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Entertainment Weekly, National
Jul 19th, 1996



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 that."

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 Lolla's 28.

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 benediction conceivable.

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.