‘Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza’ Docuseries Celebrates the Alt-Rock Festival’s 1990s Heyday, but Perry Farrell Still Has a Vision for Its Future (2024)

With the arrival of the Paramount+ documentary miniseries “Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza,” alt-rock fans who attended the era-defining Lollapalooza festival in its national heyday will experience a rush of nostalgia, and viewers from Gens Z and Alpha will see and hear what Gen X has been crowing about since 1991. That’s the year Perry Farrell created a touring farewell party for his Jane’s Addiction, invited still-new bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Ice T’s Body Count for the ride, and found a tribe of like-minded rebel youth enthralled with his tribal gathering.

Farrell and the series’ director, Emmy nominee Michael John Warren (“Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known,” Jay-Z’s “Fade to Black”), spoke with Variety about the new documentary in separate interviews. Warren is more naturally prone to rhapsodize about Lollapalooza’s rich history than Farrell, who isn’t so nostalgically inclined and has his sights set very much on what he believes could happen under the Lolla banner in the future.

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“C3 Presents (Farrell’s new-ish concert promoting partners in Lollapalooza) and Live Nation put the film together; I actually resisted because I feel that our greatest work is ahead of us,” says Farrell. “But I will say that it did something that I didn’t anticipate. It gave me some credibility. I wasn’t expecting that. They were very honoring to me. And I appreciated that.”

Lollapalooza continues as a band with site-specific gatherings, in Chicago and internationally. But as for Lollapalooza Classic, Warren has a first-hand take on what that meant to his generation in the ‘90s. “This is, by far, my most personal work of my career,” says the filmmaker (who has also created documentaries and filmed live events focusing on Drake, Nicki Minaj, “Shrek: The Musical” and John Mullaney’s stage comedy “Oh, Hello”).

“I was a 17-year-old kid in Mansfield, Massachusetts, just me and my avant-garde punk-jazz friends doing weird stuff and hating on corporations,” Warren says. “We were worried about the environment and gun rights, thought the Supreme Court was being compromised with Clarence Thomas’ nomination… we were f*cking angry. And we thought that we were the only people who thought that way.”

Then 1991’s Lollapalooza happened with NIN, Body Count, Living Colour (“who I still worship”), Rollins Band, Siouxsie & the Banshees and Jane’s Addiction.

“How was this all one bill?” the director wonders, rhetorically. “Despite all of my and my friends’ disenchantment with society, Lollapalooza was the day I found my tribe. Kids were pogoing and stage-diving. The anger was real, seething, bubbling up from the underground and spilling out, all over my Massachusetts hometown.”

That Lollapalooza toured across the United States to sold-out crowds meant that millions of moshing, mud-covered youth were tuned-in-and-turned-up to Perry Farrell’s utopian alt-rock vision. “That’s the time that Gen X came into view, claimed that moniker and defined what it was going to be,” says Warren. “We were going to be a rebellious generation. And so, there’s no one more qualified to tell the story of Lollapalooza than me.”

The fast-paced three-part series — produced by MTV Entertainment Studios and FunMeter, in partnership with C3 Presents — starts with Farrell’s formation of Jane’s Addiction in mid-‘80s Los Angeles and races into the ‘90s, with archival material rare and familiar (lots of MTV News stuff with Kurt Loder), plus new interviews with artists (Ice T, Trent Reznor, Flea, Vernon Reid), Farrell’s and professional concert-biz partners (Marc Geiger) and era-appropriate interested parties (cable host Matt Pinfield).

The “Lolla” series tackles the good times and mass acceptance of the touring Lollapalooza (the first four years), the spectacle of the festival (e.g. the carny-like Jim Rose Circus), its unhappy attempts to go deeper into rock’s underground (1995’s Sonic Youth-led Lolla), its controversial leap into the mainstream (the 1996 Metallica Lolla, which prompted Farrell to quit the fest) and the electronic year in 1997 (Farrell returned with Orbital, Devo, etc.) that marked the end of the festival as everyone knew it. Warren also captures Lolla’s rough 2003 attempts at a comeback (so dismal was 2004, it was canceled) and its more-localized return to greatness in 2005 with the annual Grant Park gathering in Illinois.

