In Lolla land, ticket prices and music reach a high note

The annual music festival, once on shaky ground, returns with scary-fast ticket sellouts and the Nine Inch Nails.

By Anastasia Golovashkina

Lollapalooza’s secret sale “souvenir” passes sold out in less than a minute. It was almost to be expected, as the $75 tickets got fans into a festival that would have otherwise cost them no less than $200.

But then the ‘Early Bird’ ($200) three-day passes sold out in six minutes; ‘regular’ $235 counterparts were gone in an hour. Last week, it took just one hour for the festival’s single-day passes ($95) to completely sell out. Saturday passes were the first to go (scheduled acts including Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, Ellie Goulding, and Mandel Hall darlings Matt & Kim), followed by Friday (Nine Inch Nails, Lana Del Rey, Hot Chip, and Summer Breeze alums Crystal Castles), and finally, Sunday (Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Tegan and Sara, and Lolla veterans Skrillex and Boys Noize’s latest side project, Dog Blood).

Part of the single day passes’ slower sell-out (if one hour can be deemed ‘slower’) had to do with the fact that $95 is a lot of money—and that $285 is considerably more money than the $200 or even $235 most fans were probably preparing to spend. Part of it had to do with Frontgate’s new ticket sale algorithm, by which users were only able to purchase one day of passes per log-in. (By the way, orchestrating the sale of hundreds of thousands of tickets—in some undisclosed combination that corresponds to a capacity of roughly 100,000 attendees per day—without so much as a single hiccup is no small feat. Props to the unsung heroes of Lollapalooza and Frontgate’s tech team for making it happen.)

But who are we kidding? Passes sold out in less than an hour. Last year, three-day passes didn’t sell out until the very end of May, with one-day passes staying on sale well into even the quarter system’s definition of summer vacation.

It’s easy to forget that Lolla wasn’t always this popular—or eclectic, or expensive. In fact, Lolla wasn’t even always a stationary three-day festival. Founded by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in 1991 as a “farewell tour” for his band, Lolla was originally set up as a single-day, twelve-act affair that toured throughout North America. In fact, Lolla was the first in what soon became a trend of traveling alternative music festivals; Warped Tour was founded in 1995, followed by Ozzfest in 1996, Projekt Revolution in 2002, Taste of Chaos and Riot in 2005, Mayhem in 2008, and Uproar in 2010 (to name a few).

The timing of these festivals’ foundings was by no means a coincidence. In 1994, Kurt Cobain’s suicide barred Nirvana from taking part and led Farrell to grow bored with the festival. Lolla ground to a halt in 1997, only to be revived for one year in 2003 as a sort of Jane’s Addiction reunion tour, only to be cancelled again in 2004 due to, believe it or not, poor ticket sales.

But then 2005 happened. It was then that Lolla finally and (semi-) permanently parked itself in Chicago’s Grant Park. Thanks to a new partnership with Capital Sports Entertainment and the William Morris Agency (best known for ‘packaging’ stars like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Deadmau5, and Rihanna), Lolla began to market itself as the weekend destination festival it is today. In 2006, the festival extended to three days. In 2008, Perry Farrell got his own stage—the electronica/dance–dedicated Perry’s, which Perry himself played every year until 2012, when he transitioned to playing at Lolla’s new camps in Chile and Brazil.

Increasing popularity helped make for a more eclectic Lolla lineup. In addition to dedicating an entire stage to the once not-so-Lolla EDM, the festival began inviting rap and hip-hop headliners like Kanye West (2008), Snoop Dogg (2009), and Erykah Badu (2010).

It also helped generate more ticket sales—and, naturally, higher ticket prices. Back in the early nineties, a one-day Lollapalooza pass cost a mere $30 (about $40–43 in today’s dollars). In 2005, a ‘late’ two-day pass went for up to $115, though most early buyers paid just $35 or $85; by 2009, they had reached $175–190. Even so, tickets seldom sold out until one or two weeks before the event.

Needless to say, such a precedent paled in comparison to this year’s hysteria. Even though wristbands won’t be shipped out until mid to late July, 1,280 three-day and over 2,200 one-day passes are already listed for sale on StubHub, most at a 200+ percent markup. Craiglist Chicago lists at least another 426; eBay, another 217. Even our own Marketplace and the new Reppio have ticket listings.

And if you don’t happen to have $400 lying around? Fret not: Lolla volunteer applications go live on May 13.