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Those who follow public arts policy and alarming developments such as the promoter's ordinance should check out the cover feature in this week's Time Out Chicago: "Who Is Chicago's Culture Candidate?" The mag polled a dozen declared candidates for mayor in the February race about their stance on various cultural issues -- from liquor licenses and food trucks to privatizing festivals and Lollapalooza -- and reported some interesting and occasionally wacky responses.

The most entertaining come from conservative editor R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., who "does not much care for pop culture" and insults Lollapalooza and everyone who attends: "I think that Lollapalooza is composed for the most part of mental defectives and cannot possibly believe that it would be a threat to any local band that was not itself composed of mental defectives." Perry Farrell should book this man as MC at once.

An encouraging sign: Only one candidate, current city clerk Miguel del Valle, readily voiced conditional support for the now-tabled promoter's ordinance (a proposal to force music event organizers and venue owners to buy licenses and insurance for their shows). Seven are against it, and Rahm Emanuel gave this evasive but somewhat positive answer: "There is a balance to be struck -- we should go after illegitimate underground promoters operating in Chicago, but we should not regulate to the point of choking off our vibrant small music venues."

It's ironic that here in Austin, some 10,000 attendees at the South by Southwest Music Conference all received a flier proclaiming that "Austin Is Music," lauding the city's support of the local music scene and its new music initiative as part of the City of Austin Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office.

Seattle, Memphis and New Orleans all have similar offices under their mayors, while Chicago has... a chief executive seemingly determined to thwart the local music community at every turn, with the reintroduction of the promoters ordinance simply Mayor Daley's latest assault.

The musical advocacy group the Chicago Music Commission has long trumpeted the economic benefits to the city from the music scene, and it's becoming increasingly pointed in its opposition to the promoters ordinance. Now it's posted an alternative proposal on its Web site. The full statement is best read there, but the group does offer an outline of what it's suggesting, and that follows the jump.

Meanwhile, word here among several of the founders of Chicago's best indie labels is that the city has finally wised up (apparently in part under the prodding of the CMC) and devoted an entire stage at this year's Taste of Chicago Festival in Grant Park to showcasing the local stars on the labels' rosters. Stay tuned for more details.

• The ordinance will result in fewer shows at Chicago clubs.

From the Nocturna dance nights at Metro to the shoegazer-oriented Tomorrow Never Knows Festival at Schubas, and from the Kuma's Doom Fest at Double Door to the Alex Chilton Birthday Bash at the Empty Bottle, some of the city's most rewarding events are conceived and run by indie promoters working at established clubs, whose rosters will thin out considerably if these promoters are driven out of business.

• The ordinance will squash the Jam Productions of tomorrow.

Every established promoter was at some point a struggling up-and-comer. The insurance and fee requirements in the ordinance, as well as the stipulation that all promoters be over age 18, discourages the "hey, kids, let's put on a show!" aspect of underground music scenes--or drives them underground to unsafe, unlicensed venues.

• The ordinance could drive some clubs out of business.

In the wake of E2, Chicago music venues are more tightly licensed, regulated and inspected than ever before, and they arguably are safer for the scrutiny that comes from being forced to comply with the dozens of laws already on the books. This extra layer of legislation could be the last straw the convinces some venues it simply isn't worth the trouble.

Ten months after a City Council committee tabled a controversial law that opponents say would hamper and possibly eliminate many of Chicago's independent concert promoters, a revised draft has been circulated to Aldermen and made public by a local advocacy group, which charges that little has been done to address its fundamental problems.

The Chicago Music Commission "believes the ordinance as drafted is not necessary to achieve the city's stated goals of seeing a more transparent and accountable promoter industry in Chicago," according to a statement posted on the group's Web site, along with a version of the revised law dated Jan. 6 but not yet made public by the city.

"If the ordinance becomes law, it will create unworkable burdens for many small and young music promoters in Chicago, pressuring a key component of the vibrant Chicago music community instead of supporting and fostering its growth," the CMC statement added.

