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Update: Musical advocates gear up to fight the promoter's ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting

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As irony would have it, at the same meeting Wednesday when the City Council will consider a resolution opposing war on Iran (as if that august body has anything to do with national policy), it is expected to approve a law that will pretty much drop a bomb on Chicago's independent music community, if not nuke it entirely.

Following the jump is the Sun-Times' latest story outlining the controversy, followed by a letter that one of many clubs endangered by the law sent to music lovers throughout the city on Monday.

The City Council meets in the Council Chamber located on the Second Floor of City Hall, 121 North La Salle St., starting at 10 a.m. on May 14.

In a poorly designed attempt to reign in underground party promoters in response to the E2 tragedy in 2003, the City Council is rushing to pass legislation that will make it more difficult and sometimes impossible for responsible concert organizers to present music at many legitimate licensed venues in Chicago.

In comments that have been echoed in hundreds of posts throughout the blogosphere and dozens of angry phone calls to aldermen since the so-called “promoter’s ordinance” was approved by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection last week, musical activists the Chicago Music Commission lashed out at the law and said they plan to protest it before the City Council vote on Wednesday.

“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- [public place of amusement] licensed music venues, including, among many others, Schuba’s, Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Vic Theater, the Riviera Theater, the Metro, the Hideout, Uncommon Ground and Martyr’s,” said Alligator Records founder and CMC board member Bruce Iglauer.

“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.”

The ordinance as it stands requires independent promoters to apply for a license at a cost between $500 and $2,000 every two years; submit to fingerprinting and a criminal background check; secure as much as $300,000 in liability insurance and be at least 21 years old.

These requirements add an additional layer of bureaucracy and expense on promoters who are working at venues that have already met Chicago’s insurance and licensing requirements, which are some of the most stringent in the U.S. promoters say this law is not unlike requiring someone to become a licensed auto mechanic before taking their car to a reputable, well-established garage for repairs.

The law makes exceptions for events sponsored by media organizations and not-for-profit groups, among others, but the language is unclear about exactly who qualifies. Independent promoters say it also ignores the fact that in the wake of the notorious and tragic incidents at E2 and the Rhode Island concert by Great White, major liability companies have become increasingly reluctant to insure concerts and dance nights at all.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had incidents in the city where people have been murdered, people have been accosted [and] there have been fights,” said Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), chairman of the licensing committee. “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.”

Schulter said the long delay in moving the legislation to a vote was the result of efforts to seek input on the law from the music community. The CMC first became aware of the law last July when, along with local promoters, it succeeded in convincing the committee to delay approval so that problems in the law could be addressed.
The ordinance was rewritten to reflect several changes urged by musical advocates, but they say many more are still needed, and they only had four days to examine the rewritten law before it was rushed through committee last week. They are urging the City Council to hold off on a vote until more comments can be heard.

The problem as advocates see it is that city officials have a tin ear for Chicago’s diverse and thriving music community when it comes to distinguishing between a well-run dance night or concert series at a respected, trouble-free club and a hastily organized event sponsored by a fly-by-night promoter at a venue that may already be failing to comply with the city’s many existing laws and safety regulations.

“With any ordinance, there’s going to be things that cannot accommodate every single person in a particular industry because the range is so large,” said Efrat Dallal Stein, spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing. “It’s a growing industry and it is in need of some sort of regulation, just like any other growing industry. I mean, you need a license to sell a T-shirt in the city of Chicago.”

Reacting to the outpouring of anger from the music community, Schulter planned to meet with advocates before the vote. But music lovers were not optimistic.

“For a city that claims to embrace the arts, this is a disgrace,” said Brenda Bouschard, a musician who left Chicago to work in Las Vegas. “Live entertainment in the city of Chicago has been beaten down enough, and this is just another nail in the coffin.”

Added Christian Picciolini, founder of the local Sinister Music punk-rock record label: “Passing an ordinance like this will virtually destroy the diversity and importance of an independent music scene.”


Here are some examples of the kinds of musical events that might be affected under the proposed “promoter’s ordinance.”

• The Nocturna dark alternative dance nights at Metro.

• Chicago Acoustic Underground shows at various venues around the city.

• The Chicago Independent Radio Project’s annual Record Fair.

• The International Pop Overthrow Festival at the Abbey Pub, the Elbo Room, Double Door and other local clubs.

• The Tomorrow Never Knows Festival at Schuba’s.

