Chicago Sun-Times
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Obamapalooza: Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents to stage Grant Park election night celebration

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Call it "Obamapalooza."

C3 Presents, the Texas concert promoters who bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park each summer, have been tapped to stage the massive celebration that the Obama campaign is planning to hold in Grant Park on election night.

Although the company is based in Austin just blocks away from the Texas Capitol that launched the political career of President Bush, C3 is becoming an increasingly powerful player on the Chicago scene, with close ties to Mayor Daley.

Though several sources connected to the production confirmed C3's involvement, city officials said they could not. "We don't actually have an application from the Obama campaign yet, though we expect one this week," said Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner. "I don't have any information on any involvement by C3."

"We will not be commenting on this," said C3 spokeswoman Shelby Meade.

A spokesman for the Obama campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Twelve hours after he was first asked to confirm C3's involvement in the event, Obama spokesman Justin DeJong replied with a two-word email: "Declining comment."

C3 is midway through a five-year contract for Lollapalooza in Grant Park that was negotiated by its attorney, Mark Vanecko, a nephew of Mayor Daley. The festival paid the city $1.6 million for use of the park last summer.

The promoters also won a city contract last year to bring a wide range of events to Soldier Field during the Bears' off season, beating out the Chicago office of giant promoters Live Nation, though C3 has yet to deliver anything. And C3 officials have said they hope to play a major role in the Olympics if Chicago succeeds in its bid for 2016.

To date, the promoters have had little experience coordinating major political events. The company hosted several relatively modest Obama rallies in Texas during the campaign, including one that drew 20,000 people to Austin's Auditorium Shores during the primary. But election night is expected to bring at least 100,000 people to Hutchinson Field in the southern end of Grant Park, and possibly many more, Chicago officials say.

In its most successful year so far, Lollapalooza drew about 75,000 people to Grant Park per day for three days last August.

Mayor Daley said Thursday that the approximately $2 million tab for the Obama celebration would be paid by the campaign. The Nov. 4 event will be free and open to the public, but the campaign has drawn criticism for plans to charge media organizations hefty fees for close access to cover the candidate's victory or concession speech.

News outlets would have to pay $935 for a seat and high-speed Internet access in a heated tent not unlike the "luxury cabanas" that C3 sells to high rollers at Lollapalooza.

The Obama campaign has won widespread support from Chicago's music community, ranging from grassroots fundraisers at small rock clubs such as Schubas and the Hideout to major benefits such as a concert headlined by Wilco at the Riviera Theatre and promoted by Chicago-based Jam Productions. Many of these same local music promoters have complained that Lollapalooza has had a devastating effect on the local summer concert season because it restricts any artist who performs there from playing at another local venue for a total of as much as six months before and after the festival.

Lollapalooza also became the center of a political controversy in 2007 when Pearl Jam charged that one of its sponsors, Texas-based AT&T, had censored its Webcast of the Seattle band's performance because singer and Evanston native Eddie Vedder made comments critical of President Bush.

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"the campaign has drawn criticism for plans to charge media organizations hefty fees for close access to cover the candidate's victory or concession speech."

Jim, you know you're my guy, and in general, I'm in favor of the media getting a free pass for most events. This isn't one of them, and I think your attention to the detail of "criticism" is a bit suspect because you don't identify from where this criticism comes. This isn't like the criticism of the cozy comfort cabanas at Lollapalooza, which was from some journalists and some fans. It was a mutual thing.

This criticism, though? It's media-driven criticism. And the reason why they're criticizing the decision by the Obama campaign is not because it forces the "little guy" out. I mean, let's face it: The news outlets that would get the primo spots one way or the other would not be indie media or minor local newspapers; they'd be major conglomerates or subsidiaries of multinational corporations. These companies take in billions upon billions of dollars each year, as you know -- obscene amounts. That being the case, do you really think they can't pony up a grand per seat, especially when they'll be getting internet access and a heated tent (which is crucial for a Chicagoan November night), not to mention the best seats in the house and, quite likely, some kind of food?

Beyond all that, though, I think your link between this event and Lollapalooza is a dubious one. I know you've been, to put it mildly, annoyed by Lolla's new incarnation. I have seconded you on that on numerous occasions. But you're forgetting something crucial, something that changes everything: "Obamapalooza," as you're calling it (which is a pretty good term, I have to admit) is not set up to be a music festival Walmart. This is less to be a party filled with drunken frat boys and stoned-out suburbanites and more to be a celebration of (hopefully) the next president of the United States. It's a different atmosphere entirely. Furthermore, it is to be the celebration of that happening to Chicago's most famous adopted son. Really, this is less like Lollapalooza and more like a grander, more important version of the "last" two Smashing Pumpkins shows of 2000. This is a celebration of a Chicago icon, and instead of doing it in a convention hall with a bunch of stuffy politicos and a myriad of media, where only a few actual people get to bask in the glow, Obama's team has decided to do this in the city where his political career began, with the backdrop of the most gorgeous city skyline in the world and with the people who were among the first to make it possible. That means something.

So your information here is completely true, Jim; but the inferences I read into the article kind of bug me (though if I am indeed reading you wrong, I apologize). Sure, C3 manages both Lolla and, now "Obamapalooza," but that doesn't mean they have as much in common as it seems you'd like to believe. I might just be saying that because for someone who's as jaded as I am, I'm still amazed that we seem to be about to elect Obama president. Then again, I'm still pretty young; I have my whole life to re-learn that cynicism.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on October 23, 2008 6:23 PM.

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