At the dawn of last summer's concert season, the Dave Matthews Band posted an announcement to its website: The veteran group would not be touring in 2011.
That's non-news for most bands, but Matthews & Co. had been out every summer for 20 years. The fact that they wouldn't grace some outdoor venue marquees for a full calendar was worth noting.
"We feel lucky that our tours are a part of so many people's lives," the statement read -- and that was a few months after Pollstar magazine declared DMB the most successful touring act of the previous decade, raking in half a billion dollars from 2000 to 2009 -- "and ... we're excited to make this summer one of our best tours yet, and look forward to returning to the road in 2012."
They played two nights at Wrigley in September. Then, allegedly, they were gone.
And then, this spring, they announced they'd be back.
"These guys love playing together, and when the reality of not touring started to sink in, they found they still had a desire to play -- just not to tour," Coran Capshaw, Matthews' longtime manager, told the Sun-Times last week. "So we took that and it sort of morphed into this festival concept."
That festival concept is the Dave Matthews Band Caravan: four three-day music festivals in strategic cities this summer, featuring 39 bands hand-picked by the DMB, including O.A.R., Ray LaMontagne, Drive-By Truckers, Ben Folds, David Gray and the Flaming Lips. The Dave Matthews Band also will headline each festival -- each night.
So, this summer (and maybe others), we add the DMB Caravan to Chicago's ever-growing schedule of three-day concert fests, including the Pitchfork Music Festival, July 15-17 in Union Park; Lollapalooza, Aug. 5-7 in Grant Park, and the North Coast Music Festival, Sept. 2-4 back in Union Park.
But there's more to this story. First, the Chicago Caravan will take place next weekend, July 8-10, at a brand new venue, a former industrial site near 83rd Street and the lakeshore that's never held a concert before. Second, in addition to assistance from the site's developer, McCaffery Interests of Chicago, the Caravan here is being produced by both Jam Productions and Live Nation/Ticketmaster -- fierce rivals in the local concert business, to say the least.
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND CARAVAN
• July 8-10
• Lakeside, 8555 S. Green Bay
• Tickets: $85 per day, $195 for three-day pass
Heavy metal recycling
The Chicago Caravan will take place at Lakeside, a pastoral new name for the former site of U.S. Steel's South Works. The mill is long gone, and the 589-acre site with panoramic views of Chicago's skyline has been a moonscape for years. When the DMB announced its Caravan shows in April, Lakeside was still a very large patch of dirt jutting into Lake Michigan.
But the vacant land has been bugging Jerry Mickelson since long before the plant closed in 1992.
"I've driven by that site since I was a kid," said Mickelson, co-founder of Jam Productions. He and Capshaw spoke to the Sun-Times in a Tuesday conference call that included Mark Campana, Live Nation's Midwest regional president.
"I've known about it for years, and when Coran called and said he was looking for a site it's the first thing that popped into my mind. I've always had it that I'd like to use it one day if the opportunity arose. Most people in Chicago don't know this hidden gem is there. ... I sent Coran photos, and this is kind of what they were interested in doing."
Of the four Caravans this summer -- including last weekend at Atlantic City's Bader Field, Aug. 26-28 at New York City's Governors Island and Sept. 2-4 at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Gorge, Wash. -- the first two are reclaimed industrial sites. Atlantic City's Bader Field is a decommissioned airport closed since 2006.
"The Dave Matthews Band is into greening and sustainability, and this was an opportunity to take an old steel mill and green the site," Mickelson said, using "green" as a verb to describe some of the work required to reclaim the site.
That includes 59 tons of debris (scrap steel and building materials) removed in the last few months, most of which was recycled. Brush and weeds have been cleared from the land, as well. For the event, the exposed dirt (and potential mud) of Lakeside will be covered with 13,300 cubic yards of recycled wood mulch.
A gentle takeoff
Bader Field is basically Atlantic City's Meigs Field. Mayor Richard M. Daley bulldozed that Chicago airport on Northerly Island in 2003, and since 2005 occasional summer concerts have been staged at the temporary Charter One Pavilion there. Likewise, Atlantic City officials jumped at this chance to repurpose an old eyesore for something cultural -- and revenue-generating.
