Keith Moseley has never been to Lollapalooza. When the traveling alt-rock festival was in its '90s heyday with the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Beck, Moseley -- the 39-year-old bassist and vocalist for eclectic, rootsy jam band the String Cheese Incident -- was busy listening to Phish and the Allman Bros. But despite inspiring more noodle dancing than moshing, the String Cheese Incident are on the bill for the 2004 version of Lollapalooza -- as the headliners. ''When the whole idea first came about,'' admits Moseley, ''we were like, 'Lollapalooza, where do we fit with that?'''
Indie-rock fans -- at least those who didn't mistake the String Cheese Incident for a new festival food vendor -- are asking the same question. Kevin Lyman, founder of the competing Warped Tour, understands the head-scratching: ''I don't know if Lollapalooza was ever synonymous with jam bands.'' Nonetheless, String Cheese set the tone for half of this year's 'palooza (which kicks off its new two-day format on July 14 in Auburn, Wash., going on to 14 additional cities). While day 1 includes such Lolla-typical acts as Morrissey, PJ Harvey, and Modest Mouse, the Cheese-topped second day boasts patchouli-friendly acts Gomez and Spearhead, along with full-on jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9. Also on the bill: hippieish pop collective the Polyphonic Spree and Lollapalooza veterans the Flaming Lips.
So what in the name of Henry Rollins is happening to the tour that brought Hole and Ministry to the masses? According to Lollapalooza cofounder (and Jane's Addiction frontman) Perry Farrell, it's all about staying true to his fest's original ethos. ''It's risky -- it's a real left turn,'' he says. ''But we're known for being a part of what's going on in youth culture. To ignore the jam culture would be ignorant.'' Adds another Lollapalooza cofounder, longtime booker Marc Geiger: ''If Lollapalooza [which was on hiatus from 1998 to 2002] is to retain any kind of meaning, it's gotta keep innovating.''
Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, whose band played Lollapalooza's second stage in the breakthrough year of 1994 (headliners: Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins), also thinks the move makes sense. ''I run into kids all the time who love the Sex Pistols and have a Grateful Dead tattoo,'' he says. ''Nowadays you can love both.'' The Lips previously won over the Hacky Sack set at the hugely successful jam-band-centric Bonnaroo festival, which set the precedent for Lolla's mixing the likes of SCI with Sonic Youth. Still, Coyne is quick to point out that ''there's one thing that the Flaming Lips don't do -- and that is jam.'' (This despite -- we are just as quick to point out -- the Lips scoring a 2004 Jammys nomination. See sidebar.)
Farrell is more comfortable in the world of endless improv -- he sang the guitar-happy Jane's track ''Idiots Rule'' with the Stringers at March's Jammy Awards. ''We were going on a beautiful musical journey with the song,'' he says, providing further proof that he's always been more hippie than punk. Farrell even plans to play an entire set of Jane's songs with the SCI, under the guise of the Perry Farrell Incident, during Lollapalooza's July 27 stop in Colorado. Says Warped's Lyman, ''He's just trying to find out how to reinvent this thing.''