The so-called event promoters ordinance originally was introduced to the City Council License Committee in June 2007 by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing at the request of Mayor Daley. Officials said it was a reaction, four years after the fact, to the disaster at the E-2 nightclub which claimed 21 lives in 2003, even though that tragedy was as much a problem of the venue as the promoter.

In May 2008, the license committee approved the ordinance, but it was tabled before coming to a vote in the full council after an unprecedented outcry from the music community, which was outraged that the city had not sought input from musicians, club and theater owners, promoters or music fans.

"You don't want to have a burden on the event promoters. But, at the same time, they have a responsibility to protect the people," Daley said when defending the ordinance at that time. He and other city officials vowed to work closely with the local music scene to revise the law and address concerns before another vote.

Yet despite a handful of meetings with music advocates and local promoters over the last year, the revised law still would place what CMC and other advocates call unreasonable burdens on small promoters, who would have to register with and be fingerprinted by the city, pay a two-year license fee ranging from $500 to $2,000 and obtain $300,000 in liability insurance--even if they are working with an established venue already licensed by the city, subject to inspections by numerous departments and carrying its own liability insurance.

Sources say the licensing committee was set to vote on the revised law on March 11. But Robert Rawls, a spokesman for committee chairman Ald. Gene Schulter (47th) said on Thursday that the ordinance is not on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, and that "Alderman Schulter feels that more work needs to be done and does not know when this issue will be brought before the committee for a public hearing."

Rawls did not respond to a request for comment about the CMC's statements or publication of the revised ordinance on Tuesday.

"We were able to obtain a copy of what we believe is the current ordinance," CMC board member Dan Lurie said. "[City officials] have indicated to us that they're not ready to share, but we thought it was important enough to get up [on our Web site] in the interest of disclosure."

Although a few exemptions have been written into the law since it was first introduced--including some sparing promoters who work without compensation or who run one-off benefit concerts--it still has a broad definition of independently promoted events that would include hundreds of concerts or dance nights that take place each month across the city at well-respected venues such as Metro, the Empty Bottle, Schubas, the Hideout, Reggie's, Martyr's, the Abbey Pub and many others.

In a letter to Schulter, other council members and Mary Lou Eisenhauer, acting director of the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, the CMC contends that "other, less burdensome means are currently available to address public safety and accountability concerns"; that more research needs to be done to define alleged problems caused by indie promoters (the city has not cited any statistics), and that the music community should be included in the process of drafting any legislation.

"Instead of first seeking to impose a top-down, costly, untested license the city should instead pursue an extensive outreach effort to better understand the community it is seeking to regulate," the CMC's letter states. "As the world looks anew at our city in its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and as we as a city struggle to weather the economic storm, CMC and the Chicago music community, including the promoters who help make Chicago music a world-class resource, want to see responsible, safe promotion of Chicago music."

Rather than the costly license process and the additional insurance burden, which would drive many small promoters out of business, the CMC proposes that the city institute a simple registry for independent promoters working at PPA- (Public Place of Amusement) licensed venues.

"The vast majority of people in the music community are law-abiding business people who are operating on very thin profit margins and who are looking to just stay afloat in this economic climate," CMC board member Lurie said. "They're not looking to cause trouble, and they play by the rules. If there are problems out there, we're suggesting that there be some kind of collaborative effort between the city and the music community to address the problems together."

The revised promoters ordinance and the Chicago Music Commission's statements can be found on the advocacy group's Web site here.

Panel discussion on the Chicago promoters ordinance

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If city officials were hoping that the nearly year-long delay in reintroducing the revised (but still not public) event promoters ordinance would have quashed the level of interest among community activists, well, they were wrong.

The "Free Speech First Friday" discussion series at the Old Town School of Folk Music had scheduled a session on the controversial legislation even before it appeared as if it's about to enter the spotlight again. A panel featuring representatives of the Chicago Music Commission, anarcho-activists JaGoFF/, this columnist/blogger and others will take place starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the venerated school at 4544 N Lincoln.