Though maybe less revenue than first expected. The Bader Field capacity was determined to be 75,000. Based on that figure, at capacity the Jersey Caravan could have drawn 225,000 people for an estimated $70 million haul. However, the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, according to the Press of Atlantic City, lowballed its anticipated figures, projecting total attendance of 85,000 for $27 million. After last week's event, police estimated attendance at 70,000 for the entire weekend.
Neither partner would comment specifically on ticket sales figures for the Chicago Caravan, though Capshaw said, "We're happy with sales and the way people have embraced this. I can say it's bigger than Atlantic City. I wouldn't say overwhelmingly big."
No city money will directly support the Chicago Caravan, taking place on private land, and both Jam and Live Nation confirmed they will be paying all required sales and amusement taxes on the event. (By contrast, Lollapalooza, which takes place in a city park, negotiated a deal that exempts the festival from paying city taxes based on its charitable contributions to the nonprofit Parkways Foundation.)
From the ground up
The Lakeside property is literally a blank slate, so the Caravan's organizers have been able to arrange the facilities exactly how they want to.
"We have total freedom that other festivals don't have in staging and where to place things," Capshaw said. "There's a lot of room to work with."
At nearly 600 acres, Chicago's Lakeside is vast compared to Atlantic City's Bader Field, which is 142 acres. The Caravan, though, will be utilizing only 170 Lakeside acres.
The Caravan will include three temporary stages: the South Works Stage (the main one); the Lakeside Stage, which backs up to Lake Michigan, and the Slip Stage, which abuts a dock on the property. Secured parking will be available for 30,000 cars. Camping is not allowed.
"There's actually no power and water on site. We're bringing it all in," Mickelson said. "All the parking is on site."
Added Campana, "There's a natural perimeter that the developer had in place, but everything inside that is trucked in. Food and beverage, the food stands, the multiple stages, the artist complex, the VIP complex. The team's been working since early January on the planning. It's a bit of a military operation, like we're dropping the army into a theater of operation."
Mickelson and Campana said there is no hard-and-fast division of duties between Jam and Live Nation.
"It's a big event, we've divided things up and tapped all our resources," Campana said. "It's not Live Nation does one thing and Jam another. We each take lead on something as needed. Jerry has the relationship with the property and the developer."
The previous relationship between Jam and Live Nation/Ticketmaster wouldn't lead one to expect the jovial party line Mickelson and Campana readily offer. Tussling for years over concerts, as well as venue ownership and ticketing, the two concert promoters are rivals at best, often bitter enemies.
They were just facing off in court, too. In November, Jam filed suit against Ticketmaster to settle a ticketing agreement between the two companies that predated Ticketmaster's purchase by Live Nation early last year. In March, Mickelson said the suit had been settled, but he could not disclose the terms.
"Coran put us together," Campana said of the joint Caravan effort.
"When we looked at Chicago," Capshaw said, "the Dave Matthews Band has worked with both companies very successfully and enjoyed working with both. There were some unique assets that could come into play by both companies working together."
Live Nation produced the DMB's Wrigley concerts last fall. Since 1995, Jam has promoted or co-promoted more than 40 DMB shows in Chicago and around the country.
"Jerry and I are competitors and aggressive in our competition," Campana added. "There wasn't competition in this. ... A lot of times Jerry and I chuckle on how much we agree on things. We've been in absolute lockstep, and Coran has not had to wear his referee shirt. I haven't experienced any heartburn. Have you, Jerry?"
"It has worked very well," Mickelson said, before chuckling and adding, "It's not like this will become a habit."
More to come?
The Caravan, however, could become a habit.
The Lakeside developer certainly hopes this event could lead to a return engagement or other events on the site. "If this goes well, this could happen for several years," McCaffery's Nasutsa Mabwa said at the April announcement. "We're hopeful."
Capshaw said the DMB is open to returning to Lakeside. "It's not something you could take into every market. ... I can't say we'll come right back to the same site, and I can't say we won't. The band has completely fallen in love with the festival concept."
Is this the new touring model for the DMB?
"It's something that's pretty special. We'll have to see how it all works out."