Music festivals have been big business for many years. They’re also, in my opinion, awful. They’re overcrowded and hot and full of teenagers or drugs. The bathrooms are deplorable, they’re exceedingly expensive, and security is a mix of overly oppressive and distressingly lax. Oh, also the sound quality is usually less than great. Despite this, a ton of people go to a plethora of different festivals, and some even claim to enjoy them. Good for those people. By and large, even people who go to festivals often wonder why they bothered after the fact. This goes back to Woodstock, the quintessential music festival, by the way. Not just that nightmare in 1999. We’re talking about the original one. Those who were actually there, and are not awash in nostalgia, will tell you it wasn’t the transcendental, world-shattering experience it’s made up to be.
In the ‘90s, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction started Lollapalooza, a sort of alternative, Gen X version of Woodstock. It’s now a weekend-long festival in a single spot, but it toured all around the country back then. It was not always a smooth ride, though: By 1997, it had completely crapped out, to be revived in its current iteration officially in 2005 (the festival tried its hand at touring again in 2003 and 2004, to little success). There are a few reasons the festival died in its first go-around, but one of the most influential alt-rock bands of the era deserves some credit. The band in question? Pavement.
Pavement’s impact on music is unquestionable. Also unquestionable is the fact that they could be assholes, and their live shows were not necessarily the sturdiest affairs. This was particularly true after the release of Wowee Zowee, a great, but weird and idiosyncratic album that was reportedly influenced heavily by drug use. As cataloged in the Pavement documentary Slow Century, this bled into their live performances at the time. For fans of the band, this could be enjoyable, or at least tolerable. But that was the problem: Pavement fans were a clear minority at those 1995 Lollapalooza shows. While the band’s influence is now clear, they were just a critically acclaimed, but not incredibly popular group at the time. They shared a lineup that year with the likes of Cypress Hill and Hole, so the crowd represented that lineup diversity. Many people just didn’t appreciate the band’s music, or attitude.
“We were the misplaced band on a failing bill. I think that was pretty clear to everybody,” Pavement member Bob Nastanovich said in Slow Century.
The denouement for Pavement, and for Lollapalooza, came in Charles Town, W.Va. The festival had problems in the past with unruly fans causing damage to festival grounds, and that certainly was the case this time around. Things started in the wrong direction when the crowd was hosed off, leading to a giant mud pit in front of the stage. Nothing goes right once concertgoers are slathering themselves in mud. To be fair, Pavement wasn’t particularly engaged, either, and the fans weren’t happy, responding in the way any massive collection of drunken, drug-addled concertgoers in a muddy field would… they started throwing stuff.
“This band Pavement takes the stage, that 20 percent of the crowd’s heard of, maybe. And they’re like to hell with these guys,” Nastanovich said.
The scene devolved fast, with the band being bombarded with mud and rocks. Eventually, vocalist Stephen Malkmus was struck square in the chest by something that clearly had some weight to it, and that was it. Guitarist Scott Kannberg, also known as Spiral Stairs, was so incensed that he flipped off the entire crowd, then mooned them, before the band finally exited the stage for good.
“Quite frankly, I think it could be safely said that Pavement is the band that effectively did in Lollapalooza,” Nastanovich continued.
Considering there were a couple years left in Lollapalooza’s original run, it’s hard to say that Pavement “killed” Lollapalooza, especially when the whole alt-rock scene was losing its relevance at the time anyway. Still, the Pavement event in West Virginia was an ugly, searing representative of many flaws that killed Lollapalooza as a touring festival.