Over the past three decades, Perry Farrell has made his name as a cutting-edge singer and songwriter (inspiring an entire generation of bands, including Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails, with the Grammy-nominated Jane’s Addiction), an electronic music artist and producer, a visual artist, and an environmental and social activist. He is also well-known as the larger-than-life founder, curator, and self-proclaimed host of the groundbreaking music and lifestyle festival Lollapalooza, which has established him not only as a culturally impactful music icon but also a business-savvy sharp-shooter, albeit not a typical one.
“My mind is not focused solely on the money,” says Farrell, an early denizen of the Los Angeles art-punk club scene in the mid-’80s whose first experience as a promoter was organizing events where people were bused to the California desert to see experimental bands. “My mind has been focused on success, which means asking myself if something is, first, an artistic success and second, whether it has drawn people’s attention. For me, it’s art and concept first, people next, and the money then follows so we can plow it back into something even bigger and better. Most promoters put their festival line-up together by looking at who’s selling tickets according to [concert trade industry magazine] Pollstar. To me, that’s like getting dressed by looking at a Sears catalog. There’s no sense of style. I go by my ear and by my guts. It’s a natural alchemy; it can’t just be by-the-numbers.”
Farrell’s unwavering finger on the pulse has led to much praise among his peers in the music community. Often called “the Godfather of Alternative Rock,” Farrell has been recognized for “singlehandedly forging the Lollapalooza Nation, smashing barriers between genres, bringing the fringe into the mainstream, and allowing rockers and rappers to share the same stage for the first time,” by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. “Just as Sonic Youth opened doors for Nirvana, I can’t even count how many people Perry’s opened the doors for,” former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl told Time Out. “There was nobody more in tune with alterna-America,” Jim Rose Circus frontman Jim Rose has said of Lollapalooza’s early years. “That guy’s ear was so firmly to the ground you’d need more than a Q-tip to clean it.” Subsequently “what happened with Lollapalooza, and this is Perry Farrell’s genius, is it commodified ‘alternative,’” Living Color’s Vernon Reid told Spin in a 2011 feature article about the festival’s 20th anniversary.
The only major promoter who is actually a prominent musician, Farrell has always had a golden ear. An early adopter of everything from punk rock to electronic dance music, his flawless taste and ability to detect shifts in youth culture have transformed Lollapalooza from its years as a chaotic traveling circus (which gave huge national exposure to such alternative acts as Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, and Green Day) into the best-attended stand-alone music and lifestyle event in the country, paving the way for such niched tours as Ozzfest, Lilith Fair, H.O.R.D.E., and the Warped Tour, followed by Bonnaroo and Coachella (where Farrell performs in some musical incarnation each year).
Now in its 21st year, and eighth in downtown Chicago’s Grant Park (its home since becoming a three-day weekend event in 2005), Lollapalooza draws more than 270,000 fans and 130 artists to its eight stages (including a massively popular 20,000-capacity electronic music tent where festival-goers can take in the latest in cutting-edge dance artists and marquee-name DJ’s), as well as art galleries and gourmet food. “The extra little touches are what separate us from a corporate festival,” Farrell says. “This isn’t about setting up a hot dog and beer stand.” Through attention to detail, Farrell and his partner, independent concert promotion company C3 Presents, have revolutionized the festival industry. As Billboard’s senior editor for touring Ray Waddell told USA Today: “All the good things that Lolla has been and can be in the future are inextricably linked to the vision of Perry Farrell.”
Farrell innovated ideas that have now become a standard part of the festival-going experience. Lollapalooza was not only the first to bring together artists from a wide range of musical genres on one bill, it was also the first to travel, the first to expand to multiple days, the first to introduce a second stage, the first to accept sponsorship (enabling it to add more acts), the first to blend art and activism (Rock the Vote, Surfrider, and Greenpeace all enjoyed early national platforms thanks to Lolla), the first to offset its carbon emissions, the first to put electronic dance music artists on the main stage, the first to create offshoots (such as the family-friendly Kidzapalooza), and the first to expand internationally. Lollapalooza Chile, which launched in 2011, attracted 100,000 people over two days at the end of March 2012, while the inaugural Lollapalooza Brazil hosted more than 140,000 over its two days this past April.
Lollapalooza is also the first music festival to make its home in an urban city center. C3 Presents estimates that the festival’s economic impact on the city is approximately $100 million, thanks to hotel bookings, restaurant and bar traffic, and temporary and full-time employment for thousands of local residents. Partnering with the city has allowed Farrell and his team to create programs that benefit Chicago in myriad ways, including the improvement and beautification of the city’s parks through a partnership with the Chicago Park District, as well as generating extra revenue for local nightspots through officially sanctioned after-parties.
Recognizing Farrell’s efforts and accomplishments, Billboard magazine presented him with its inaugural Apple Award, which is given to “a visionary artist or touring professional who goes the extra mile in making sure fans enjoy an exemplary concert experience.” The award was created in honor of the late concert promoter Bill Graham, whom Farrell considered a mentor and who was an early personal and financial supporter of Lollapalooza. “When Bill saw what we were doing, he said, ‘Okay, I know what do with this,’” Farrell explains. “He knew that a musical event should be a transformative experience. From him I learned that you should always be thinking about how to make the fans’ experience better than they expected and give them more than they paid for, so that it’s something they’ll want to return to and never forget.”
In addition to launching Lollapalooza 2012 in August, Farrell is working on a host of other projects this year. His creativity and ability to inspire people worldwide has led to his being tapped by luxury tequila brand Maestro Dorbel to collaborate with the company on a new advertising and experiential marketing campaign. Shot and filmed by noted music industry photographer Danny Clinch, the campaign will feature exclusive photographs and video that take audiences on a backstage and onstage journey through Lollapalooza Brazil from Farrell’s unique point-of-view. Farrell is also mounting his second foray into television with his wife Etty by developing and starring in a series that will be produced by 51 Minds, which is owned by leading entertainment company Endemol (Big Brother, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition). Farrell and Etty appeared in the first season of E! Entertainment’s 2010 reality series Married to Rock. They will serve as executive producers of this new television venture.