Lollapaloozers

This summer's best concert just got canceled. So what happened?

It seemed too good to be true--a two-day dream concert with The Flaming Lips and Wilco and Sonic Youth and Morrissey--and in the end, it was. Despite its best lineup, perhaps ever, Lollapalooza went splat, canceled because of poor ticket sales. What the hell happened?

Theories abounded: Perry Farrell blamed the music industry. The suits blamed the economy. Pitchfork Media blamed all the stupid people who don't know every Sonic Youth album by heart, and I'm sure someone, somewhere, blamed Clear Channel. But while they all bemoaned the state of music, how it sucks these days, and the state of the industry, how it sucks even worse, one simple fact went ignored: Tickets didn't sell. A flop doesn't get more basic than that.

So why? Let's begin with this scenario.

We're standing around the newsroom a few weeks ago, and someone mentions Lollapalooza. Every one of us--a group of music-loving mid-to-late twentysomethings--goes gaga. Can't wait to see Morrissey. Can't wait to see PJ Harvey. Can't wait to see Modest Mouse. And that's when our 17-year-old intern comes in.

"Are you going to Lollapalooza?" I ask her.

She gives me that eye roll. "Lollapalooza's kinda over," she says.

"No, it's better this year," I defend myself, now feeling as though I'm wearing parachute pants at the prom.

She shrugs. "I guess it was cool when it started, like in the '60s or whatever."

Oh, my God, how had it happened? We were old. And sadly, so were the thousands of music fans anticipating this year's lineup. Not old old, but old by all-day touring festival standards, because we have jobs and obligations, because we get cranky standing around in the sun, because all-day touring festivals are built on the baby-sitting money and allowances of kids who have nothing better to do all summer but stand outside in the heat and sweat. If Lollapalooza had come to Dallas, the show would have landed on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Were you gonna take off work? Quite simply, the lineup didn't appeal to teens the way it used to; in fact, it seemed to appeal to the same teens it used to, only they're 10 years older now and minus the summer vacation. I'm not saying there aren't plenty of alienated teens who dig on Morrissey, but he ain't gonna fill arenas with them. Show me a 16-year-old who digs Sonic Youth, and I'll show you a CD Source employee.

Lollapalooza was no doubt victim to the sudden wealth of outstanding one-off concerts that do appeal to adults--Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, concerts whose quality lineups and booming attendance had actually suggested that music today was just fine, thank you, that music-loving adults were still willing to shell out cash and energy for outdoor concerts. But Lollapalooza got greedy--adding an extra day when it was still perceived as a floundering enterprise that had been limping toward obsolescence. It's too bad its big comeback year was canceled. It's not fair. But here is a simple calculation: Double the cost of your event, aim it at an over-20 demographic and watch your dreams fall apart. Sorry, Perry. Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, tours such as the Vans Warped Tour and Ozzfest will soldier on, filling the lives of bored suburban kids everywhere. (For a report on last weekend's Vans Warped Tour, see "On the Warped Path," page 80.) And you know what? That's not terrible. It doesn't mean music today is terrible (although a lot of that music happens to be terrible). It means that kids want to have fun listening to music they know from MTV and the radio. (Now, radio isterrible, but that's a different story.) The people I know will go to ACL, where everyone is polite and no one starts a mosh pit. Secretly, here at the office, we're all kinda glad Lollapalooza got canceled--now many of those acts will tour separately, which means we won't have to weather a long day in the sun to see them. You know, outdoor concerts do kinda suck.

 
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