City drowns out Radiohead bid to play Millennium Park


January 9, 2006


Although Chicago officials said late last year they are eager to present more popular music in the parks this summer -- and to reap the financial benefits these concerts bring for park improvements -- they have rejected a bid by chart-topping British art-rockers Radiohead to perform at Millennium Park in June.

The band, which will release its seventh album later this year, hoped to perform in the new venue at the northern end of Grant Park on June 19 and 20, the tour dates it has earmarked for Chicago performances, according to sources close to the group.

But the Cultural Affairs Department, which is responsible for programming at Millennium Park, rejected the band's bid to perform there -- even though the group would have paid rental fees of $100,000 -- because the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to hold a rehearsal June 20.

Orchestra rehearsal a conflict

Radiohead and many of its fans still consider the concert the band played at Hutchinson Field in summer 2001 as one of its most memorable. Although that show was a well-organized, artistic and financial success, city officials were reluctant for the next few years to allow cutting-edge rock acts to return to Grant Park because of noise complaints from a handful of nearby residents.

Since Tim Mitchell took over as Park District superintendent in 2004, the city has had a change of heart. Last fall, inspired by the more than $2 million generated by the revitalized Lollapalooza in Hutchinson Field and concerts at the new venue on Northerly Island, Mitchell promised that summer 2006 would bring even more rock 'n' roll to Grant Park.

But the Cultural Affairs Department has different priorities. "Free public programming is part of the venue's mission," spokeswoman Karen Ryan said of Millennium Park. She added that the orchestra cannot move its rehearsal because it needs to use its own sound system.

"We have to support organizations such as the Grant Park Orchestra, but we're open to other events if there are availabilities at other times," Ryan said.

Indeed, Cultural Affairs officials eagerly embraced other private events at the $475 million venue last fall. Toyota paid about $800,000 for a private corporate event last September, closing Millennium Park to the public and drawing criticism from watchdog groups such as Friends of the Park.

Criticism also greeted a paid concert by singer Tori Amos at Millennium Park that same month, although citizens' groups praised other efforts to host revenue- generating events.

The Amos concert was organized by local concert promoters Jam Productions, who also ran the Radiohead concert in 2001 and hoped to bring the group to Millennium Park this summer. Jam executives declined to comment.