Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

The city tries again to legislate Clubland — without any input from the music community

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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.

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Thanks so much for keeping us in the loop, Jim. These provisions are so transparently greedy and draconian. I hope the City Council has the sense to reject them, though I fear they do not.

Erm, as a guy who promoted local shows at established venues, I have no idea how this is supposed to be in the public's interest.

Anything the general public can do about this at this point or is it too late?

I wonder how they define "promoting."

Last time this happened (with a little more notice) there was a nice mobilization, but not sure at this point what can happen. Looks like a fight after the fact will have to come about---
Here's Schulter's emial -

I NEVER post to these.. maybe I will more often.
Take care to remember when the city of Chicago began to exact these same methods against the film industry. They required extra taxes, passed multiple new regulations... and let's not even get STARTED with the unions..(And No I Am NOT Anti-Union). Anyway...End result.. Most movies are shot on-location in Canada.

Just here to let you know, there should be a balance.

These situations SHOULD be regulated to a point, to ensure public safety. We all KNOW how seedy some promoters can be, BUT when either the PROPRIETORS (or) the REGULATORS get too GREEDY... it WILL dry up any given industry, along with any collateral industries...*ahem* real estate / foreclosures / sub-prime crash / overall credit crisis ....

This is a situation where the regulatory body is way out of line, and it will result in adverse financial repercussions.

First, absolutely nothing gets advanced without Mayor Daley's he blessed this. This is so funny that the Democrats are willing to take more and more rights away from the average citizen. Higher Taxes, More Fees, More Constraints, More Paperwork, More is the Democratic Party Way!

Is the text of this proposed ordinance online anywhere? Has it changed in any significant way from last year (I'm guessing not). (I can't find a copy that's still up from last summer, either)

it seems like this law would only encourage the type of behavior they are trying to curb. if a promoter was going to host a 200 person event at a legitimate venue, but then realized they'd need all this insurance etc, wouldn't the promoter host the event at an underground venue? can we please have less thought out and mbarassing laws? if these are the same people behind foie gras...

We got a copy posted online, and some links. If people do not like the ordinance as it is right now, then contact your aldermen and city government and show up WED at the meeting.

The communists and fascists (Daley and Blagejovich) are really working hard to destroy what was a great city for a while. Time for the good people of Illinois and Chicago to wake up and fight. Otherwise, Chicago will be just like Detroit in 10 years.

It's laws like this that give good government a bad name and allow idiots like the Wingnut above to rave out about Evil Democrats.

....if these are the same people behind foie gras...

Posted by: jiiiim | May 8, 2008 07:34 AM


Yeah, I'm sure the animal rights people are behind this.

Pea brain.

....if these are the same people behind foie gras...

Posted by: jiiiim | May 8, 2008 07:34 AM


Yeah, I'm sure the animal rights people are behind this.

Pea brain.

is anyone really surprised?

this city is all about trying to rid people of their money.

you need a license to tie your shoe in this city.

you can't drink a fountain soda without paying 3 taxes.

king daley needs to go. who votes for these cronies

it's all about money in this city. the city is greedy. Daley is greedy. Soon you'll need to buy a license to sneeze on your sidewalk.

raise your hand if you find this appalling. now keep your hand up if you were in support of the CTA tax hike or the transfer tax hike, put your hand down if not. those with their hands up: shut up, you have no right to complain

wait a minute, daley and blagojevich are definitely not communists. and theyre not really fascists either. find other things to call them, cause those dont stick. mob boss, autocrat, theres plenty of epithets that are far more appropriate

i can tell you that this will affect a tremendous number of community organizations, youth programs, artist collectives, and activist groups that i've worked with, among many, many others. and it will open up excuses for dictator daley to bust in on more events and groups he doesnt like. crack down style.

hope everyones contacting their own aldermen too! no pasaran!

this legislation will only be enforced when convenient for the city to do so if passed.

in other words, most music will die but things like youth programs will certainly be overlooked - which just further shows how stupid the law is to begin with.

Within a year I will be gone from this over-legislated, over-taxed crap hole that is cook county. Chicago is killing itself.

This will be a devastating blow to the Chicago music scene if implemented, and also you'll most likely see lots of bars go under that depend on local artists organizing and promoting events at their venues to keep business going. Of course there will be payola I'm sure, pay for "protection" and we won't bust up your party.

This is straight up madness. This could be enforced so much better, and in a way that won't disrupt the music scene completely. I can understand the validity of wanting to keep clubs from going over capacity, etc....but there are so many hoops to jump through, it's insane.


1. It will be nearly impossible to effectively enforce this legislation. Are we to believe that in the face of rising murder and crimes rates, an already taxed Chicago Police Department will have appropriate resources to to stroll into nightclubs every night of the week to ensure compliance? When was the last time Chicago teens were scared to look down the barrel of a loaded stratocaster in fear? Surely the CPD WOULD AGREE THAT THEY HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS ON THEIR HANDS RIGHT NOW.

