By Jim Schutze
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When discussing the Projekt Revolution tour, now in its fifth year, it's impossible to avoid mention of the other touring festivals that came before it: Lollapalooza began in 1991 and was the first of a string of multi-act tours that included the Vans Warped Tour, Ozzfest and the now-defunct Lilith Fair.
Chris Cornell, then the frontman of Soundgarden, attended Lollapalooza's first year as a guest, but by the festival's second go-round, he and his band found themselves onstage for what would be a key formative experience in Cornell's musical career.
"I was still young in my career, and I'm going out there and I'm having a big ego, and I want it all to be about me," Cornell, now 44, explains after recalling the 20,000 fans he performed for when Soundgarden took the stage at noon that first day. "I want the world of rock to check out what I'm doing—[but I'm also] on a tour with Pearl Jam and The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ministry and Ice Cube.
"And it's like, guess what, it's not going to be all about me. In fact, I'm way down on the list, and I'm going to have to, like, suck it up and learn about what I do and learn about the craft and learn about just enjoying playing music," he finishes.
Today, the Linkin Park-created Projekt Revolution exists as an orgy of indiscriminate musical promiscuity, perhaps the closest remaining touring incarnation of Lollapalooza's formula. During its first outing in 2002, for example, the founders and organizers in Linkin Park were joined by Cypress Hill and DJ Z-Trip. The following year saw Mudvayne and Xzibit onboard, while 2004 expanded the tour into a multi-stage experience and an even more impossibly diverse lineup. Where else could you find Less Than Jake and Snoop Dogg on the same bill?
"When you look at just the different bands and compare it to other festival tours, it's kind of the least genre-oriented," Cornell says. "Lollapalooza originally came out that way—it wasn't genre-oriented at all. The whole idea of the tour was [to] mix it up as much as possible."
In fact, Projekt Revolution defiantly embraces the tenets originally espoused by Lollapalooza—musical revolution, genre diversity and artistic camaraderie. That's why Cornell, who certainly doesn't need the help of a festival tour to sell tickets, signed up for 2008's tour. In fact, Cornell says he actually pursued the tour, instead of the other way around.
"I did, I think, six or seven shows with Linkin Park in Australia, when they did their Australian tour this last year, and it just was great," he says. "It wasn't my audience, and I had to go out basically and do what I do and earn the respect of these people every night. And it was really a great, refreshing feeling; it wasn't preaching to the choir.
"I noticed in the last year playing festivals worked really well for me because I can mix it up and do some of the heavier rock that I've ever written, as well as turn around and do songs where I'm just singing and playing acoustic guitar." It's a greatest hits playlist, of sorts, spanning his tours of duty with Soundgarden and Audioslave as well as his solo work. "For a guy to be able to mix it up as much as I do, this type of tour is ideal."
Cornell is also quick to attribute the success of the Projekt Revolution tour to Linkin Park, whose passion, he says, is the sole reason Projekt Revolution works.
"Between Soundgarden and Audioslave, I played Lollapalooza three different times on the main stage," he says. "And one of the things that I think happens is that, in order to keep these kind of tours happening year after year, somebody has to have their eye on the ball, somebody has to focus on getting an interesting combination of bands together, getting that worked out and doing all the work, which is not that easy to do. [It's why] some of them come and go.