Flashback: Lollapalooza at Saratoga Performing Arts Center August 4th, 1992

It was the best of times. The early 1990s was a great time to come of age. The Reagan era creaked to an un-auspicious end with the Iran Contra scandal leaving a permanent tinge of scandal to the end of the 1980s. Reagan’s Treasury Department left a gigantic economic mess for George H. Bush due to his de-regulation of the Savings and Loan Institutions which caused major speculation by these S&L which eventually led to numerous banks failing due to bad and often corrupt investments. This S&L scandal was a major contributor to the recession of 1990 that Bush Sr. had fall right into his lap. His “READ MY LIPS” speech and then his subsequent tax hike doomed him politically and would eventually devastate his chances at a second term. Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza 1992 ticket stub

Flash to the summer of 1992, the election of Bill Clinton as the 42nd President of the United States was still not a foregone conclusion. Generation X was mad as hell and motivated to make changes in the political and social landscape of the country that had been repressive for the previous decade. The old guard needed to be retired and exchanged for something new and exciting and generation X was ready for it.   

Luckily for all of us we had Perry Farrell to be the ringmaster of that circus. After his first successful run at bringing the Lollapalooza music festival to the country the previous year, the Jane’s Addiction front man doubled down and created what would wind up being a lineup for the ages for the second tour in 1992.  I was a 24-year old college graduate that was working two jobs as a waiter in order to make ends meet at that time. My friends and I had enough scratch to afford cheap lawn seat for the fifth stop of the Lollapalooza festival that was hosted at the Saratoga Performance Arts Center on August 4th 1992.  It would be an experience that would impact my life forever.   

Lollapalooza 1992 program

The festival included the main stage for the big headliners and a side stage dubbed “Stage 2000” which home to the now famous Jim Rose sideshow circus. The Alt carnival extravaganza featured artists like The Amazing Mr. Lifto, whose claim to fame was lifting 2 big clothes irons from his penis and another performer named Enigma whose carnival act included eating live worms and maggots. Some things in life folks you can never un-see. 

Jim Rose Circus at Lollapalooza 1992

The second stage also hosted Perry Farrell’s post Jane’s Addiction breakup band Porno for Pyros during the festival’s tour. This was a genius move on Farrell’s part because it enticed so Jane’s Addiction fans away from the thrall of the main stage and gave a chance for them to experience some of the lesser known artists on the second stage. Porno featured also many of the Jim Rose Carnival Crew during their performance which was perfect visually for the music that the band was providing. Stage 2000 also featured numerous up and coming bands like Shark Bait and Sweaty Nipples which have faded into obscurity over time and others like Cypress Hill, and House of Pain that would go on to have very long and successful musical careers.   

The Lollapalooza Festival was also revolutionary at the time because it featured something unique, the Concourse of Curious Oddities that was comprised of lots of crafts for sale, artist installations, exotic multicultural food stalls, and lastly the Cyberbar that would let patrons experience the benefits of an Oxygen bar which most of us at the time never heard of or even knew existed. These were things I had never seen before at any show I had ever attended up to that point.

Lollapalooza 1992 signage

Lollapalooza was innovative as a music festival because it provided space for over a dozen political action booths that featured non-profit causes like PETA, Green Peace, ACLU, Rock the Vote, Handgun Control Inc., and the Women’s Voter’s League just to name a few. This was a big departure from the norm of any other music festival and was a master stroke of genius by organizer Perry Farrell. It was truly an ingenious way to activate members of Generation X. It effectively exposed concert goers who were mostly comprised of teens and 20 somethings to a variety of political causes that they would have never otherwise been exposed to, effectively making it cool to be an activist which at the time was desperately needed. Farrell also helped a lot of young folks get registered to vote just prior to a very important Presidential election that would go on to shape the remaining years of the decade and usher in the dawn of 21st century.

The heavy music action of course took place on the Main Stage, with English band Lush starting off the festival at 2:00PM. We were all getting ready for the big names on the bill that were slated to perform later on that night. My friends and I were at the point in the day where we were getting into the right “head space” for the festivities.  Multitudes of concert goers milled about the grounds locating friends and joyfully explored the trappings that the carnival that had come to Saratoga had to offer. 

Of course right at the point when it was time to start getting comfortable on the lawn to take the show in, the sky opened with rain, just like it always seems to in Upstate NY when there is a great show. By the time Lush finished their set and Pearl Jam came on SPAC’s main stage, the amphitheater’s lawn had been converted into a mud pit complete with crazy mud people that would, ironically for me, foreshadow my experience years later at the Woodstock 1994 festival in Saugerties NY.  

