30 Years of Lollapalooza: Ranking The “All Killer No Filler” ’90s Lineups

Top Lollapalooza Line-Ups of the 90s:

If the recent announcement of the 2021 Lollapalooza lineup left you feeling a little disappointed, longing for the festival’s bygone glory days, you’re not alone. Once upon a time (not too long ago actually), Lollapalooza was the perennial summertime music festival by which all other festivals were judged. And although that hasn’t really been the case lately (in fairness the market is a bit flooded with awesome festivals these days), it’s easy to forget just how truly great and revolutionary Lollapalooza was, especially during its heyday in the 90s. In fact this summer celebrates 30 years since the first Lollapalooza travelling festival kicked off on July 18, 1991, at Compton Terrace just south of Phoenix, AZ.

So, with that in mind on the onset of summer, let’s take a trip down memory lane and countdown the greatest Lolla lineups from the 1990s:

#7 – 1997

Kicking off the countdown with 1997, which proved to be the final year of the festival’s glorious run during the 90s. And when looking at the lineup (which basically seems like a mini-live incarnation of the Spawn Soundtrack), it’s easy to see why. Marrying heavy bands with electronica acts has always been somewhat of a dubious concept, but it’s even more questionable when you have Tricky immediately following Korn on stage for example (kind of different vibes). And although acts like The Prodigy (R.I.P. Liam Howlett) and Tool were in their primes at the time, they were also coming from two completely different headspaces, which made for an odd pairing. Frankly, odd bedfellows were kind of the theme for Lolla’s 1997 incarnation (Devo and Snoop anyone)? There’s eclectic and then there’s awkward, and although this lineup had some really good acts on the bill, overall, it kind of feels like a late-90s identity-crisis clusterfuck. 

1997 Lineup

#6 – 1996

Speaking of an identity crisis, headlining 1996 was the once-mighty Metallica, who were sporting fresh haircuts and a new boogie-woogie hard-rock sound that only further alienated a large chunk of their loyal metal following (and certainly did not garner them any new fans in the alternative scene). This made their headliner status all the more puzzling, but if you look at the rest of the bands on the bill, you’ll actually find a pretty impressive lineup.

Soundgarden was still riding high and arguably the most popular of the remaining grunge bands circa 96’, the always explosive Rage Against the Machine had just released Evil Empire, and then you had groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, Screaming Tees, The Melvins, and even Waylon Jennings to round things out for variety’s sake. Not to mention 1996 turned out to be the final year the legendary Ramones performed live, so would have been awesome to catch that! So all-in-all, if you can look past Load-era Metallica as the headliners, 1996 was actually not too shabby!

1996 Lineup

#5 – 1995

Contrasting sharply with the more aggro-inclined lineup to come in 1996, 1995 sported a genuinely more alternative bill, with a healthy dose of girl-power to boot (Sonic Youth, Hole, Sinead O’Connor, Yo La Tengo, etc.) Throw in Mellow Gold-era Beck, pre-fame Moby/The Roots/Mighty Mighty Bosstones  The Jesus Lizard, Pavement, Cypress Hill, and Brainiac (R.I.P. Tim Taylor) on the side stage: you have one of the most legitimately alternative, eclectic, and non-hype lineups in Lolla’s storied history. 

#4 – 1993

Proving this is not purely just a reverse-chronological countdown, we jump back to 1993 where we find a much more lean/muscular lineup compared to 1995. But if you’re a fan of quality over quantity, you would be hard-pressed to find a more potent lineup than in 93. Yes, here we have the likes of Alice In Chains, Primus, and Dinosaur Jr. (all of which were in their respective primes), along with the powerhouse combo of Tool and Rage Against the Machine (although both of them were also on the ’92 bill’s side stage, which kind of feels like a mini-rehash, but we digress). And then you have Fishbone and Arrested Development for variety’s sake, with a tip of the hat to Babes in Toyland, and that’s the entire bill. In other words, 93’ was all killer, no filler!

#3 – 1994

Woodstock may get all the glory/notoriety when it comes to legendary festivals that took place in 1994, but Lolla’s lineup that year was pretty epic in its own right.  A Tribe Called Quest coming off their trilogy of classic records, Ill Communication-era Beastie Boys, Dookie-era Green Day, not to mention The Smashing Pumpkins and The Breeders? Need we say more? OK, we will: How about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, George Clinton, The Flaming Lips, L7, The Verve, Guided by Voices, and The Pharcyde? If this lineup isn’t epic, we don’t know what is.

#2 – 1991

Aretha Franklin (R.I.P.) used to sing Marvin Gaye’s (also R.I.P.) classic “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, and although that song pre-dated Lollapalooza, they might as well have been singing about the inaugural lineup that got the whole thing started way back in 1991. You have to remember, back then anyway, large traveling summer festivals were not really a “thing” yet, especially for alternative music, so the idea was a somewhat novel one at the time. It was especially novel considering that most of the bands on the bill were still somewhat underground to a degree.

But by the time 1991 was over, alternative music had exploded into the mainstream, thanks largely to the success of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind of course, but it’s also safe to assume Lollapolooza’s inaugural festival had at least a little something to do with that as well. There’s also a certain purity to this first lineup, being that the festival mostly took place prior to the alternative music explosion that happened later that year and continued into 92.

Jane’s Addiction of course headlined, and Perry Ferrell has essentially been Mr. Lollapalooza ever since, becoming the face of the franchise, overseeing future lineups, etc. And then, perhaps most notably, we have Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails here, whose performances at the festival have become legendary and only further heightened their status as one of the premier up-and-coming alternative acts at the time. Throw in the likes of Butthole Surfers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice-T, Rollins Band and Violent Femmes, and you can see why Lollapalooza became as epic as it did. And it all started with that brilliantly pure opening festival, way back in 91’.

#1 – 1992

By the time the summer of 1992 rolled around, the mainstreaming of alternative music had reached it’s zenith really, and Lollapalooza’s legendary lineup that year certainly had a lot to do with it. No longer a somewhat underground festival of alternative misfits, it was now, well, a mainstream festival of alternative misfits basically, but with a lineup for the ages to back it up. If 1993 was a case of quality over quantity, then 1992 was a case of quality and quantity. Yes, here we had Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Lush (all of which were in their respective primes), alongside two brand new bands called Tool and Stone Temple Pilots (granted STP were not exactly critical darlings at the time, but we digress) on the side stage. Oh, and did we mention Temple of the Dog were on the bill (who had not performed a great deal live yet at the time)? How about The Jesus and Mary Chain and Porno for Pyros just to help round things out? Yes, 92 was nothing short of legendary, and really, along with 91, set the standard by which all future summer festivals have been judged ever since.

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