The Lollapalooza that ate Chicago

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Yesterday, I posted an early look at a story for the newspaper about two new clubs coming on strong in Chicago and potentially changing the local clubs scene. While I was doing the interviewing for that piece, essentially talking to the forces behind every important rock club in town, I also asked about the impact that Lollapalooza is having on club land. The answers weren’t pretty, and those comments all follow below.

Now comes a legitimate scoop from a competing local newspaper saying that Lollapalooza owners C3 Presents of Austin, Texas, have signed an exclusive deal to book the Congress Theatre. This comes on the heels of the story the Sun-Times broke a few weeks ago about C3 now having an arrangement to bring more concerts and other entertainment events to Soldier Field.

For more than a decade now, the main story in the Chicago concert business has been cut-throat competition between the major national concert giant Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel) and Chicago-based Jam Productions. It now seems as if C3 Presents is eager to edge both of those companies out of the business — which puts many of its practices at Lollapalooza in a new light. Read on for those comments by local club owners and bookers about the way Texas is doing business in Chicago.

SIDEBAR: LOLLAPALOOZA VS. CLUB LAND

The owners of Chicagos most prestigious live music clubs say they welcome competition from new venues such as Reggies and the Bottom Lounge, at least when theyre talking on the record. But theyre starting to be much less gracious about what they call their most serious competitor: Lollapalooza.

Since Texas promoters C3 Presents reinvented Lollapalooza as a destination festival in Grant Park three years ago, local clubs have lost dozens of shows each summer as acts that would play their venues sign on to Lollapalooza and accept strict radius clauses that prohibit them from playing anywhere else near Chicago for months before and after the big concert.

On the one hand, Lollapalooza promoters trumpet their festival as a one-of-a-kind event unmatched by anything else in the music world. On the other, they stamp out competition from venues a fraction of their size, decimating local club calendars for a third of the year.

Here are the thoughts of some of the driving forces in Chicago club land.

Joe Shanahan, owner, Metro: Its a very different summer now for all of us. I look at those Lolla bills, and I know theyre paying so many of those bands really well. It may not be the career moves that all of them should be making, but Im not their manager or their agent. Ill still be standing in the fall, and theyll come back to work for us then or in the winter. But the shift has definitely been to the other seasons because of this.

Michael Yerke, talent booker, House of Blues: Theres no doubt about it: If Lollapalooza wasnt there, there would be more shows at places like Metro and the House of Blues and the Vic Theatre and probably for that matter Reggies. On the other hand, we have a good relationship with those guys [Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents], and we do a couple of the after shows. At least were getting a couple of shows during that weekend, where if we didnt have a relationship with them, wed probably have no shows at all! Its hard, but Lollapalooza isnt the only culprit: You also have the Warped Tour and the Linkin Park tour that swallow up a lot of bands that take away from Metro and House of Blues as well.

Bruce Finkelman, owner, the Empty Bottle: If you look at summertime in Chicago and summertime around the country now, its just festivals taking over everything. The summer used to be a really big time, but now, youre not looking at bands that are on tour, but at acts that are just going from one festival to another. Its a completely different scenario now.

Sean Duffy, talent booker, the Abbey Pub: When I first started rolling at the Abbey, before Lollapalooza and Pitchfork and Intonation, my summers were awesome. Summers always slowed down a little bit: You lost some of the bands to Ribfest or the Randolph Street Festival or whatever. But then, all of the sudden, the summer that Lollapalooza came here, the talent pool was completely empty. During the summers now, youre lucky if you have a couple of shows, and youre just picking up the leftovers that couldnt get into any of the festivals. And some bands that play at these festivals cant play anywhere else in the city for 90 days before and 90 days after — thats six months, and thats just ridiculous! Im not against more clubs opening; Im against more festivals! Lollapalooza alone probably wiped out about 60 club shows last summer, and weve just got to rein that in.

Brian Peterson, talent booker, Reggies and the Bottom Lounge: I havent really encountered much of a problem with Lollaplooza yet, because the [old] Bottom Lounge was closing at the time when Lolla was just starting up. Im sure Lolla will have more effect on me this year as the Bottom Lounge is just getting going and Reggies is starting out. Its going to make it even tougher to get established. But Ive always been intrigued and found it more personally rewarding to book bands that are more unknown and that end up growing. A lot of these bands arent on the map yet for clubs like Metro or the Empty Bottle or for Lollapalooza. And I just have to hope that by the time they are on the map for those places, Ive got the history with them.

By the way, Lollapalooza has just started hinting that early-bird bargain tickets will become available this week.

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