And here is a letter sent out by Metro/Smart Bar this morning:

Metro/Smart Bar asks you to oppose the Promoters Ordinance, which would require independent promoters to get licenses to promote events. Under the proposed law, independent promoters would have to acquire a promoter's license at a cost of up to $2000 every two years, obtain liability insurance for every event thrown, even if the presenting venue already has liability insurance, be fingerprinted and background checked, and maintain extensive records of each event.

Metro / Smart Bar believes that this ordinance is unnecessary, as current regulation of PPA licenses and safety and security guidelines are sufficient. The ordinance also unfairly singles out small venues and venues without seating, with no justification for during so. The goal for any additional regulation should be enforcement of current laws and punishment of those who do not obey them, not increased burdens on existing businesses. Additionally, the Promoters Ordinance would negatively affect the Chicago music community. First, it would affect the bottom line of small businesses like Metro and Smart Bar, who make a significant portion of revenue from partnerships with reputable, incident-free independent promoters. Second, losing independent promoters means Chicago music fans would lose out on many small niche events important to minority groups. Third, restricting independent promoters would drastically cut into the ability to do charitable and political benefit concerts at Metro, as it would no longer be financially feasible for non-profit organizations to organize these events.

TAKE ACTION TODAY - Please email or call your alderman or alderwoman and voice your opposition to the Ordinance today! Email or Call your alderman and ask him or her to oppose the Promoter Ordinance. Be polite. Tell him or her you support live music in Chicago, and feel this ordinance would kill many great events. Say you want venues to be safe, but this ordinance goes too far. Place a call to your alderman's office today. This page will help you find your alderman and give you his or her email address and phone number — quick and easy and only takes a couple of minutes.

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I read about this story from the Metro notice above. I currently live in the suburbs, but have seen many shows at Metro over the years, and go to shows at venues similar in nature to Metro, so this ordinance if of concern for me. How would you suggest people in the suburbs show their disagreement with this city law?

This is, in part, the e-mail I just sent to Alderman Schulter:

.... I must request that you vote NO on the ordinance, for the following reasons:

1. As currently worded, the vagueness of certain descriptions would most likely have a negative impact on the smaller venues who can least afford it.

2. Current laws exist that promote safety at events; if these laws are enforced, there really is no need for this additional ordinance.

3. A large part of the outrage for this ordinance is due to promoters having to secure as much as $300,000 in liability insurance per event -- when they are not responsible for security, the venues are responsible -- and be at least 21 years old, and be fingerprinted, and have to pay a $500 - $2,000 licensing fee every two years.

Age restriction: is this even legal? Isn't the legal working age 16? Why should a young and ambitious promoter not be allowed to work in Chicago?

Fingerprinting: Why is this necessary? If a VENUE wants to fingerprint an employee, that's their business; but the city of Chicago isn't paying the promoter; the promoter is not a City employee; I can see no reason for this, nor a background check, unless the promoter is a direct employee of the City. How can such a demand be legal?

Licensing fee: If a promoter lived in the city, and *only* booked within the city, I suppose the fee would feel less repugnant; however, many promoters book small bands at small venues on a national basis, and don't make a heck of a lot of money doing so -- especially when they are just starting out.

If a promoter who doesn't have high earnings has the choice between booking bands in a city that charges fees vs. cities that do NOT charge fees, obviously the promoter will choose the latter.

Also, if other cities decide to start charging this type of fee as well, most small promoters will go out of business -- they simply will not be able to afford a $500 fee here, a $1,000 fee there, etc., when they are only pulling in tens, or (if they're lucky) hundreds, of dollars.

And even if the promoter tries to "recoup" these losses by charging the venues for these fees -- well, most small venues can't afford $500 - $2,000 fees for multiple promoters, so they'd have to say no. Heck, most of the smaller venues can't even afford to pay the bands!

The result: Soon promoters would avoid booking smaller bands in Chicago; venues wouldn't book lesser-known bands; and the music would move elsewhere. THIS is the fear that we musicians share.

I'm sure this cannot be the intent of the ordinance. In fact, I'm pretty sure that our fair city was just simply trying to capitalize financially on a perceived opportunity to make our venues "more safe." I'm certain that had the City taken in the view of musicians, small venues, and promoters, they would have realized the potential pitfalls of the proposed ordinance.

If the City REALLY wants to know who the promoters are, for safety reasons -- instead of for the suspected reason of capitalizing financially -- all the ordinance would have to request is that venue operators keep *written records* of the promoters' names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. If the venues themselves want to attempt to hold promoters financially liable for potential disasters, that is their business -- not the City's.

