Festivals

My First Fest Back: Lollapalooza Founder Perry Farrell on 'The Eye of the Hurricane'

Perry Farrell
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Perry Farrell performs onstage during the First Founders' Party at Pendry Chicago on July 31, 2021 in Chicago.

"We all have fear, but how much courage do you have is really the question."

For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Fest Back” is a spin-off series off “My First Show Back,” dedicated to sharing stories from the return of Lollapalooza for its 30th anniversary -- the first large-scale festival, bringing in 100,000 attendees each of its four days, to come back. 

In the kick-off installment, Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell talks about the decision to continue with the festival even as the threat of the Delta variant lingers and why the 2021 edition of the fest is “an extremely important and special year." (His comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

I think that this moment in time is extremely important in history as the country is coming back, getting through a pandemic. We’re right on the other side of it, [but] we’re still in it and it might be another year before we’re fully away from it. It depends on our actions. And I think there was a great divide that was caused by that last president, and other people around the world, and we’re all recovering from that but we’re gaining our strength and we are mighty -- and we’re going to pull this off.

We’re in a very tough situation, but I love the fact that we’re actually in the eye of the hurricane and we did the right thing -- and when I say we, I don’t just mean Lollapalooza. I mean the mayor, I mean the city of Chicago. We all figured it out together, “Hey, we can use this opportunity to vaccinate people.” That’s the mayor, that was her and her staff. And us, too, but she was the one who took all that pressure when people said, “You’re going to do that?” and being a politician I can imagine the pressure she’s under. “They’re not going to vote for me if I do the right thing,” because there’s more knuckleheads than there are smart people. She just said, “This is the right thing and it’s going to actually help the world,” and I’m just honored to be a part of it.

I do feel a small responsibility, but at the same time, I’m always thinking about God. What God would want is for us to continue refining the earth, and that’s just what we’re doing. And I love meeting young musicians and artists that speak for the generation and they carry that message of unity and brotherhood and wildness and freedom -- it keeps me alive.

We rushed off to LP [first on day one]. She’s got a voice as great as there is on the earth. I watch people’s reactions to the [sets] and when I see ecstaticism, their body has just given itself up to nature and the sound of music, that is the best picture I have in my head.

I’m not going to say that nobody is going to catch anything, because it’s beyond me, but I can tell you that we really set a course in the right direction -- and for that, I’m happy. I think [this 30th anniversary of Lollapalooza] is an extremely important and special year, because we all are hurting a little bit, we’re all a little afraid, but yet we’re exercising courage. Not to say people don’t have fear, we all have fear, but how much courage do you have is really the question. And I think this was a very, very courageous and smart and caring year. I’ll never forget it.