Here are the comments of Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), the chairman of the city licensing committee, about the concerns of many in the Chicago music community pending the City Council vote on Wednesday on the new promoter’s ordinance.
Q. Alderman, the Chicago Music Commission voiced its concerns pretty eloquently in a statement released the other day: They’ve said the city was listening to its input on the law, but something seems to have broken down. They wrote, “CMC is extremely disappointed in the city’s public comment process for this significant change to Chicago’s music landscape, especially given the city’s commendable past efforts to work with the music community on this important effort.” What happened? Why is the public comment process being cut short and this thing being rushed to a vote next week?
A. We’ve been meeting since July. More time and energy has been put into this than any other ordinance... First of all, I am not the author of this, or the sponsor. That would be a good question for the mayor’s press secretary, Jacqueline Heard. What I did, as soon as it got into my arena, I held it up. In fact, your colleague at the Sun-Times, Fran Spielman, was saying, “Why did it take so long? It’s been five years since the E2 situation.” Well, since last July, we’ve been having a lot of meetings on this, along with Department of Business Affairs & Licensing, and a lot of the aldermen brought a whole host of other people that might not have even been part of any process in the past to get their input. And they came up with some really great changes. So if you look at the original ordinance…
Q. I have, and the CMC did a comparison of the two. They were very happy about some of the changes…
A. A lot of them were their recommendations, actually. I respect all the people involved in that organization; they’ve been very eloquent in talking about their issues. But I think that what they don’t want is a promoter’s license. Cutting right to the chase, I don’t think they want to see a promoter’s license.
Q. I think that many people in the music community don’t understand why a promoter’s license is necessary if you’re dealing with a venue that is already PPA-licensed.
A. The problem, Jim, is that you don’t know who is handling that part of the business. Unfortunately, we’ve had incidents in the city where people have been murdered, people have been accosted, there have been fights, and what we’re trying to do, our goal is not to hurt anybody, but to really help the promoter as well as the person in charge of the venue. Because right now, the only person that really is responsible is the person that runs the venue. I think that this gives a different status to the promoters, and I think that is a good and healthy thing. The community that these events are held in should know who’s hosting these events. If it’s not the person who owns the venue—since they are licensed, you’re right, they don’t need to have another license, so they were excluded; at one time, they were going to have to get the additional license, but I’m all for less is better with me—but in this particular arena, if you go and talk to the community organizations throughout the city, and the complaints that I get across the board, and that the police department gets, you’ve got some promoters, a few, who make the good people look bad.
Q. I understand that, alderman. But it seems like there’s a cultural gap, and we saw this with the anti-rave ordinance in 2000, as well. There is a world of difference between a fly-by-night dance promoter who does an event in an unlicensed venue, and, say, a group supporting community radio that wants to hold a benefit at a club like Schuba’s. This ordinance doesn’t seem to recognize that. Nocturna is a dance night promoted by a world-renowned gothic DJ at Metro; now, she’s going to have to get a promoter’s license, even though Metro is very exacting in making sure everything is done by the books at that venue. This ordinance has the potential to hurt events like these and not necessarily target the underground promoter who’s going to stay underground. And there are already a hundred laws on the books to go after that underground promoter. If you look at E2, there were many complaints already filed against that club, the city could have shut it down for a number of reasons that would have prevented the tragedy there, and you would not have needed this promoter’s ordinance to do that.
A. But how do you make the distinction, Jim?
Q. You could rule out any venue that already has a PPA license.
A. That’s the crux of the problem. How do you then know who these promoters are? How do you then make sure that the person is marketing the event, they market it to such a large audience that 1,000 people show up where there’s only room for 500, and the rest of the people are outside.
Q. I live up the block from Wrigley Field, and that happens with the pennant race! The promoter advertises but can’t control how many people show up; the good venues have the security in place, and it’s their responsibility to handle the crowd and say, “I’m sorry, we’re at capacity.”
A. So the venue is obviously still responsible, but don’t you think that we need to know who is doing all this in the neighborhoods of Chicago?
Q. Let’s look at a club that has music six nights a week, 52 weeks a year. The city doesn’t need to know every one of the three bands that plays every night 300 nights a year, does it? Then, if 50 of those nights are sponsored by independent promoters—one night’s a ska night, and one night’s a psychedelic rock night—why do you need to know that? Say I have a psychedelic-rock fanzine, and twice a year at a club like Schuba’s, I host my psychedelic rock night.
A. Unfortunately, you’re citing an upstanding venue.
Q. But that’s the problem. The CMC has written: “The language of the ordinance as drafted unnecessarily and perhaps prohibitively increases the cost of doing business for any promoter seeking to work with PPA-licensed music venues under 500 seats and those without ‘fixed seating,’ including, among many others, Schuba’s, Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Vic Theater, the Riviera Theater, the Metro, the Hideout, Uncommon Ground and Martyrs’.” These are clubs that have gone through a lot of trouble and expense since E2 to make sure they conform to safety requirements—and we’re all glad, because we want to be safe—but now the city is adding an unnecessary burden to these clubs.
A. You brought up Martyr’s: Ray Quinn doesn’t have any outside promoters, as far as I understand.
Q. Sure he does. In fact, the city Department of Cultural Affairs has done shows there—there’s an outside promoter.
A. Obviously, you bring up some very interesting issues, but how do we distinguish the good promoters from the bad promoters?
Q. Doesn’t the city already distinguish between the good venues and the bad venues? The venues that have one complaint too many about underage drinking or fighting are quickly out of business—especially in the wake of E2. “Promoter” is a nebulous word; under this ordinance, it could apply to anyone who holds a benefit. The guy in my band broke his leg; he doesn’t have health insurance; we’re gonna hold a benefit to pay his medical bills. Suddenly, I'm a promoter. If I really have my act together and want to get certified as being a non-profit group so I'm exempt under this ordinance, that takes a long time and a lot of trouble.
A. Not really; what you’re talking about is a 501C-3. You can go on the Secretary of State’s Web page and get not-for-profit status pretty quickly. In any event, Jim, I am having another meeting on Tuesday, and we have extended an invitation to a lot of the people you are talking about to come and talk over their concerns. So I’m going to continue to listen to them to hear what they have to say.
Q. I think that’s what everyone in the Chicago music community wants.
A. But we’ve been dealing with a lot of these people for more than a year. I can check my schedule: We’ve met with every conceivable group on this issue, and there have been a lot of people who testified in favor of it. And as I said, the changes we’ve made, we made a lot of these changes after listening to a lot of these people, and we’ll continue to listen to them to see what they have to say on Tuesday.
Q. The concern, alderman, is that CMC says point-blank: “The ordinance will reduce the amount of music in Chicago, make events more expensive for consumers, dampen the large and growing economic engine that is Chicago music and create a much less supportive business climate for Chicago’s small music business community.” This is not a radical group; it's actually as mainstream as you can get.
A. Well, let me talk with them on Monday and Tuesday. I appreciate the call, and I really have an open-door policy, and a lot of these people have been talking with me for a real long time, better than two years… In fact, we were working on this well in advance of the E2 situation. What we don’t want to do, obviously, is hurt the industry. We thought that this was helping the industry by giving them status so that you separate yourself from the bad operators that are causing a lot of problems in the neighborhoods now. Otherwise, what can happen, gone unchecked, we have more initiatives on ballots to vote precincts dry now, and that is just horrific—that really hurts the good venues with maybe one bad apple. You can knock out 12 good venues with one bad apple. So there’s this balance between what I am hearing from people in the neighborhoods all over the city of Chicago and what we need to do here now. And the goal here was just to have more accountability, but we’ll keep you posted.