I strongly urge you, Alderman Schulter, to consider these points. Please do the right thing by voting NO to this ordinance.

Thank you for your consideration.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had incidents in the city where people have been murdered, people have been accosted [and] there have been fights,” said Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), chairman of the licensing committee. “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.”

Unfortunately, Alderman, we've had those same exact incidents right outside Wrigley Field. Where is your ordinance for those?

I worked at Links Hall, a venue that would be affected by this ordinance, for several years. During baseball season, there were several nights when I was afraid to leave the office because of the drunk, belligerent Cubs fans outside on the sidewalk fighting. They also left large puddles of vomit on the sidewalk. I cannot remember one single time when anyone associated with any production at our venue was involved in the same type of behavior. So who is it that's really in need of regulation, Ald. Schulter?

This ordinance is too broad, too vague, and as a response to an event that happened FIVE YEARS ago, a bit too late. It does not address the issues that caused the E2 tragedy and will do nothing to ensure that such a thing doesn't happen again. The only thing it promises is that it will put many fine, legitimate venues and promoters under a great deal of unnecessary financial duress. This is a terrible ordinance and should not be passed.

Kathleen Duffy

Who is going to the City Council Meeting on May 14th to persuade council members not to vote for this ordinance? Is there an organized coalition? I feel strongly enough about this to show up on Wednesday. A representative of the music/arts community with a thorough understanding of the overlap of this ordinance and existing ordinances would be beneficial to speak in front of the council. We need to be able to make a strong argument that existing ordinances need to be enforced, not new regulations passed. Most alderman do not understand the ramifications of this ordinance. If some of the music/arts venues could put together a comparison of the cost of putting a small show on today and what the cost would be to put on that same small show after the ordinance is passed - this would make a poignant example of how this ordinance is stifling art without any true benefit to the city (besides gaining money from fees). The Alderman will need the problems with this ordinance explained very clearly, succinctly and professionally in order to justify not voting for it. Also, does anyone know if L.A. or New York City have similar ordinances? If they do not, this could help our argument too.

Thank you for this great article on an frighteningly bad ordinance. It would be nice to see this story actually make it into a print newspaper, as every one I've shared it with becomes immediately concerned, yet it only seems to be getting traction in blogs.

I love how "the metro" classifies itself as a small business!!!!

They've got plenty of $ from ripping off locals to cover the fees


Thanks for reporting the real facts in an unbiased manner and not throwing out riduclous statements that could incite irrational behaviour by an irrational crowd.
"is expected to approve a law that will pretty much drop a bomb on Chicago's independent mucis community if not nuke it entirely"

Question Jim? If the city changed the law to get rid of the insurance requirment entirely and reduced the license to its cheapest fee ($250) every 2 years, so that costs matched what every other small mom & pop business had to pay, where would your argument "shift" next? I still have not seen one post that can defend why this business should not be licensed.

I'm probably not adding anything that hasn't already been touched upon, but the main issues with this proposed ordinance are:

1) It is a completely uneducated response to a one-time event that occurred a handful of years ago. For a big city with tons of clubs, music venues, etc., Chicago has had a fine history of providing good, safe entertainment for its citizens.
2) Applicable laws were already in place--E2 ignored the threats, and the city did not act upon their threats until the tragedy unfolded.
3) The music/cultural community of Chicago seems to have been left out of this discussion from the very beginning.
4) If passed, the ordinance is going to be absolutely impossible to implement effectively across the board.

While the music scene is justifiably upset about this proposed ordinance, where are the other arts and events people? It does not specify only "music" promoters. What about art shows, theatre events, street fairs (ok, maybe those are all sponsored by non-profits), even magicians, author appearances, and others? Who else is going to have collateral damage from this ill-considered law?

How can you say Metro has ripped off the community? I have seen many shows there and have never felt like I was being "ripped off". This ordinance will only raise prices for shows, if not eliminate shows in some venues altogether. Where are the Republicans in this? Chicago is bad enough as it is for this kind of thing, but this is essentially taxation without representation. I am starting to agree with the "Nanny Staters" about Chicago.

When I say "locals" i mean local bands. Sorry for the confusion!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on May 12, 2008 12:52 PM.

Alderman Schulter’s turn: The committee chair responds to music community worries about the promoter’s ordinance was the previous entry in this blog.

New acts added to a Lollapalooza... and this year has a "theme" is the next entry in this blog.

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