Being an anti-corporate teen rebel, Warren did not stick with Lollapalooza as its alternative intent got watered down, in his view. “Frankly, I thought that Metallica was not what Lollapalooza was supposed to be about,” says the director. “This was personal for us. We liked Black Flag and the Minutemen. Even Jane’s was a big band for us. Having Metallica on sucked. But, in hindsight, those things were lightning in a bottle, and culture moves faster than you think it does when you’re in the middle of it.”

In Warren’s estimation, Lollapalooza shined a spotlight on a powerfully potent counterculture that then became a mainstream culture. The director, therefore, wanted to capture the festival’s vibe and ascension, its tumultuous letdown and fall, and its subsequent re-visioning and rise. “The first time I met Perry was on the festival grounds of Lollapalooza 2021, the first one back from the pandemic, and the first gathering of its size since COVID,” he said. “Perry was easy to know and generous with his energy, with a childlike wonder about him. He was quick to cop to Metallica being a sell-out moment – I have the footage – and doesn’t give a f*ck. If you don’t want the truth, don’t ask Perry a question.”

In gathering the past material and filming new interviews to tell the story of this festival’s arch into the future of pop culture, Warren believes that Farrell “comes at this, now, as a man who has turned Lollapalooza into something that not’s this youth revolution set to fall apart at any second. Perry’s turned this into a global sensation that is repeatable, and can sustain itself. And he’s still miffed at how the Metallica thing went down, despite the fact that they get along famously now. [Metallica’s Lars Ulrich is one of Warren’s interviewees.] Hell, Perry walked away from his own festival over that.”

As for the cinematographic look of “Lolla,” Warren wanted his documentary to feel gritty, or “real and urgent, without tying a pretty bow around it… with my sole cinematic license being where I frame Perry’s interview in this wall-less desert-scape,” as he descriobes his dreamy, consciousness-busting setting for Farrell’s interviews.

“I didn’t want ‘Lolla’ to be about an entity. I wanted it to be about Perry, that strange relationship between a man and this thing that he created and how they’re co-dependent on each other. Perry Farrell’s mind? There may be no more interesting a place than there.”


For his part, Farrell wearing a sporty black shirt with his greying hair swept back and slightly slick – speaks as if I’ve captured him in mid-prayer when we jump on a Zoom to discuss Lollapalooza.

“What are you on, A.D.?” Farrell teases as the Zoom screen clicks into view. “I can tell you what I’m on. And I have a good tip: start your day with macha tea.”

Between his executive-producing the “Lolla” doc and the upcoming book “Lollapalooza: The Uncensored Story of Alternative Rock’s Wildest Festival” (from authors Richard Bienstock and Tom Beaujour), Farrell’s live, alt-tribal showcase is experiencing a renaissance. Mention this to him, however, and he’s not so sure that this is the right time for recollection.

Remind him of his first accomplishment of finding, focusing and uniting multi-racial alt-rock and rap musicians of their time and giving them an ultimately mainstream forum, and Farrell said that he’s not ready for his flowers.

“Not yet,” he said quietly. “I want a very special bouquet. I’m still gathering those flowers, those bits-and-pieces that make a beautiful floral arrangement – something exquisite. We’re not quite there, yet, but we’re getting there.”

The Lollapalooza brand still survives, not for national tours but for a signature annual event in Chicago and offshoot Lollapaloozas in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Berlin, Paris and beyond. “This is where the future of Lollapalooza lies,” says Farrell, who has an ongoing vision for his fest’s continued reach into intercontinental, extended familial gatherings. “Anthony Bourdain, what a shame, he had it right. People tune in to experience a world they can’t get to. With Lollapalooza, we bring it to them.”

