No audience diversity despite Common and Kanye shows


August 13, 2006


Among the most noteworthy performances at Lollapalooza 2006 were the biggest hometown shows ever performed by the two most successful rappers Chicago has produced -- Common and Kanye West -- and the first appearance here by French-Latin giant Manu Chao, a heroic figure in the Latin music community.

Unfortunately, the crowd of about 50,000 that watched West perform was almost exclusively white, and hardly a mirror image of his hometown or his fan base. And many Latin music fans felt excluded from Chao's show and hurt by a contract that prohibited him from performing elsewhere in the city during his rare visit to the United States.

The promoters were asked about the lack of diversity during a press conference in the midst of the festival. "We market to all areas of the city and nation," Charles Attal said. "We can't control who's buying the tickets." But some members of Chicago's hip-hop and Latin music communities say Capital Sports didn't do enough.

Local alternative/album-rock radio stations WKQX (101.1-FM) and WXRT (93.1-FM) were major presences. They broadcast from the show; their DJs introduced many acts, and Q101 bought naming rights to a stage as part of a package valued at $80,000 to $100,000. Conspicuously absent were the city's three hip-hop and R&B powerhouses -- WGCI-FM (107.5), WBBM-FM (96.3) and WPWX-FM (92.3), all of whom consider West a core artist -- and Latino music station Radio Arte-FM (90.5).

"Definitely we would have wanted to participate in any way, shape or form, but in this situation, they didn't offer anything good," said Power 92 music director Barbara McDowell. "Let's see what happens next year: If they have any major hip-hop artist on their lineup, we're very open."

WGCI program director Elroy Smith said Capital Sports bought some ad time for Lollapalooza and provided some ticket giveaways. "But I looked at the festival and I wasn't impressed: Common and Kanye were out of place on that bill, to be honest.

"Black people aren't used to this event," Smith added. "If 'GCI would have embraced it, they would have embraced it. It would have been a weird kind of marriage, but it could have been interesting, with all this mixture of music. But they probably would have just said, 'I'll just wait around for Common and Kanye to come on.' "

The directors of several community groups made similar comments about Chao, noting that many of the artist's most ardent Latino and French-African fans couldn't justify the $73 ticket price just to see his set. Some said that calls to Capital Sports about group sales of reduced-price tickets for Chao's performance were not returned.

Many of the local music promoters and club bookers interviewed by the Sun-Times said Capital Sports missed a golden opportunity to welcome people who might have been unfamiliar with Lollapalooza, allow music lovers with limited means to see their heroes and make additional profits: Chicago hip-hop fans who only wanted to see Common and West and Latino music fans who just wanted to hear Chao could have been sold reduced-price tickets just before those performances, which ended the day.

"It's not uncommon at all, if a show hasn't reached capacity, for me to allow people to come in at a reduced cover charge before the end of the night," one club booker said. "It's win-win: The band performs for more people, and I make more money. Sure, Capital Sports would have liked to sell more $70 tickets. But collecting $20 or $30 beats collecting nothing."