Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza Review | So What!

by Andrew Parker

Massively aggrandizing and self-mythologizing, Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is as corporatized as documentary filmmaking gets. Although it pays lip service to the heritage and early years of co-founder and former Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros frontman Perry Farrell’s independently and eclectically booked music festival from the early 90s, the slight range of voices being heard from and a relentlessly chipper, business savvy tone throughout won’t sway viewers who’ve been crying “sellout” about Lollapalooza for the past two decades. In fact, the most telling image in the entire three part series from director Michael John Warren (Fade to Black, Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, Oh, Hello on Broadway) comes at the tail end of every episode when the logo for the C3 management company appears. That’s the company that’s still putting on Lollapalooza, which means they control basically the entire show here.  That tells you all you need to know about Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza, who’s steering the ship, and why it stinks as a documentary and retrospective..

Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza opens with the bold claim that it’s the most influential music festival of its kind since Woodstock, only to refute itself moments later by stating that it pretty much mimicked the likes of what Reading was doing in the UK; a place where you could watch a bunch of your favourite bands play live, get loaded, and not have to leave until the weekend was over. Initially conceived as a farewell tour for Farrell’s artfully minded, boundary pushing band Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza turned out to be the right idea at the right time, hitting at the height of the alternative music explosion, and courting audiences that were more than willing to bounce between different musical genres at the same concert. Lollapalooza also gave non-profits, visual artists, and up-and-coming acts a chance to get their message out to a receptive public and showcase their wares. The festival would outlive the life span of all of Farrell’s bands, but Lollapalooza would soon find itself caught in a trap between staying true to its DIY roots and courting the kinds of mainstream acts that would ensure the longterm viability of the shows.

A puff piece of Gen-X nostalgia and little else, Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza admits that mistakes were made along the way, but by the end of Warren’s auto-piloted series, everyone shrugs them off as the cost of doing business. There’s a little talk about how the line-ups for Lollapalooza often included only a single, token female driven act and were often hyper-masculine, but other than acknowledging this happened, no one says anything meaningful or conciliatory. Farrell (filmed on a stool in a room with an animated visual mural while swigging from a bottle of wine) and co-founders Dan Muller and Marc Geiger (one of whom is in the office and the other is clearly on a patio at a mansion) insist they never listened to record labels who wanted to get their hot new bands on the Lollapalooza bill, but there’s plenty of choices in those line-ups that raise some eyebrows. There’s archival footage from the modern, American version of the festival – now taking place yearly only in Chicago – where someone says its just another concert with twenty dollar parking and five dollar bottles of water instead of what it once stood for, and no one argues against that point. Even interviewee Chance the Rapper says he couldn’t have even afforded to go to the shows in his hometown even if he wanted to. Nothing in Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is a good look for their brand, and it’s even worse as a documentary that seeks to capture the history of a festival that – in spite of its flaws and setbacks – was still unique.

Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is largely steered by the extremely narrow assortment of interviewees Warren brings in to provide context, and the viewpoint of the series is clear by those most conspicuously absent. Trent Reznor, Ice T, and Tom Morello, all veterans of a couple of Lollapaloozas each, are always great talkers capable of giving good interviews, but outside of their contributions and anecdotes, there’s nothing but back-patting going on here. Farrell, Muller, Geiger, and all of the current C3 team members being interviewed are egotistical to the point of being robotic. Their words are carefully chosen, polished, and obviously rehearsed, like they’ve either thought a lot about the answers to the softball or previously asked questions being posed, or they’ve memorized press releases. So many people have been involved with the festival in one capacity or another over the decades, and its disappointing to see only a small handful of behind-the-scenes workers and artists being interviewed. Worse yet, almost all of them speak in nothing but the most glowing terms about Farrell and the festival, even when they admit being upset about certain choices. The savvy viewer can tell there’s a much bigger story than the one being shown because it’s often hinted at, but at any sign of darkness or hardship, Warren turns tail and runs away from it, so it doesn’t upset any of the series’ dozens of corporately connected producers.

At one point, Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza shoots itself in the leg and starts to bleed out with a simple statement of fact. There’s an admission from several people that the festival itself wasn’t seen as being cool anymore as little as three years into its existence. A strong case could be made that if it weren’t for the creation and success of Coachella and competition from the likes of Lilith Fair and Warper Tour, Lollapalooza never would’ve made a comeback and could’ve remained a pop culture punchline. The brand itself got a second wind, but now instead of coming across where people who listened to acts that rarely got in the radio could get together in harmony, it’s just another overpriced, exclusive festival that caters only to those who can pay enough to get in. No one here wants to address that problem. They only want to remind everyone how cool it used to be and that the brand still exists.

Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza is now available to stream on Paramount+.

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