Mike Stern is Jacobs Media’s Alternative and Active Rock specialist – and for good reason. Mike’s programmed some of the biggest and best stations in the format – from KXTE in Las Vegas to Q101 in Chicago. Since moving to the Windy City, Mike and his wife, Jules, have made Lollapalooza a festival staple.
Mike took copious notes at this year’s Lollapalooza, and reports this year’s event may have been one of the most earth-shaking in years. Here’s his “take” on one of the world’s most iconic music festivals. – FJ
For fans of Alternative and Rock music, it was a seminal moment.
In 1991, Perry Farrell, lead singer of a still relatively unknown band called Jane’s Addiction, launched the first Lollapalooza tour. His band headlined a bill of underground Alternative acts that included Nine Inch Nails, the Butthole Surfers, the Violent Femmes and others. The following year it came back with more artists who weren’t exactly household names yet – the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots (who played the second stage).
Far from mainstream, the tour tapped into a growing subculture and was a huge success, helping call attention to Grunge and Alternative music. It wouldn’t be long before those bands became the big stars of that era.
And in 2008, as EDM culture was emerging, Lollapalooza added Perry’s Stage, dedicated to tapping into yet another music movement that at the time was still very underground.
Fast forward to 2017 and Nielsen’s recent mid-year music industry overview that included the bombshell that Hip Hop and R&B have overtaken Rock as most popular music genre.
I’m sure that’s true.
But I’m excited to say that after four days of Lollapalooza 2017 here in Chicago there is something brewing in the Rock world and it was on display at this year’s festival. Trudging many miles through Grant Park, going from stage to stage (I really need a Fitbit and better shoes), here’s what I saw:
- Cage the Elephant played a transformational set proving they are true rock stars. Between lead singer Matt Schultz channeling both Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in his dress and stockings, and guitarist Brad Schultz spending more time playing in the crowd than on stage, it was amazing.
- Royal Blood proved that two people can make an immense amount of noise with giant riffs and huge hooks. The energy in the crowd was primal and it led to the first real mosh pit I’ve seen at Lollapalooza in a long time. They also did an after show Friday night at a small venue that was so fully sold out even resale sites like Stub Hub didn’t have tickets available.
- Muse got cancelled after five songs due to weather. But being part of a giant crowd rocking to the song “Psycho” in the pouring rain (in my poncho of course) was amazing.
- Ron Gallo played a very raw, rebellious set on the BMI stage for up and coming artists.
- Kevin Devine (who I’d never even heard of) absolutely rocked the stage at 1pm on opening day which is not an easy slot. I was in the area to see a different artist and was completely drawn in.
- Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi’s new project CRX was fantastic.
- The Foo Fighters played a three and a half hour after show to a crowd of 1,200 people at The Metro. This proves nothing about the return of rock but it’s reassuring to know there is a band with enough hits to fill a set that long.
Add in performances from The Cloud Nothings, Missio (who I missed but heard were great), Mondo Cozmo, Slothrust, and the fact that The Pretty Reckless was supposed to play but had weather-related travel issues.
Now whether you know the names of the artists and bands I’ve mentioned in the post, there is one thing I can say for sure:
Rock music was back at Lollapalooza for the first time in years.
And it felt different. It was about new, fresh, invigorating bands. And the crowds included women. Not women who were humoring their significant others between pop acts. Groups of Millennial women who hung on every note and knew every word. I can’t remember the last time that was the case in the audience at a Rock show.
Now let’s be honest. Chance the Rapper and Run the Jewels both had much bigger crowds than most of the acts I’ve been talking about. No, I can’t say for sure this means there is going to be a revolution like the one that followed those first Lollapalooza tours. And I definitely wouldn’t say that Rock radio stations should immediately start adding all sorts of new titles to their playlists.
I can say for the first time in a long time not only do my feet hurt after Lollapalooza but so does my neck from moving my head forward and back to loud Rock music.
I can also say that when it comes to predicting where things might be headed, even though he may not be as directly involved in curating the music as he once was… in Perry I trust.
Three years with the company taught him a great deal about successful radio programming and helped him launch a career that included overseeing stations in Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Dayton. He primarily worked in Alternative and Active Rock, though he was also involved with Heritage and Classic Rock stations as well as Hot AC and the 80’s format.
After leaving his position as Vice President of Programming for Emmis Chicago, Mike began writing about the industry taking positions as News/Talk/Sports Editor for Radio & Records and Editor of Billboard’s Top 40 Update. During that same period, he also began consulting Arbitron’s Programming Services Team and helped launch their twice-weekly column Not Your Average Quarter Hour, which focuses on providing insights for programmers and helping them maximize the value they get from their ratings data.
Finding that he missed working with talent he also launched his own coaching business, Talent Mechanic, where he worked closely with hosts from across a wide range of formats and market sizes, as well as a large number of podcasters hosting shows about a wide range of topics. While looking for new ways to help hosts bring out their true personalities, Mike has taken classes in and performed both stand-up and Improv comedy where he discovered the differences between the two disciplines and how each applies to being on the air.