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Ranking: Every Lollapalooza Lineup from Worst to Best

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Rank and File finds us sorting through an exhaustive, comprehensive body of work or collection of pop-culture artifacts. This time, we celebrate Lollapalooza by determining which installment of the festival was the greatest of them all.

The dog days of summer mean that Lollapalooza is just around the corner, and thousands of music fans are about to descend upon Chicago’s Grant Park. It’s hard to believe that, in 1991, Perry Farrell created the festival as a showcase for Jane’s Addiction‘s last hurrah. Of course, many things have changed since its initial heyday in the ’90s. In the US, Lolla has grown and evolved drastically from its touring festival roots, having survived a hibernation from 1997 until 2003, in addition to its canceled 2004 installment.

Since then, Lollapalooza has settled down in the Windy City, gradually expanding from two to three to four days. (Though, one could argue the fest’s touring spirit lives on through its international counterparts, which have sprung up in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Sweden.) Throughout its history, some of the most iconic acts in music have performed at the festival, from Paul McCartney to Kanye West to Arcade Fire, in addition to up-and-coming talent that have since become future can’t-miss attractions everywhere.

In anticipation of this year’s festivities, we’ve dug back through the archives to take a close look at every lineup in the festival’s storied history (including the canceled 2004 festival, but excluding international editions) and ranked them from worst to best. In devising our list, we took into account artists’ statures the years they performed, their historical relevance looking back now, as well as missed opportunities and what could’ve been better.

So join us on a trip through the past of this iconic festival (and its sweet posters), and let us know in the comments which lineups are your favorite.


NR. 2004 (Canceled)


The Good: Considering 2004’s festival was cancelled, the good is more about what could have been. Acts who were slated to perform included Morrissey (who was probably angered the festival had been cancelled before he had the chance to bail), The Flaming Lips, The Killers, Broken Social Scene, and Modest Mouse, to name just a few. It also would have seen the return of Lolla veterans Sonic Youth and Wilco.

The Bad: Obviously, the bad news here is that due to poor ticket sales, the festival was cancelled. Lollapalooza ’04 was to stop at 16 locations, with the ambitious goal of two dates of different music at each stop. Even worse news is that had the festival gone as planned, the (then) newly reunited Pixies would have headlined the Chicago stop.

Interesting Fact: The failure of 2004 did bring some good in the sense that it landed Lollapalooza a permanent home here in Chicago. I’d say that’s a pretty solid silver lining.

16-date intended tour

–Lyndsey Havens


23. 2003

20030709 lollapalooza poster Ranking: Every Lollapalooza Lineup from Worst to Best

The Good: After a six-year hiatus, Perry Farrell decided to resurrect Lollapalooza and hit the road once again for a 30-date tour. It was an ambitious goal, especially following the massive amount of criticism he’d weathered over the festival’s previous few years. Unfortunately, some of the booking choices for the return weren’t exactly well thought out. Jane’s Addiction at the top of the poster is a definite plus, as is Queens of the Stone Age, who were then riding high on the back of Songs for the Deaf, and Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle, but after that, the pickings are disappointing at best and stomach-churning at worst.

The Bad: Where to even begin? Soundgarden is a great band. Rage Against the Machine is also a great band. Audioslave, the amalgamation of the two with Chris Cornell on vocals and Tom Morello on guitar, is not a great band. Other draws, like Rooney, 30 Seconds to Mars, Incubus, or The Mooney Suzuki, aren’t that much better. Also, the sheer lack of rap acts here is staggering at a moment when rap was clearly overtaking guitar-based rock as the main cultural mover in the musical space.

Interesting Fact: The first iteration of Lolla after a six-year hiatus and the last version of the festival to tour the country. Marred by slow tickets sales, many dates of the tour that were originally announced later had to be cancelled.

Itinerary: 29 Dates, 07/05/03 – 08/24/03

–Corbin Reiff


22. 1997

f034ed9885d8b85ac17fadbf660c9367 Ranking: Every Lollapalooza Lineup from Worst to Best

The Good: After the very rock-centric main stage lineup of the previous year’s event, the organizers strove to get back to their eclectic roots with the 1997 installment. And for the most part, they succeeded in a fairly interesting way. They rotated the headlining spot among four acts — Orbital, The Prodigy, The Orb, and Devo — trying to make each night unique. What’s more, they dipped their toes again into the rising tide of metal and hard rock with main stage performances by Tool, at this point showing their full prog-heavy mettle with their second full-length, Aenima, and, until they pulled out of the fest for health concerns, the rubbery Goth-leanings of Korn. True to form, they paid heed as well to hip-hop with the inclusion of Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was still riding (ahem) high on the success of his second solo album, The Doggfather. In and around those big names were festival-friendly acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, Bob Marley’s sons Stephen and Julian, and Britpop act James who, by then, still hadn’t lived down the surprise US success of their song “Laid”.

The Bad: Again, the main stage of Lollapalooza was disappointingly dude-heavy. And with alternative rock finding less and less commercial love from US audiences, the festival saw a marked drop in attendance. That played a huge role in the fact that the festival couldn’t find a suitable headliner for its planned ’98 edition, forcing them to shut down operations until 2003.

Interesting Fact: Failure is the only band to be asked to pull double-duty by the festival. The popular shoegaze rock band were on tap to headline the side stage, but were brought to the main stage to fill the spot left vacant by Korn for the back half of the tour.

Itinerary: 34 Dates, 06/25/97 – 08/16/97

–Robert Ham


21. 2005


The Good: After 2004’s canceled edition, Lollapalooza recouped one of its biggest originally slated artists, The Killers. Brandon Flowers and co. solidified their status as legitimate superstars on their debut, Hot Fuss, which would go platinum. The festival also made prescient picks with The Black Keys (who had yet to have a single break into the US Billboard charts) and Arcade Fire (who were riding high after the critical acclaim of Funeral, released the previous fall). Outside of The Killers, Dashboard Confessional were one of the most commercially successful outfits on the bill, with A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar peaking at No. 2 on Billboard’s charts and hit single “Vindicated” under their belts. Kaiser Chiefs’ 2005 debut was a much bigger smash in the UK, but earned the British rockers a spot as one of the most buzzworthy up-and-coming acts. Other artists who called the Windy City home — including OK Go and Liz Phair — got the chance to dazzle the hometown crowd. Although not as popular as in the ‘80s, Billy Idol made a comeback with his first album in over a decade. Digable Planets also reunited 10 years after their breakup, with a new compilation record in tow. Alongside Saul Williams, their sets represented a burgeoning opportunity for hip-hop to gain a greater foothold at the festival.

The Bad: From the failed previous year, Lolla was unable to retain a lot of its other top-tier talent, including Morrissey, PJ Harvey, and Sonic Youth. And consequently, this year had a less-than-stellar headlining slate. Despite their solid live reputation, top-billed Pixies hadn’t released new music in well over a decade. And the lineup still skewed very heavily toward alternative rock. The solid rock acts on the bill (Dinosaur Jr., Weezer, Primus) would’ve been far better draws in their respective ’90s heydays.

Interesting Fact: After existing as a touring festival in its earlier days, Lollapalooza settled down at Chicago’s Grant Park for the first time. The event only took place in the Windy City for one weekend.

Attendance: 65,000 (via Chicago Tribune)

–Killian Young


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