Relaxing in his trailer on the first day of H.O.R.D.E. - getting under
way before about 16,000 equally humidity-wracked souls at a park outside
Minneapolis, nine days after Lollapalooza's start - Blues Traveler's John
Popper is listening carefully to a recounting of just what special effects
were used during Metallica's set. Too carefully.
"Flash pots...hmmm." Popper pretends to be taking notes.
"Anything else they had in there?" Well, there were the shooting
flames, fireworks, and oh, yes, helicopter sound effects. More notes
taken. "Shooting flames..."
He's kidding about the imitation, but he does mean the sincere flattery.
Popper admires the chance taken by his competitors in making Metallica the
headliners, "exposing their audience to something they normally
wouldn't see." Even though H.O.R.D.E. has taken a somewhat safer
booking route lately, he's wary that the tour's increasing success might
attract the same kind of media scrutiny. "I can't believe people are
saying we're a real competitor for Lollapalooza. It's nice to be noticed,
I guess. I hope. We're so used to not being noticed that we've been able
to pretty much do what we want - so being noticed might cost us some of
But the profits may be worth the pressure. Though historically attendance
figures for individual H.O.R.D.E. shows tend to be a little lower,
Popper's brainchild has grown annually and will probably outgross the
alterna-fest this year, if only by virtue of its 42 scheduled shows versus
Evidence of H.O.R.D.E.'s expansion can be found in Natalie Merchant's
presence on the first leg of the tour; her pop-and folk-based songs are
far less boogie oriented than most of the festival's acts, which currently
include the '60s-loving Lenny Kravitz and Rusted Root. "I think I'm
an unusual addition to the bill, but it somehow works," Merchant
says. "I didn't even know that much about the tour, other than that
it's more of a hippie crowd than Lollapalooza, which is more of a moshing
crowd." Which, if true, is okay by her. "Never actually been one
myself, but I've always consorted with hippies," she admits. While
Merchant's performance on the main stage may not be quite enough to turn
H.O.R.D.E. into Estro-palooza, her celebratory rendition of
"Wonder" early on does provide the most joyfully female
Rusted Root frontman Mike Glabicki - who's played on three out of five
H.O.R.D.E. tours now - sees the difference between the two major fests as
spiritual as much as musical. "I would never go to Lollapalooza, just
because the vibe is so down. Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath were some of my
favorite bands growing up, but I'm just out of that scene right now,
because I've been there, experienced that. The H.O.R.D.E. tour I think has
a much more exploratory vibe to it, where the Lollapalooza thing has a
more exclusive mind-set. "
But if one festival represents generational cynicism and the other one
hope, neither zeitgeist seems to have filtered down to the opening-day
crowds, which, despite the stereotyping, are almost indistinguishable.
Lollapalooza does draw more Tommy Lee look-alikes, and H.O.R.D.E. does,
predictably, pack in more hackysack players. But both tours sport booths
selling hemp chokers, and both feature the underwire bikini top as the
most ubiquitous fashion statement. Both also inspire crowd surfing -
though, unlike their Lolla counterparts, Merchant and Glabicki do complain
about the relatively tame "moshing" from the stage. Most of the
twentysomethings surveyed indicate they wouldn't mind attending either
show; anything this side of Billy Joel is all rock & roll to them.
As the long day draws to a close, Popper sings a semi-scat encore of
"Imagine" to cool the crowd down. Would anyone go so far as to
imagine a post-MTV world without sharp pop-genre distinctions? Looking out
at the number of kids with Grateful Dead T-shirts and tongue piercings,
it's easy if you try.