Thinking about the past, again, momentarily, I bring up frank “Lolla” scenes of Metallic’s booking making him angry and how – at the top of the 2000s – Rick Rubin offered Farrell a piddling one million dollars to buy the “Lollapalooza” name, as its founder was having money problems at the time.

“It’s become my life,” says Farrell, simply, taking his time in answering how he feels about the documentary bringing up some difficult moments.

Looking to the future, rather than wanting to focus on the festival’s illustrious past, Farrell sees the quintessential revolutionary Lollapalooza as one that would occur in the Holy Land. “I would want it to happen there, with the world settled – all 70 nations to be represented, and all of us to take a bus together. I want to go to the base of Mount Sinai, see where the Ten Commandments of Moses were given. See where Mohammad leapt into heaven. See where Jesus walked. Just enjoy yourself. Maybe we can go a whole week. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? … That’s all I ask (of my partners): I want to work on Lollapalooza Israel.”

Farrell didn’t see those initial Lollapaloozas as part of a holy crusade. He stated emphatically that he was a heathen, someone who “didn’t study God or think about God,” but instead “thought about heroin and cocaine and sex… And now I think about bringing the world together. But it has to happen really soon, as we’ve damaged our relationships… . This war that is occurring in the Holy Land, now, can put us back eight generations – eight generations of people hating, killing and enacting vengeance. Or we can be so bold as to say, ‘I love you, and I don’t care.’ We can work together, and make this world the best it’s ever been. It’s all about communication. This era that we’re going through is the era of redemption.”

Farrell goes on to lean into a discussion of the power of mysticism, Jah, deep knowing and peace-seeking solutions: “I’m a Jew who also studies the Koran, the New Testament, Zen Buddhism and the Ghita – I know where people’s hearts are at.” Such moments of redemption, communication and brotherhood can be viewed in the first episode of “Lolla.”

Here, archival footage of Lollapalooza’s first iteration features Farrell onstage with rapper and Body Count rocker Ice-T as the two of them perform an impromptu version of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me N&%$r, Whitey.” Rather than remain racially divided at song’s end, Farrelly and Ice-T sweaty from the hot midday sun – hug it out with a dance, and find communion between Black and white.

“100%,” Farrell says about his mission of easing the racial tensions of 1991, which existed due to the horrors enacted by divisive police departments around the country. Farrell tells a story of his good friends, “the cats in Fishbone,” taking him around to Crips-filled Black nightspots of Los Angeles with him being “the only white kid there. So what I did with Lallapalooza is invite the Black guys to our white-guy parties. I knew that the music was great. I knew that the Black cats were great. We all just had to communicate. It’s really all about how you communicate. And you can’t beat the communication that exists between artists and musicians.”

Continuing on to discuss the power of Lollapalooza past, present and future – Farrell finds its true greatness in its ability to unify.

“That message is passed around through art and through music,” says Lollapalooza’s founder. “No one can stop it now, because that world wide web – even though it’s given us a lot of problems and can be evil – has given us a lot of great people that are using it as a tool for peace. So, the goal now is to turn the spear into a plowshare.”

Welcoming the idea of working with C3 and Live Nation in the immediate future to further make his Lollapalooza into an informational, international hub of sound and vision, Farrell said that you have to start with great music and show the world where the party is.

“That’s when the world will settle… and to do this, you gotta be sexy. You gotta be funny. You gotta be stimulating, You gotta be truthful. And when people see that you’re having a party over there, (they realize) that they have to buy a ticket to Lollapalooza. Let’s go, honey – let’s go on a trip.”

Farrell doesn’t mind putting his lofty spiritual ideals for Lollapalooza in more hedonistic terms: “I like having fun too much. I can’t stand the fact that we can’t get together and party.”

‘Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza’ Docuseries Celebrates the Alt-Rock Festival’s 1990s Heyday, but Perry Farrell Still Has a Vision for Its Future (2024)
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