The folks at 4 The also are conducting a petition drive against the ordinance.

The issue, it's obvious, is anything but dead.

Attacking the Chicago Promoters Ordinance on video

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While it is stalled in committee, the so-called Promoters Ordinance--which would place a difficult, expensive and largely unnecessary new level of bureaucracy on local concert promoters and club bookers--is far from dead; it's just a question of when it will rear its ugly head again, and in what form.

Meanwhile, a number of community activists continue to keep a watchful eye on this legislation, examining the possible ramifications and trying to mobilize the troops. One source for monitoring the situation is the Chicago Music Commission, which tries to take a moderate, level-headed, political lobbyist's approach. A far more radical (and entertaining) view comes from the underground group, which has made a video documentary entitled "Chicago's Promoters Ordinance Kills Independent Music."

(Disclosure: I was among those interviewed for this film.)

On Saturday, the Chicago Art Department, 1837 S. Halsted, will present a screening of the new film starting at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A panel discussion featuring Law Professor Henry H. Perritt, Jr., among others. Admission is free, and more info is available here.

If you can't make it out in person, the video also has been posted on the Web.

In case you missed it, the chairman of the city licensing committee wrote a letter to the editor published in the Sun-Times Monday.

The full text of the letter can be found here, but the heart of the Alderman's statement is that he wants to "ensure that the concerns of Chicago's music and entertainment industry are examined through both public hearings and extensive meetings with a diverse group of promoters, musicians, and venue owners."

To date, most of the feedback the committee and other city officials have solicited from the incredibly diverse Chicago music community has come from a small group of activists and specific venue owners and concert promoters. Since this is an issue that affects myriad underground music scenes -- the Latin music world, the punk-rock scene, hip-hop, avant-jazz, electronica, etc., etc. -- much more widespread public meetings are not only warranted but necessary, if music fans are to accept their elected officials' word that, as Schulter says in the letter, he really does want to "ensure that the ordinance as it is finally passed does not place an undue burden on local musicians, young people breaking into the music industry or established venue owners."

Where and when will these meetings be held? We haven't heard yet. Hopefully we will.

This week, the Chicago music community won a respite of at least a month as the so-called "events promoters ordinance" was sent back to committee before a full City Council vote, with alderman promising to solicit more feedback from venue owners, musicians and music lovers as they attempt to rewrite the law.

By no means is it certain that elected officials will finally get it right -- especially when many believe there is no need for this law at all. As a Sun-Times editorial said on Friday: "It's doubtful whether the city needs to license promoters. Venues already must be licensed and insured. Private contracts between clubs and organizers already insure patrons' safety." (Click here to read the full editorial.)

City officials remain unclear and unconvincing as they attempt to make the case for the law. Witness this conversation on "Chicago Tonight" last Tuesday featuring Ald. George Cardenas (12th), moderator Elizabeth Brackett and this reporter.

So what can the many concerned music lovers do?

Formed in suburban Wilmette in 2001, Fall Out Boy rose from playing exactly the sort of shows that the Chicago City Council would like to outlaw to headlining arenas and selling more than six million albums in the U.S. to date.

An avid reader of this and many other local blogs — even as he prepares for a Hollywood wedding — bassist and songwriter Pete Wentz contacted me this morning and said he felt compelled to speak out about the promoter’s ordinance. We connected a few hours later after the law was tabled (for the time being). But the perspective of a mutli-million-dollar career that would not exist without small shows organized by independent promoters is invaluable.

Our conversation follows the jump.

Da Mayor speaks out on the promoter's ordinance

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As with so many decisions in Chicago government, the City Council's abrupt but welcome tabling of a vote on the event promoter's ordinance seems to have been decreed from the top.

Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman writes:

Daley said he's willing to soften his crackdown on event promoters amid warnings that the added cost could damage Chicago's thriving live music industry. "You don't want to have a burden on the event promoters. But, at the same time, they have a responsibility to protect the people," he said.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Promoters' Ordinance category.

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