With nary a word of public notice — and with no public hearings seeking input from the Chicago music community — the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection was set to meet again today in its rush to push through a new “promoters’ ordinance” initially proposed last year and only delayed at the last minute when music activists caught wind.
Like most laws, this one has a noble goal: to regulate concerts and dance events in Chicago, rooting out illegitimate “underground” promoters operating without proper licensing and therefore possibly endangering music lovers. Like many laws drafted from only one perspective, however, this one could cause serious, perhaps unintended consequences for people who try to promote live music here.
Of course, the city already has myriad laws on the books dictating proper licensing and safety codes for concerts and clubs — not the least of which is the controversial “anti-rave ordinance” passed in the ’90s, which came on top of police, fire, city building and health department oversight and the always acute watch of aldermen and neighborhood groups.
But suddenly, city officials — chief among them committee chair Ald. Eugene Schulter and acting director of the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing Mary Lou Eisenhauer — have an urgent need to create an entirely separate part of the city code tightening the reigns on promoters even more. And this need is so urgent that little effort was made to seek any input from the promoters or the people who work with them.
If approved by the committee and the City Council, the law would require anyone promoting any event drawing more than 100 people to obtain a license — even if they are working with a well-established and already licensed promoter.
Licensees would also have to carry at least $300,000 in commercial liability insurance (even if the venue is insured), and they would have to be at least 21 years old (thereby ruling out enterprising college students, D.I.Y. punk fans and other budding young entrepreneurs from hosting a concert or a legal rave — and if you think that’s not a good idea, you should know that several of the top promoters in Chicago actually started their careers at age 18 or 19).
What all this means is that if, say, a local fanzine wanted to promote a monthly concert featuring the bands in its new issue at a well-established local club of 200 capacity, the editors would have to apply for a promoters’ license and meet all of the requirements and expenses, even if the club already has a license and can boast of a clean record of trouble-free events. The same would hold true of many regular benefit gigs.
As it now stands, the law would only allow venues with “fixed seating” — that is to say, chairs that can’t be removed — to host one-time events by unlicensed promoters like our magazine or benefit in the example above. This requirement rules out the exact sort of clubs that would most benefit from these events, including venues such as the Empty Bottle, Buddy Guy’s Legends and Metro.
One music activist who asked not to be named said that “the net impact of this law is simple: It’s going to make it harder for a lot of people to promote concerts in Chicago, and therefore there’s going to be less music in Chicago.”
Stay tuned for more as friends of the local music scene mobilize in an effort to make themselves heard at City Hall.