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The Apollo 13 combo meal rumbled in my stomach as I approached the Charles Town Raceway.
I had joined the hordes who trudged across the sweltering West Virginia countryside, past parched fields and sullen cops. The midday sun seemed to be taking a hateful, Sinéadlike revenge on the rank folly of Lollapalooza ’95.
Some pilgrims had already succumbed to the heat—the sort of August scorch that melts traffic cones and makes horses go insane. The victims crouched in a ditch, salvaging drops of bottled water and crumbs of trail mix. Some would never get to see the day’s music, like the hapless revelers I once saw at a Stones show, exiting on stretchers before Mick even pranced on stage, their exuberant tour T-shirts mocking limp bodies.
This was a similarly pathetic scene, but I had little sympathy for the fallen, many of whom sported official Hole gas-station-chic work uniforms and hip hemp jewelry. All I could think was that I’d never get the chance to see Charlie Rich, who recently died in a motel in southern Louisiana. I’d never get the opportunity to hear him sing his gentle blues at some lounge for an audience of people who pump gas for a living. And here I was, out in the hills among a bunch of brats with backpacks and attitudes—and for what? To watch Courtney Love slug another riot grrrl? To politely applaud as Thurston Moore showed off his real kool guitar tunings?
Despite these misgivings, I was still looking forward to the show, if only to find out whether Pavement could recreate its sublime basement noise in an outdoor festival setting.
Besides, I had attended the inaugural Lollapalooza spectacle when it hit Fairfax a few years ago, and it was a blast—and not just for the privilege of witnessing the Butthole Surfers perform in broad daylight. There was a bracing anarchy to the entire event: Poor planning and disorganization only stoked the spirits of concertgoers, who had come to see the bands rather than to be seen. Sure, there wasn’t much water on-site, but there were other means of refreshment, like crushing stolen watermelons and sharing the innards with parched compadres.
I realized last week’s bash was a whole new Lollapalooza even before I made it past the entrance. Spectators were herded through the slots of an actual starting gate. Frisks netted all sorts of stuff—blankets, umbrellas, coolers, water and beer bottles, wallet chains, even tanning lotions—deemed illegal by concert organizers intent on a concession monopoly. The confiscated booty formed a pile that was periodically raided by urchins from a trailer park next to the raceway.
Inside the gates loomed a sprawling mall for pseudo-alternative consumption: bead- and crafts-pushers on leave from tour duty with the Grateful Dead corporation; booths peddling smart drinks and veggie burgers; an art tent flogging overpriced framed psychedelia; and a bondage tent for jaded teenyboppers already bored with old-fashioned hickeys. The tattooing and piercing stands weren’t too busy, since most of the crowd had long ago succumbed to the peer pressure to get a nose ring.
For many, the music was clearly just another attraction. Beck and his band failed to inspire the listless afternoon audience—only the song “Loser” spurred a response. The stage-rushing masses didn’t mind that it was a sardonic parody of the hit. From that moment on, this Lollapalooza belonged to the moshers, those cretinous oversize boys who attend concerts with the sole purpose of rolling around in the mud and beating each other up.
By the time Pavement began, the moshers—suffering, no doubt, from that commonplace toddlers’ disease, Attention Deficit Disorder—turned their mud-pie attacks on the band. With Pavement clicking on “Grave Architecture” and the sun finally sinking, the moment was too good to last. Naturally, the moshers pelted the stage, hitting band members and their instruments and destroying a keyboard. After a few more aborted attempts to forge on, Pavement stormed off the stage, as guitarist Scott Kannberg mooned the goons and caught a final flurry of clods on his bared backside.
As darkness fell, the idiocy only got worse, nearly transforming Courtney Love into a sympathetic figure: “Is that the last piece of mud you can throw, frat-boy asshole?” sniped the charming Ms. Love as she wiped off her black nightie. “Is that all that comes out of your dick?”
It seemed like a good time to beat the crowd out of Charles Town. There would be other chances to see Thurston Moore tune his guitar. Besides, this was the kind of crap that made me hate high school.