Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution helps Chris Cornell find nostalgia and camaraderie
When discussing the Projekt Revolution tour, now in its fifth year, with this summer's participating artists — like Linkin Park, The Bravery, and, most especially, Chris Cornell — it's impossible to avoid the shadow the first and greatest festival tour (Lollapalooza) casts across space, time, and musical epochs.
Lollapalooza was launched in 1992, the first of a string of multi-act tours that include Van's Warped Tour, Ozzfest, and the now-defunct Lilith Fair. Cornell, then the frontman of Soundgarden, was only a guest that first year, but by the festival's second go-round, he and his band had found themselves onstage for what would be a key formative experience in Cornell's musical career and, judging by testimonies from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda and the Bravery's Sam Endicott, formative experiences for them, too.
"I was still young in my career, and I'm going out there and I'm having a big ego, and I want it all to be about me," Cornell, now 44, explains after recalling the 20,000 fans he performed for when Soundgarden took the stage at noon that first day. "I want the world of rock to check out what I'm doing — [but I'm also] on a tour with Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ministry and Ice Cube.
"And it's, like, guess what? It's not going to be all about me. In fact, I'm way down on the list, and I'm going to have to suck it up and learn about what I do and learn about the craft, and learn about just enjoying playing music," he finishes.
Endicott fondly recalls one of Soundgarden's 1992 Lollapalooza performances. He was only 18 and not prepared for the sight of Ice-T and Body Count taking the stage to perform the controversial single, "Cop Killer," with Cornell and company. "I feel like Lollapalooza changed the face of music," he says. "I remember thinking, 'How can you have a rock band and then like a rap band and then an industrial band right next to each other? That's just crazy; you can't do that.'"
Today, Projekt Revolution exists as an orgy of indiscriminate musical promiscuity. For example, during its first outing, in 2002, founders and organizers Linkin Park were joined by Cypress Hill and DJ Z-Trip. The following year saw Mudvayne and XZibit come onboard, while 2004 expanded the tour into a multi-stage experience even more impossibly diverse. Where else could you find Less Than Jake and Snoop Dogg on the same bill? This year, Linkin Park has recruited a slew of disparate acts, including Cornell, The Bravery, Busta Rhymes, Hawthorne Heights, and Atreyu.
"I think, when you look at just the different bands and compare it to other festival tours, it's kind of the least genre-oriented," Cornell says. "Like Lollapalooza originally came out that way — it wasn't genre-oriented at all. The whole idea of the tour was mix it up as much as possible."
In fact, Projekt Revolution defiantly embraces the tenets originally espoused by Lollapalooza — musical revolution, genre diversity, and artistic camaraderie. That's why Cornell, who certainly doesn't need the help of a festival tour to sell tickets, signed up for 2008's tour.
"[A tour like this] ups opportunities for the different bands . . . to kind of interact, play on each other's stages, do songs together, screw around or whatever, that kind of thing," Cornell says. "When it turns into, 'We didn't really know each other in the beginning of the tour, but now it's like a family and we're all doing different songs with each other onstage,' that's [always good]."
Another way to look at it: Like Lollapalooza's beginnings, Projekt Revolution makes touring life-changing, rather than a necessity in order to sell units. "[The] '92 [Lollapalooza] tour is one of the most memorable periods of my life because of [all this] and that can happen again [on this tour]," Cornell says.
These aren't just words spoken for the sake of nostalgia, since, as Cornell goes on to point out, he actually pursued the tour. Not the other way around.
"I did, I think, six or seven shows with Linkin Park in Australia, when they did their Australian tour this last year — and it just was great," he says. "It wasn't my audience, and I had to go out basically and do what I do and earn the respect of these people every night. And it was really a great, refreshing feeling; it wasn't preaching to the choir.
"So the idea of putting the two together, where it's a festival and also I'm getting to tour with Linkin Park, I think was just something that really appealed to me," Cornell continues. Plus, "I noticed in the last year [that] playing festivals worked really well for me because I can mix it up and do some of the heavier rock that I've ever written, as well as turn around and do songs where I'm just singing and playing acoustic guitar" — a greatest hits playlist, of sorts, spanning his tours of duty with Soundgarden and Audioslave, as well as his solo work. "For a guy to be able to mix it up as much as I do, this type of tour is ideal."
Cornell is also quick to attribute the success of the Projekt Revolution tour to Linkin Park, whose passion, he says, is the sole reason Projekt Revolution works. "I actually, between Soundgarden and Audioslave, played Lollapalooza three different times on the main stage. And one of the things that I think happens is that, in order to keep these kind of tours happening year after year, somebody has to have their eye on the ball, somebody has to focus on getting an interesting combination of bands together, getting that worked out and doing all the work, which is not that easy to do. [It's why] some of them come and go."
Projekt Revolution might not receive the sort of critical love Lollapalooza, now a sedentary, annual one-day affair, once did. It might never be remembered as fondly by audiences who are, at this point, burned out by corporate-sponsored festival tours, which underwhelm as they rape your bank account. But the artists on the yearly rosters, like Cornell, don't show up for the critics or to get rich (many are already riding commercial highs). They show up because they want what those fabled few, like Soundgarden, had during Lollapalooza's heyday and what, perhaps, tomorrow's musicians will miss about Projekt Revolution's run, too.
It's obvious even Cornell wants back what he once briefly had.
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