It started with a whimper: Christina Aguilera strained her vocal cords. Then Britney needed knee surgery, and everyone from Jessica Simpson to Fleetwood Mac reported an ''illness,'' resulting in a flood of canceled summer concerts. ''The pain seems pretty widespread,'' says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar magazine, and he's not talking health care. While Madonna and Prince are thriving (at one point, Esther was pulling in $2.3 million per show), many of summer's other concerts have come down with a serious case of low-attendance-itis.
And then there's Lollapalooza. It's tough to concoct a medical excuse for the collapse of an entire tour (um, bad tofu dogs at craft services?). Last year, Perry Farrell revived the '90s alterna-rock fest (land of between-set body piercing) with limited success. With the return of original cocreator Marc Geiger, 2004 looked promising, thanks to a two-day battery of critical darlings like Morrissey, PJ Harvey, Wilco, Sonic Youth, and the Flaming Lips, plus odd-man-out jamsters String Cheese Incident. And then tickets went on sale. Most venues had sold just 3,000 to 6,000 tickets (of up to 25,000) before Farrell and Geiger gave up.
''It's very hard to find what went wrong,'' reports Geiger, currently in the process of Dismantle-palooza. ''There's too many opinions.'' And far be it from us not to offer a few more:
1 No headliner = No butts in seats.
Lollapalooza lacked that one big band to bring in the Evanescence masses. Perhaps the thinking was ''If Wilco draws 2,000 people and the Flaming Lips draw 2,000 people, then together they'll draw 4,000!'' But it's the SAME 2,000 record-store clerks showing up for both. And this week found the new albums from PJ Harvey and Morrissey at Nos. 121 and 160, respectively, and Sonic Youth not even in the top 200. Geiger says the decision to go super-indie was prompted by public disdain for 2003's more mainstream offerings (Audioslave, Incubus). ''There were a lot of critics who said that was what they didn't like last year. So we went out of our way to address those things. And you know what? The public voted.''
2 One: No longer the loneliest number.
Yet, according to Geiger, ''the artists, when they were playing their fill dates [days off], sold more tickets than Lollapalooza. So people must have wanted to see them, otherwise they wouldn't have bought tickets to those shows, right?'' Right. But, as Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of Washington, D.C.-based promoter I.M.P., suggests, ''Ask yourself: Where would YOU want to see a band?'' Not standing in the sweltering sun. Your average 30-year-old (and older) Morrissey or PJ Harvey fans aren't going to ditch work for two days and wait through six other acts to see those artists. They'd rather hear their thing -- and JUST their thing -- at a club. In the dark.
3 Kids want their...well, you know.
MTV has a death grip on the youth of our nation. And without the youth (and their expendable income), you're not selling jack. By teaming up with MoveOn.org instead of the MTV-allied Rock the Vote, virtually ignoring hip-hop (Danger Mouse was relegated to the second stage), and booking bands that fall far outside the network's rotation (aside from the ''buzzworthy'' Modest Mouse), Lollapalooza failed to capture the paper-thin attention span of the American teen. ''I think this Lollapalooza lineup was aiming for the older end of the audience,'' says Keith Dakin, the assistant music director at WFNX in Boston. ''They were definitely losing the lower end of kids, who are going to take their 20 bucks and go to Warped Tour.''