs, you’re assumably liable for the drugs.”

They used the same kind of tactics in New York City to try to shut down places like Limelight and The Tunnel.

“Exactly. So that really put a damper on it. In Europe, that was not the case and dance music continued to grow. People like Daft Punk came over here and did so well and showed American audiences that dance music was here to stay. It continued to grow and now we have festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival. I heard they drew in 90,000 people over a weekend.”

Yes they did. And that’s a pretty impressive crowd.

“So dance music is amazing. To start off with, I appreciate it and I enjoy listening to it. But what I find specifically interesting about it as a promoter is I think it’s where music is going. The new, young groups all are incorporating electronics to a level that’s never been done before.

I attribute all of this to the fact that the music industry has no money. It used to be, in the day, a young group could be signed for anything from a quarter of a million to a million to two million. Sometimes they’d even make five million dollar deals or eight million dollar deals. Now, they start out at 25 thousand, they go to 50 thousand, they go to 100 thousand. You’re lucky if you can find a quarter of a million dollar deal. And that’s only for a big name.

So they’ve had to become very, very creative with their production. They can’t bring in big-name producers and spend 3,000 dollars a day in a studio. So they buy themselves ProTools LE and start to produce themselves on laptops. And they get into Guitar Rig. And that’s how they’re recording their guitars today.

That’s now led out onto the live scene, where groups are going out there and playing. My guitar player plays off of Guitar Rig. We literally do play off of ProTools LE. So my tracks are coming off of ProTools on my laptop.”

Photo: AP Photo
ABC’s "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Los Angeles, Calif.

You’ve been quick to embrace technological innovations. A couple of years ago you did a scavenger hunt at Lolla where the clues were delivered by text messages. This year the festival has an iPhone app, which is pretty cool. Do you think that’s an important part of why the festival is such a success?

“It’s kind of funny. If you look at politics, for example. Look at Obama’s campaign. Watch the way the politicians have used the Internet to kind of gain a foot on their marketing angle. That’s it to start with. But for me, what really turns me on – what really turns my chain – is the idea that we can communicate with each other at the festival.

The marketing thing is great. I love our Web site, I think it’s stellar. I love the colors and everything else. I love that you can now connect with people on Facebook that like the groups that you like. I like the fact that fans could put together their own lineup. Whatever they want to see, they can put together their own schedule. That to me is really fantastic. But still, the greatest aspect of communication with the cell phones has to do with being there at the festival. We still have some work to do with that.

So I think it’s definitely a part of our success. But I think to tell you the truth, what is really great about what we do is our lineup. And the value, the dollar value. It’s still at 200 dollars. If you consider the price of a Madonna ticket, which can go from 200 to 500 to 1,000 dollars, we’re at 200 dollars. Just to see Depeche Mode alone can cost you near that.

Plus we have the hottest group in the country, Kings of Leon. We have legendary acts like Jane’s Addiction, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, The Killers and the list goes on and on.

When we first started, we had seven or eight groups on a lineup. Then we came up with the concept of the second stage, so we brought it up to like 12 groups. Now, we’re up to over 100 groups at a 200 dollar value. In a recession, people are looking for value for their dollar. When they see it, they’ll reach into their pockets.

You have 25 festivals going out around the country this year and people are not going to be able to go to all of them. So they’re gonna choose. Let’s say a young guy, instead of going to five concerts that he was really looking forward to, might only pick one or two this year. So what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to give them their value for their dollar.

We have – as opposed to the one headliner that we had in 1991, Jane’s Addiction – we have six headliners over the course of three days. So that’s what’s unique about us.”

I think the location works beautifully too. Other than doing something in Central Park in New York, I don’t think you could come up with a great location like Grant Park.

Lollapalooza, Chicago.

Kidzapalooza is also a very successful part of what you’re doing there. Is that expanding too?

“We’ve done them for the last five years. And the premise was that in 1991, the audience that went to the original Lollapalooza, 18 years have passed and they might have teenagers or they might have young children depending on how old they are. I wanted to put the notion in their head, ‘Hey, I’d like to go out to the festival.’ Because that generation, they love music so much. Their ideas for celebration and pleasure and vacation are music based.

I often say the recession has hit and people aren’t buying homes, but in our case, Lollapalooza has never had such good numbers. We had a quarter of a million last year and we’re right on schedule to do a quarter of a million again this year. You kind of have to scratch your head and say you can’t believe it. Really it’s because people find a day, or a three-day weekend filled with music, more or as important as anything in their life. They’re still willing to reach into their pockets and put their money down for that experience.”

Especially if they can bring the kids and make it a family thing.

“Yeah! My relatives actually all get together and bring their kids. The promoters, my partners, they all have kids now. It’s kind of easy to play onto the heartstrings of the people that are performing to get them to go over to Kidzapalooza. Like Ben Harper. I always say, ‘Hey Ben, would you go over and do some songs at the kids’ stage?’

We have some surprises coming in this year, amazing talent. Last year I had Slash performing, you know he’s got kids. It’s kind of an easy way to get my musician friends to come in and do a gig on the cheap, you know?”

You just signed a deal for Lollapalooza to be in Grant Park through 2018, right?


When do you start planning for next year? The day after? Or have you already started planning for next year?

“You know it’s crazy. In the original years, the original era – which was 1991 to 1997 – sometimes we would wait ‘til as late as March to get the show off the ground. Today, we’re already talking about next year. We’ve already had the initial discussions about next year.

And part of the beauty of what we do now is we entertain not only a quarter of a million people, we entertain booking agents and they come in and we schmooze them – to be honest with you – and start to discuss who we could possibly have for next year. So those discussions are going to be going down backstage.”

Last question, because I know you’ve got a lot to do. With all the electronic acts on the lineup, are you working with Tom Windish, who’s based there in Chicago, to book artists?

“I know that Tom Windish has gotta have acts here. And I know he’s fierce. I wish I was working with Tom Windish personally.”