Lollapalooza 1992 at SPAC
The mud at Lollapalooza 1992 at SPAC

These maniacal misanthropes went sliding headfirst down the hill of the lawn crashing into whoever was not paying attention or just too fucked up to care. When Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band came on and they commenced belting out a blistering rendition of “Once” that was a deep cut off of their first album Ten it seemed like the 25,000 plus festival attendees went into a full on frenzy. Without a moment’s notice the crowd on the lawn made a mad rush through the rope barrier that separated them from the stage like a wave of humanity driving towards the stage. The muddy mosh pit that had developed on the lawn grew massively and those poor souls uninitiated to the art started fleeing from the flailing arms and body parts that were spastically thrown about. It was truly a sight I will truly never forget. At that moment and at that place there were no rules, no barriers that we could not push through. We reveled in the freedom and the audacity that the music we all loved brought us to in that time and place.

The rain had finally quit and Pearl Jam went on to finish an epic set of eight songs, leaving the crowd ready for a time out. By that time I too was ready for a break and milled about the festival grabbing some much needed food and alcohol before my next must-see band, Chris Cornell and Soundgarden, was to go on stage. I don’t really recall, but I may have checked out the last couple of tunes that Jesus and Mary Chain played, but to be honest after the energy that Pearl Jam threw to the crowd, I was unimpressed with the performance that they were giving.

Lollapalooza 1992 at SPAC
Eddie Vedder at Lollapalooza 1992

It was then time for one of the bands that started the Seattle scene in 1990s Soundgarden. Of course those of us in the know at the time were secretly hoping that Eddie Vedder and the boys from Pearl Jam were going to join Chris Cornell on stage during their set. We were hoping that they would bust out a number off of the Temple of the Dog album that Cornell and PJ collaborated on. That effort was put together in order to commemorate the loss of  good friend and former band mate Andrew Wood who was the lead singer of Seattle’s famed Mother Love Bone. Alas it was not meant to be, but Chris and the band put on a powerhouse of a set that night with renditions of classics like ‘”Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined“, and “Rusty Cage.”  Soundgarden even slipped in a kick ass rendition of “Cop Killer,” a controversial hit made infamous by previous Lollapalooza alum rapper turned Body Count’s hard-core front man Ice-T.  

Lollapalooza 1992 at SPAC
Soundgarden, backstage at Lollapalooza 1992

I took another stroll around the grounds, I was out of beer at that point and made it back to the lawn for Ministry’s set. I was sort of familiar with the band as they were gaining a lot of popularity at the time and their track “The Missing” was frequently played at QE2, the only punk club in Albany which I regularly hung out at on Friday nights. The Industrial mayhem that Ministry provided whipped up the crowd and the SPAC seats were being unceremoniously ripped loose and thrown about the front of the stage. It was getting real at that point and my concern for those up front started to outweigh what was going on the stage. The mayhem was like nothing I had ever experienced at any show, with the possible exception of the Faith No More concert I attended the year before at the now defunct Saratoga Winners. That one was truly beyond nuts!

Lollapalooza 1992 at SPAC

By the time the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage, things at the festival had calmed down drastically. There was still plenty of crowd surfing and stage diving. The Pit was still very active, but the sense of unhinged craziness seemed to have really subsided and I was able to relax again. I believe the energy that was expended for Ministry’s performance as well as the other previous acts seemed to level out the crowd. RHCP took the stage and delivered a more tempered set with hard driving numbers like “Give it Away” and “Suck My Kiss” that transitioned into to more restrained songs like “Under the Bridge” and “Breaking the Girl.” RHCP bassist Flea was of course on stage in his “Whitey Tighties” for most of the set, beating on his bass like the beautiful maniac that he is. Front man Anthony Kiedis consistently connected with the crowd and performed the best set I ever saw the band crank out to this very date. Lots of energy and funkiness were provided that night with one of my RHCP all time favorites included their cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Higher Ground.” 

Mosh pit forming at Lollapalooza 1992

The whole band at the end of the show donned these crazy hard hats that had fire coming out of the top of them while performing the Jimi Hendrix classic “Crosstown Traffic” which was the final number for the festival.