2. Those who are on the up and up will always find ways to comply with appropriate and reasonable legislation and regulation. Those at whom this ordinance truly targets- bad actors and underground promoters- are going to violate the norms and conventions regardless of the laws on the books. What's more, this legislation will actually have the effect of driving unlicensed, unsavory or outright dangerous promoters further underground, placing more lives at unnecessary risk and making Police enforcement more difficult. Its impossible to regulate those who have blatant disregard for public safety concerns through legislation, but this particular piece of legislation imposes an environment of fear and an additional level of needlessly complex rules on those who mindfully work to ensure compliance with public safety rules.

3. There is a need for appropriate and reasonable regulation, and much of it can be realized through fairly simple technological means. Those who obtain a license should be able to enter their number into an online database to register events being promoted with all the particular details. Spot checks can enforce it and complaints can been cross referenced against the license holders. Period. Anyone holding events not on the database are the ones to go after.

4. The fixed seat exclusion is the work of big players who donate large sums to party coffers. Yet here is where the largest risk lies.

5. This legislation places the onus on the promoter, but this is a burden that MUST be shared in conjunction with the venue. If a venue works with an unlicensed promoter, or does not provide adequate security or enforcement, it is the promoter who gets stuck with the fault.

Venues already must be properly licensed with the city, but it is unfair to penalize the promoters who have no choice but to work with them for any violation that is beyond their control It is a shared responsibility, but ultimately, venues control their own doors. Promoters cannot be held responsible if a venue, even a properly licensed one, skimps on security or fails to control their venue.

This legislation is wrong for too many reasons to list here. At this point, our best hope is to lobby Alderman to either vote it down or have it recommitted for further revisions pending input from an appointed task force comprised of music industry leaders and music community representatives.

The Day the Music Died could be May 14th
As a playing musician and sound engineer in this city for almost thirty years I’ve seen a lot of great talent struggle in this town, but always had opportunities by starting out in smaller venues and having a chance to work their way up and build followings. I’ve had the opportunity to do sound for the Smashing Pumpkins when they were doing smaller clubs, and saw Styx playing at a high school before their first album. Will opportunities like this exist for artist in Chicago if this ordinance passes?
My partners and I about two years ago put together this Podcast show called Chicago Acoustic Underground www.chicagoacoustic,net in hopes of giving a chance for new acts to have another platform to be heard, and to give them a quality recording and putting together showcases featuring some of the amazing talent this city has to offer.
The response has been over whelming! We have 150,000 listeners in over thirty countries and growing stronger each and every day. We now also have touring musicians now wanting to be on the show that do nothing but praise this great city and its cultural diversifies which now is threaten to be stomped out by government bureaucracy!
This city of big shoulders could get the cold shoulder if these government bureaucrats try to stifle a chance for up and coming artists, and what kind of town will Chicago become? Can anyone on the City Council please explain how this ordinance will not change Chicago’s cultural community? Just what kind of Chicago do they perceive?

Michael Narvaez
Chicago Acoustic Underground

Dear Chicago Alderman,

I’m writing to you regarding the purposed “promoter’s license” ordinance that is set to be voted upon by the Chicago City Council on May 14, 2008. This purposed legislation purportedly requires “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.” Such legislation would create and discriminate against a class of individuals, including but not limited to, visual and performance artists, art galleries, and musicians. The purposed legislation would deny freedom of expression and equal protection to this class of people, even if they represent otherwise legally licensed entities.

I am a member of the class of people that the purposed “promoter’s license” ordinance will discriminate against, and I believe that if this purposed legislation is adopted it will be violative of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides in part, “No state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” When any government action is challenged on the basis of equal protection, the government must show that their classification is justified by a sufficient purpose. Although the purposed “promoter’s license” ordinance is facially neutral, if passed it will create a classification among people, and have a discriminatory impact. I believe the City of Chicago has not identified a sufficiently important objective for this discrimination.

Furthermore, when the government discriminates among people as to the exercise of a fundamental right, the US Supreme Court has held that strict scrutiny will be used to analyze the government’s action. My fundamental right to freedom of expression will be unreasonably restricted if the “promoter’s license” ordinance is passed. In Freedman v. Maryland, 505 U.S. 123 (1992), the US Supreme Court unanimously declared unconstitutional a Maryland law that made it unlawful to exhibit a motion picture without having first obtained a license. The Court noted that such a licensing system presents grave dangers for freedom of speech. Also see FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215 (1990), and Riley v. National Federation of the Blind, 487 U.S. 781 (1988), where the Court struck down city and state ordinances requiring licenses that restricted the petitioner’s freedom of expression.

Does the City of Chicago intend to require licenses for every wedding reception, social function, or cultural event that may attract 100 people, and at which live music is being played? Is the City of Chicago purposing to discriminate against artists, and all individuals who choose to express themselves in a musical fashion in front of a crowd? Every single neighborhood in Chicago that has boasted of a thriving music scene within the last 20 years is now reaping giant economic rewards. One would think the City of Chicago would be giving free reign and encouraging the artistic expression that has bolstered the economies of and consistently (though unwittingly) promoted the gentrification of so many of its neighborhoods.

