When thousands of music fans enter the gates for Lollapalooza on Tuesday at The Gorge, they might be intrigued by the low-fidelity, minimalist blues sounds of Doo Rag wafting from the Second Stage.
And for good reason. The Arizona band doesn’t present its music in a typical fashion.
Singer/guitarist Bob Log plays a broken-down, homemade acoustic guitar and squeals through a device resembling a prehistoric bullhorn. Drummer Thermos Malling lays down some snappy beats on percussive instruments (boxes, buckets, etc.) that look like anything except drums.
Then again, the music on the Lollapalooza Second Stage has never been, shall we say, normal.
The other bands scheduled to perform Tuesday on the Second Stage - surreal rocker Yo La Tengo, post-punker Poster Children, jazzy noise purveyor Blowhole, quirky popster Possum Dixon and funky hip-hopper Coolio - will give festival-goers a true taste of what alternative rock and hip-hop is.
Lollapalooza organizers founded the Second Stage in 1992 as a way to give seemingly obscure bands - who don’t have the drawing power or who may be too eclectic to play the Main Stage - an avenue to showcase their music.
The Second Stage has become a well-attended and valuable asset to Lollapalooza.
“I think it gives a chance for a lot of bands to get seen by people who would probably like them if they had the chance to hear them,” said Poster Children singer/guitarist Rick Valentin in a recent phone interview. “A lot of the good bands don’t have access to the radio or whatever it takes to get people to notice them.”
Hailing from the small town of Champaign, Ill., the Poster Children, which formed eight years ago, continues to remain underground despite several sterling albums, including 1995’s “Junior Citizen.”
Now, with a six-date stint on the Second Stage, the Poster Children will finally be able to prove itself in front of large audiences.
“I think the Second Stage is an important thing to have, in the sense that it’s a good way for Lollapalooza to keep fresh new acts on the bill and keep selling tickets by having all the big headliners on there,” said Mark Pickerel, whose Seattle-Ellensburg band Truly played the side stage in 1992 and 1993.
The first year the stage was in operation, it was a mess. Because of poor organization, the Second Stage wasn’t promoted or advertised. Fans showed up unaware of the side stage and the bands performing on it.
“It was arranged really last minute,” said John Rubeli, who has recruited the Second Stage bands since 1993. “It wasn’t publicized. Bands weren’t paid. They weren’t treated very well. It was just kind of thrown together.”
That shaky year, drummer Pickerel and Truly played the side stage at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton.
“Our experience was really mediocre because people didn’t know we were playing,” recounted Pickerel, whose record shop, Rodeo Records, will have a booth at The Gorge show this year.
“I think people’s attitude at Lollapalooza is that usually once they’ve bought their ticket and they walk in the front gate, there’s already four or five bands they really want to see. And they like to spend the rest of their time shopping or getting something to eat.
“Just being up there playing with no one having any idea who you are, it’s sort of hard to win an audience over who’s already so preoccupied with so many things they want to do there,” said Pickerel.
When Rubeli, who formerly worked for the agency that books Lollapalooza, assumed the duty of booking the side stage in ‘93, he knew the stage could stand some improvement.
“When I started doing it in ‘93, I wanted to take this real sort of almost mainstream event and show all the kids attracted to mainstream kind of things that there are other alternatives or options other than just same old, same old,” he said.
Also that year, the Second Stage was advertised.
Rubeli recruits bands to play anywhere from one to 11 Lollapalooza dates. In most cities, he chooses a local band to perform on the stage.
Other bands slated to play later in the summer are Built to Spill (from Boise), Mike Watt, Helium, Redman, the Roots, Braniac and Blonde Redhead (featuring Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley).
Sonic Youth also had a hand in selecting bands for the Second Stage.
“There are a lot of smaller acts that we sort of pushed for that are playing throughout the country,” said Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Renaldo in a recent phone interview.
One of the bands it helped add to the bill is Seattle/Tuscon improvisational noise sextet Blowhole, slated to play the side stage on Tuesday during the early evening.
Blowhole will only play at The Gorge show.
“What Thurston (Moore, Sonic Youth guitarist/vocalist) wanted to do is line up all these weird bands - these noise, improvisational, just different bands - to play all along the Lollapalooza tour,” said Blowhole drummer Adem Tepedelen in a phone interview last week. “So he suggested this list to the Second Stage people and said, ‘I want these bands.’ Thurston called Patrick (Barber, Blowhole’s bassist/ guitarist) and said, ‘We got you on the Seattle one.”’
Often on the Lollapalooza tour, Main Stage bands take advantage of the side stage either by playing surprise sets or by sitting in with some of the bands. Last year in The Gorge, Green Day played the stage.
At other venues, Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan frequently accompanied the Frogs. Nick Cave helped the Flaming Lips in singing “What a Wonderful World.” And Thurston Moore played un-announced solo sets.
On Tuesday, the first Second Stage band, Doo Rag, hits the stage at 12:40 p.m. Bands will continue to play throughout the afternoon into the early evening.