By David Browne
July 16, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a bird, it’s a plane-no, actually, it’s a guy in a skirt, his face painted in a combination of black-and-white checkerboard squares and a swirl of psychedelic colors. His name is Trent, a lanky 22-year-old who attends community college in Sunnyvale, Calif. On this broiling-hot June 22, he and a buddy have driven down to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., and shelled out $29 apiece for a ticket to the fourth concert of Lollapalooza ’93. ”I don’t really know most of the bands this year,” says Trent. ”It’s just fun to go to an all-day show.” Behind Trent, a huge, baggy-pantsed, baseball-capped, backpack-sporting snake of a line is waiting to cram into the sold-out, 20,000-seat outdoor theater. ”I went the first two years, and it was more of an alternative crowd,” says Trent. ”Now it’s more mainstream, I guess. But I don’t mind it- it’s cool with lots of people.” He grins. ”It’s Lollapalooza.” It certainly is, but what exactly is Lollapalooza ’93 besides one of the leading tours of the summer-a traveling 11-hour concert featuring Alice in Chains, Arrested Development, Dinosaur Jr, Primus, and a bevy of other clankety rock and hip-hop groups on its Main Stage? In the two years since the initial Lollapalooza tour-conceived by Jane’s Addiction leader Perry Farrell as an all-day show promoting alternative rock and political activism-Nirvana and Pearl Jam records have sold better than recent offerings from Sting and Mick Jagger. The music has become unabashedly fashionable and big-time profitable. And judging from its opening shows, so has Lollapalooza. When they’re not on their feet for the gently grooving rap of Arrested , Development, bobbing in time with the guitar squall of Babes in Toyland, or moshing in very genteel, orderly fashion to the frenetic roar of Tool and Rage Against the Machine, the fans are buying hot dogs and ”smart” drinks (love that guava), scoping the grounds for Guatemalan hippie wear, and having their skin plastered with temporary tattoos. At any time of the day, as many people are cruising the barrage of food vendors and merchandise booths as are watching the bands. The longest lines aren’t even for the bathroom; they’re in front of the automated cash machines. Part clattering rock concert, part outdoor plaza with accompanying food court, Lollapalooza ’93 is one big institutionalized paradox. Mall-apalooza, anyone?

Yep, there’s no getting around it: Lollapalooza ’93 is as much about big business as about music appreciation. The ”village” that surrounds the stage of each show has enough food and clothing vendors for any suburban shopping complex. And the conspicuous absence of activism booths-like PETA and Rock the Vote, both participants in Lollapalooza ’92-only strengthens that impression. There are other, subtler changes. One of the highlights of Lolla ’92 was the Second Stage, an almost makeshift area featuring lesser-known rockers and a human freak show. This year the stage is back, but several burly security goons now stand guard before it. ”It wasn’t like that last year,” says Trent. ”I got to go right to the front of the stage.” That’s no longer a possibility, given the growing popularity of the tour. ”There are a lot more people and vehicles now-it’s huge,” says tour director Stuart Ross, sitting in the office bus that’s rigged with fax machines and laptop computers. He’s not kidding: 22 buses are required to transport Lollapalooza’s 300 full-time staffers-bands, road crews, and production workers-from town to town. (And once they arrive, they pile into as many as 180 reserved hotel rooms.) Twenty- five trucks are used to haul 500,000 pounds of stage equipment. Lollapalooza-itself a full-time company-is truly just another monster rock tour: Even the T-shirt vendors accept MasterCard and Visa. Like the stage divers during the day-ending Primus set, the Lolla bucks are starting to fly. Lollapalooza ’92 was the 11th-highest-grossing tour of 1992, raking in more than $18 million (compared with $8 million for 1991’s original Lollapalooza), and ”consensus is that this tour will do just as well,” says Karen Oertley, publisher of Amusement Business, the trade magazine of the concert industry. Several shows on the current 27-city, 32-show extravaganza nearly sold out before any of the participating bands had been announced. This financial upswing has its advantages. Last year, most of the bands appearing on the Second Stage weren’t paid at all; this year, they’re getting about $1,000 per show, in addition to receiving a small percentage of the sales of the $23 official tour T-shirt. Add a shift in the audience itself-from die-hard alternative- rock fans on the ’91 tour to the predominantly white, middle-class concertgoers at this summer’s shows-and the inevitable question is, Has Lollapalooza sold out? ”Now it’s about money,” says the woman running the Timi Tattoo booth that’s part of the village. ”I don’t think the first one was. They knew it would generate money, but not how much, and I think it shocked them. The second year they did it again and said, ‘We got the kids hooked.”’ Adds Tom Whalley, an Interscope Records A&R executive who works with Primus, ”There’s a sense that it’s becoming more about the scene and less about the music.” In their defense, Lollapalooza organizers point to this year’s lineup-many of the bands have yet to sell massive quantities of records-as proof that the tour hasn’t gone Vegas. ”This year we don’t have a strong ‘Wow, I have to see them!’ band like the Chili Peppers,” says coproducer Ted Gardner. ”We don’t have that instantly recognizable name. We’re more left- field now.” (Not that they didn’t try: Tour organizers were turned down by such potential headliners as Nirvana and Neil Young and buzz bands like Belly and P.J. Harvey.) Yet even the fans are noticing the altered mood. ”Last year it was like Woodstock, but this year it’s way more corporate,” said Jamie Branum, 18, of Medford, Ore., taking in the third Lollapalooza show, at Portland Meadows, Ore. ”You can see the sock hats that people got from the Gap. They wondered for 20 years what our generation would turn out like. Now they know.” Backstage, no one is giving much thought to larger issues. These are, after all, musicians, and as Primus bassist-singer Les Claypool says, ”It’s a good way to spend the summer.” Claypool and Arrested Development head rapper Speech cruised the village on the opening dates, while Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero and Fishbone singer Angelo Moore wandered into the crowd to check out Arrested Development. Such opportunities don’t happen much outside of Lolla Land. ”It’s so cool,” says Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell. ”It’s like summer camp on wheels.” Maybe Lollapalooza doesn’t need to aspire to much more than that. At the very least, it remains a place where you can escape whatever you want-that grueling day job, summer school, your parents. Whether its organizers care to admit it or not, Lollapalooza has become the latest addition to the great tradition of American escapist entertainment; like the town square or its modern equivalent, the shopping mall, it is a place for people to meet and greet, with the option to buy. (And a relative bargain at that: Depending on the venue, ticket prices average about $30, or $3 a band.) If that entertainment happens to include hurling one’s self into a mosh pit of sweaty, shirtless bodies, so be it. ”These things happen,” says Mike, a Seattle cook bleeding copiously from his nose after being moshed by someone’s shoe. ”I’d do it again in a second. In fact, as soon as I stop bleeding, I will.”