Ahead of us Gen Xers was a brand-new decade and the last one before the illustrious end of the 20th century. The future was thrusted upon us. Although we as generation were less filled with naïve idealism that our baby boomer parents had, we were a hopeful lot. Yes we were cynical to a fault and ready to call bullshit to anything or anyone that got in our way, but we still wanted what every generation us wanted, a part of the American dream we just weren’t certain what that was. One thing was for certain, we weren’t going to get fooled again by anyone. We were finally on top and were steering the ship and man we were ready to celebrate.

On the 33rd anniversary of this legendary musical moment in upstate NY, things are tougher than we Gen Xers ever expected them to be back at that time. Current challenges such as the COVID Pandemic, Climate Change, Political Unrest, and even the Internet have been inflicted on all of us.

That day back in 1992 in Saratoga there were over 40 arrests made at the show. Property damage was done. The passive rope line at SPAC that separated, what we perceived as, the haves and the have nots was changed to a permanent fence line not so easily disregarded by an energized crowd. SPAC has, since that fateful day in August 4th 1992, permanently banned the Lollapalooza festival from ever gracing their stage again. Here is what the Albany Times Union had to say looking back at the festival.

SPAC legend and lore through the years:

One of the worst juxtapositions between consecutive-night crowds at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center came in 1992, when the Lollalapooza tour, headlined by Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, performed a 10-hour show on a Tuesday before a horde of at least 25,000, followed the next night by a crowd 90 percent smaller for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although comparatively few in number, some fans of the Philadelphians were still displaced, because Lollapalooza’s hordes had broken more than 70 seats inside the amphitheater. According to a Times Union account from the show, “Teenagers and young adults ran into the amphitheater by the hundreds, overwhelming the security staff, snapping ropes and pulling up the posts holding the ropes.” Authorities reported more than 40 arrests, and the tour was not welcome at SPAC the following summer; it stopped at the then-Saratoga Raceway in 1993.”

The memories of that day though, albeit a little foggier than they once were, but are still mostly intact. The sense of freedom of that day. Being able on that day to embrace music, art, and get a healthy dose of political activism as a group will never truly be lost on any of us that were lucky enough to be witness to it. It was most definitely not one I wanted to miss and I am so glad I didn’t. 

Check out below we have some social media posts of other gen xers who shared some of their remembrances of Lollapalooza Festival 1992 at SPAC : 

Kimberly: “My husband was one of the people who stormed down to the front. But then he started pulling people up out of the crowd and “saving” them from being swallowed up by the crowd or trampled. I stayed in the back 1/3 of the amphitheater. Too scary for a short person up front.”

Tim: “Random memory: waiting in line for food and the Enigma from Jim Rose walked up to my buddy, who got through the line ahead of me and was already eating a falafel pita, and he asked if it was any good. “Dude, you were just on stage eating live worms and maggots and you’re asking if THIS is any good?” “Well, you gotta watch what you eat!””

Peter: “I was there. Right before I went into the Navy. It was fucking awesome.”

Michael: “We had snuck inside using somebody else’s amphitheater tickets…. about 10 min before the gates fell! It was packed and totally insane! Top 5 show all- time easily.”

Peter: “All I know is I ate a 10 strip and woke up (after what seemed like 4 years) with cornrows. That’s a show.”

Roger: “We brought a football. We were throwing it around to people in the crowd who made eye contact with us. It ended up on stage and Ice Cube was holding it up during his set. Then he tossed it back out. Never did get that ball back.”

Toby: “I worked that concert it was a shit show cleaning up after it. The place was destroyed”

Bobby: “I thought I was going to be crushed to death during the Ministry set. Still woulda been worth it.”

Peter: “I dodged a few broken chairs during Ministry’s set.”

Michael: “I was there. Helping with Rock The Vote. It was a huge mess!”

Joseph: “I had lawn seats…. but, a group of us decided to make a break for it early. We ran across the tops of the seats till we reached the mosh pit in front. Fantastic concert. I still have my unworn t-shirt.”

Timothy“Chris Cornell dove from the stage and landed on me and my friend Scott. I literally had a mouthful of his hair.”

Sarah: “I remember this event, too. My friend and I had seats in the Pit, and I nearly was killed when the crowd stormed the amphitheater. Gratefully, my friend was a lot bigger and taller than me and was able to lift me off the floor when I got knocked down. Saved my life. . .”

Evelyn :‘I got a Pit seat, 2nd row! BUT on the day there was so much chaos I never made it anywhere near that or even inside until RHCP. Incredible rain! Incredible mud! Good acid didn’t hurt.”

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