Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Lollapalooza promoters seize Soldier Field

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As my colleague Andrew Herrmannn reports in today's paper, when it meets this afternoon, the Chicago Park District board of commissioners is almost certain to rubber-stamp a new five-year, $50-million deal allowing national venue managers SMG and their new partners -- Austin, TX-based concert promoters C3 Presents, the folks who bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park each summer -- to manage the city's biggest stadium, that landmark waterfront behemoth, Soldier Field.

What does this mean to rock fans, and why am I posting about it here?

As I first noted last week when I reported that control of Soldier Field was in play, this was a showdown between the giant national concert promoter Live Nation and those absurdly ambitious Texans at C3. Both have been in a relentless and ruthless competition with longtime Chicago promoters Jam Productions.

Until now, some industry observers discounted C3's desire to play a bigger role in the Chicago concert and entertainment market -- even though Lollapalooza has made a major impact on the summer concert calendar, and not for the best. Now, C3 will be responsible for bringing more music and other events to Soldier Field.

Andrew's story today notes some of the events besides Bears games that are likely to take place at Soldier Field: Some hockey, some unspecified "extreme sports" and a rodeo(?!). There is no mention of what kind of music C3 wants to bring there, and when I repeatedly posed that question to the company's main man, Charlie Jones, last week, he declined to answer. So we'll just have to wait and see (and take a closer look at their proposal, once it becomes public after today's meeting).

The bigger picture here is that Chicago is one of the few music markets left in America that is not dominated by one giant promoter. All three of the players here would like to change that. And the fallout for concertgoers is going to take a lot of forms -- from fluctuating ticket prices to what acts we get to see and where -- as the battle heats up and enters this new phase of combat.

Stay tuned for more reports from the front.

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I've not been impressed with Lollapalooza thus far. It is, by far, the least exciting and least inventive of the major American outdoor festivals (i.e. Coachella, Bonnaroo). Why is it that Lolla has the best location, the only one situated in the heart of a major metropolis, and yet it still offers the worst line-ups?

My theory is that the promoters, and Perry Ferrell, are out of touch with Chicago. Their band selections suggest a mocking, condescending attitude toward the Midwest. They think we're a bunch of frat boys trapped in time warp circling 1993. Even worse is the way they cram the latest trendy New York hipsters on the bill, presuming that it a band is hot in NY, then Chicagoan will be mad for it. Sorry, Perry, it doesn't quite work like that.

I think that C3's problem is more than being out of touch with Chicago, Jon.

From the beginning, the company has had a corporate mindset about Lolla -- continually referring to it as "a brand," for example -- and about the concert industry in general; music doesn't really seem to matter much to them. The main forces at C3 have made no secret of their desire to take the model of the Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza nationwide, replacing Coachella and Bonnaroo with a couple of their own big festivals scattered across the country -- one out West, one in the South, one in the Midwest in Grant Park, etc.

These concerts might have different names, but they'd all have very similar lineups -- and those acts would then be tied up for the whole summer, performing only for C3. Ergo, C3 controls the summer concert market from coast to coast.

The company suffered a major defeat, however, a couple of weeks back when its plans for an East Coast Lolla-like concert were rejected by the city of Philadelphia. Its fall back plan was to move to nearby Vineland, N.J. Then Coachella blew it out of the water by announcing its own plan to expand out East on the same dates C3 had chosen -- only Coachella had a superior site (Liberty State Park in Jersey City, directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan and overlooking both the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline) and the unbeatable headlining of Radiohead.

C3 lost big out East. But it just won big with Soldier Field in Chicago. The plot thickens, as they say.

A rodeo?



Jim, don't some small/medium size acts that get approached by Lolla realize that could actually reach more people and make more money by REJECTING lolla and playing their own gigs in chicago, urbana, madison, etc? I understand that there are so many people there, you're bound to have some new people check you out. But there's also so many acts on so many stages, you could not only get buried somewhere but then you're not even allowed to play anywhere near here for an extended period of time.

Ron: C3 is right about the name "Lollapalooza" still having a lot of allure for people -- musicians included. Some of them seem to be making the choice of performing there, amid the corporate sponsorship and ensuing censorship, the VIP tickets and the soulless vibe, because of what that named used to mean, rather than what it means now.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on February 13, 2008 8:38 AM.

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