Regardless, the proposed “promoter’s license” ordinance would be violative of my First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. I ask that you do not support, and do not vote in favor of this law on May 14th. I also beseech you to review the legal standards determined by the US Supreme Court before considering any other such legislation.

Best Regards,
Donna Moeller, Esq.

I am part owner of a small community oriented cafe in Ukrainian Village, this law is ridiculous, and i hope, our government has a little more brains than to do something so horrific to our communtiy! Taking away a legitamate alternative to drugs and violence has to be the dumbest law, (well there are a lot of STUPID laws) and i'd like for the people proposing the laws to talk with the majority of the people, not trust fund babies and yuppies, and certainly no one with a BMW. It's just one more attack on the common man. PATHETIC

how can the city of chicago truly be this narrow minded, irresponsible and greedy?

regardless of it's intentions i believe that doing this would only would make things that much more difficult for local chicago artists and 'real' music supporters... this is not only bad legislation but also a blatent attempt to 'slide one by' the Chicago music community.

living in chicago i've always considered myself to be a part of a globally relevant music community but moves such as this really make me start to question that and it saddens me that our legislators can truly be this out of touch.

just my $0.02...

....if these are the same people behind foie gras...

Posted by: jiiiim | May 8, 2008 07:34 AM


Yeah, I'm sure the animal rights people are behind this.

Pea brain.

Posted by: Ron S

wow, no wonder the city council gets away with stuff like this! the city council passed the foie gras ban, and they are about to try and pass this! fortunately for them uneducated 'pea brains' like yourself think PETA rolled into town and passed the foie gras ban. go watch american gladiators & schedule your lobotomy.

As a performer in the city of Chicago, I'm very concerned over the proposed promoters' ordinance that is being voted on very soon.

As a comedian/actor/musician, the very idea of this being "Law" frightens me. I moved to Chicago in 2004, to study at Second City, and persue my dream of making people laugh, and forget their problems (political strife, economic problems, etc.), even for just a little while. I was 19 when I made the move, and began performing with a small independent sketch group at the time, Enough Stupid. If this law had been in place, I would not have been allowed to perform, as we had to rent smaller venues to be able to hold shows, as we were not a well known "name". Besides that, I was working as a theater host, there was no way I could afford insurance. (I'm a temp now, and still can't afford that kind of insurance.)

In addition, I perform stand up "anticomedy" (the style made famous by Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman) at several open mics in the city. If this ordinance is passed, no one will be able to put up open mics in the city, as they would not be able to put up the insurance money (trust me, as an artist I know this is a fact.)
Finally, I act at the Annoyance Theater in Uptown. How do I know this won't effect their venue's ability to put on affordable shows, to allow their students/alumnus/graduates etc. perform, and have a chance to get their name recognized as ligimate artists. This not only applies to the Annoyance, but also the Second City (which only seats around 200 in their mainstage, and 160 or so in the ETC.), and I.O. in Wriggleyville.

Chicago has long been a home of artistic expression. Very few of the artists I've met since moving here, were originally from Chicago. We've "migrated" to the city, to "escape" our hometowns where artistic expression is often frowned upon or, at the least not supported. If this law is past, people like me will not be able to survive in Chicago, and we will be forced once again to migrate, either to less affordable cities, such as New York or L.A., or give up on our dreams and go back to our hometowns, defeated.

The performers ordinance is outrageous. It is downright unconstitutional on many levels. It is a pity that musicians, performers and artists are slowly losing ownership of their trade. We have invested our time, training, money for our art, many of us college degreed within our field!!!!

We artists deserve the same amount of respect say a doctor or plumber receives. That basic,essential priviledge includes small business enterprise and free trade. We offer a service in which we deserve the freedom to work with and collaborate with other businesses and professionals without interference of the city reaching into our pockets. And I might add, yes, even be remunerated for our music/theatre performances just like any other tradesman.We pay taxes, too.

Us artists need to work with and revive our musician and theatre unions as they will help us protect our rights. For a lot of us, performance is a large component to our careers.I am proud to be a musician and a music educator, and that is my "day" job.

We help bring clientele and revenue in for restauranteers, club owners and music venues, etcetera, right? In fairness to them, they already pay good money on licenses and to ASCAP in order to have live music in their establishments. And we artists and musicians appreciate that very much. But the truth is, because the business owner has to pay for all this business already,performers make very little to no money already as it stands.

Now, the City of Chicago expect us performers to come up with money just to be able to play our music, recite our poetry or tell a joke?!

Business aside, what about playing music for music's sake?

Let us not forget our constitutional rights; especially freedom of speech and expression! A complicated mess an ordinance such as this brings, will stifle the art communities voice. One should remember that music and art are the most sublime of expression in that they celebrate our cultural and socioeconomic diversities and identities; They are a direct reflection and reaction of our times, and communicate ideas that often times, if not even moreso, transcend words. We should be able to express ourselves where and how we please and most importantly not have to pay the City of Chicago to do something that brings us and the Chicago Community together much joy.
Sincerely, Elisabeth Johnson

Could someone like Live Nation or Ticketmaster be buying off Eugene Schulter and Mary Lou Eisenhauer? T

Draconian, indeed.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on May 7, 2008 10:24 AM.

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