Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell created Lollapalooza as a going-away party for his band, which was breaking up. This year's event marks the fest's 30th anniversary. // Courtesy of Walid Azami

‘It’s the love bomb’: Chicago’s Lollapalooza returns to mark 30th anniversary

Following a layoff in 2020 amidst the pandemic, Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park Thursday, July 29. “It’s the medicine that we need,” says creator Perry Farrell.

Following a layoff in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park Thursday, July 29, through Sunday, Aug. 1.

As part of Illinois’ phase 5 reopening, the festival will once again operate at full capacity, with four-day passes, single-day tickets, platinum and VIP options, cabanas, hotel packages and more all on sale.

Featuring nearly 170 acts on eight stages, Lollapalooza 2021 touts a diverse bill, showcasing anything from pop (Miley Cyrus) to classic rock (Journey) and everything in between (Limp Bizkit).

2021 actually marks the 30th anniversary of Lollapalooza’s earliest incarnation as a touring daylong festival. In its first year, Lollapalooza stopped in Tinley Park at the then World Music Theatre on Aug. 3, 1991, midway through a tour no one expected to see repeated.

While it was created by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell as a going-away party for his band, which was breaking up, the tour was an overwhelming success that inspired imitators in virtually every musical genre.

For Farrell, one of the more memorable early installments of the festival hit the south suburbs a few years later, in 1994.

“That was the year that Beastie Boys, George Clinton, Nick Cave and L7 (performed), with Smashing Pumpkins headlining. That’s the poster that I put up in my home,” he said, citing a favorite early Lollapalooza lineup. That year, the tour sold out two consecutive days in Tinley Park in July of 1994 thanks to the star power provided by Billy Corgan, who grew up in Glendale Heights, on vocals and guitar for Smashing Pumpkins, Elk Grove Village’s James Iha on guitar and Riverwoods resident Jimmy Chamberlin on drums.

“Here’s what was so fantastic about that year. Prior to that fantastic lineup, we did an experiment,” explained Farrell. “We didn’t announce the lineup (before tickets went on sale) — if you can believe that. Chicago loves music so much that it went clean. I was like, ‘Clean’ meaning what?’ And I think I remember they said it was 65,000 people. With no lineup. That is insane. But they had faith in us.”

Classic rockers Journey are scheduled to co-headline Lollapalooza Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. on the Bud Light Seltzer stage.

Keyboard player Jonathan Cain, who’s been with Journey since 1980, was born in Chicago and lived in Schiller Park while a student at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park.

Cain later pursued music at the Chicago Conservatory of Music at Roosevelt University — but gigging throughout the suburbs was a crucial step in his early growth as a musician.

“I played all over. Out in Schaumburg. We used to have a battle of the bands out in Des Plaines and I played that. In St. Charles we played at Pheasant Run. There was also a club in Elgin. We also did a lot of stuff on Mannheim Road,” said Cain, looking back. “I have fond memories. I had to get out though. Because the music business in the ’60s was kind of dying off. So I had to go to L.A. Off I went with my brother Tommy. Ten years later, I ended up doing all right.”

Keyboard player Jonathan Cain, who’s been with Journey since 1980, was born in Chicago and played suburban clubs in the early days of his career. He and the band will return to the city to play Lollapalooza. // Courtesy of Erik Kabik Photography/erikkabik.com

For Cain, Chicago’s blues tradition looms large, as does the city’s jazz scene and then avant-garde acts such as Chicago. Trendsetting radio stations tied all of it together.

“I’ll never forget the radio. WLS and Super CFL. They played this eclectic playlist — everything from The Who to Al Green, it didn’t matter. And they had personality — Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack and all of these guys. Franklyn MacCormack,” Cain recalled. “I guess that’s why I loved getting on the radio. When I met Steve Perry, the one thing we agreed on was we wanted to make songs that get on the radio. That was our biggest role. And it was so neat to hear that out of him. Because that’s what I grew up with. And that’s why we called that Journey album ‘Raised on Radio’ — because we were. And Chicago was the heart of it.”

While Journey performs Saturday night at Lollapalooza, the group actually makes its return to the stage Thursday, July 29, during a special aftershow at the Aragon Ballroom. With a capacity of just 5,000, the Aragon acts as a fairly intimate setting for a band that typically sells out much bigger stadiums.

Journey performed several times at the Aragon in 1978, including March and April appearances alongside Ronnie Montrose and then unknown rock act Van Halen before returning to Chicago in July as the opening act for the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.

While Cain didn’t join the group until two years later, the Aragon still holds a special place.

“I wasn’t in the band yet. I was in The Babys. And we had one horrible show there. We played with Molly Hatchet and we got booed off the stage. By the third song they were throwing stuff at us and we had to leave. So that’s what I remember,” mused Cain with a laugh. “My fond memories of the Aragon! Unlike Journey. (Guitarist) Neil (Schon) has great memories and I have that one.”

Journey remains hard at work on the band’s first new album since 2011, recently releasing the new single “The Way We Used to Be.” The band will debut its new lineup at Aragon, one featuring the return of former “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson on bass for the first time since 1987.

During quarantine, Cain exchanged ideas from a distance with co-founding Journey guitarist Neil Schon, handling lyrics and melody on the new track, a love song whose animated video also hits upon the idea of life getting back to normal when the pandemic ends.

“That’s my sort of double-entendre love song,” said Cain. “As a songwriter, you observe people living life and you observe sort of a feeling or tension in the air. I think in the end, it’s a hopeful message, you know? Not unlike ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ It’s a message from Journey saying, ‘We’ll get back there. We will. And don’t lose hope,'” he said of the new track. “I got COVID back in September. It stymied us being together on one hand. But, on the other hand, I think Neil and I stayed creative. I was blessed and lucky to have a light case of it. So I went and quarantined myself and finished four Journey songs. You get lemons, you make lemonade.”

Looking ahead to his Chicago homecoming on stage at Lollapalooza, Cain notes Journey’s ability to continually appeal to a new, young fan base, a quality that sets the band apart from other colleagues in the classic rock realm.

“It shows you that the band is still relevant. We really have been lucky with the young folks. They like our music. It’s certain music for uncertain times. Journey really is that feel-good band. And we got ribbed for it. But it served us well,” he said.

For Farrell, as his creation turns a once unthinkable 30, music’s role as a way of bringing people together remains crucial during uncertain times.

“I would love to weaponize Lollapalooza. It’s the love bomb,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s the medicine that we need. I really do believe that. It will bring people together. And I will fight with my life to preserve it for posterity.”

• • •

• Lollapalooza

When: Runs Thursday, July 29, through Sunday, Aug. 1

Where: Grant Park, Chicago

Tickets: One-day passes start at $130 and four-day passes start at $375; special packages available. See www.lollapalooza.com for tickets, lineup and aftershows.

COVID precautions: Lollapalooza asks that all patrons either be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of attending Lollapalooza; printed proof of vaccination or test results will be required upon entry. Masks are required for unvaccinated guests. See more entry protocols at lollapalooza.com/safety.

• Journey aftershow

When: 10 p.m. Thursday, July 29

Where: Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago

Tickets: $69.50 for standing room. See livenation.com for tickets.

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