Lollapalooza looks for Grant Park spot


March 31, 2005


The renowned alternative-rock concert Lollapalooza is attempting to resurrect itself as a two-day "destination festival," drawing fans from across the country -- and Chicago is the city that has been chosen for its comeback.

The promoters, Capital Sports & Entertainment of Austin, Texas, announced Wednesday that they will bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park on July 23-24. They declined further comment until a press conference on April 26.

The Parkways Foundation, a fund-raising arm for the city parks, has endorsed the concert as a way to raise money. But a spokesperson for the Chicago Park District stressed that the festival -- which would take place at Hutchinson Field at the southern end of Grant Park -- has not yet been approved by the city.

"We don't know a thing about it," said Erma Tranter, president of watchdog group the Friends of the Park. "The questions we would have are, 'How many people?' and 'Is this the right place for it?' "

Former Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell, who launched Lollapalooza in 1991, is on board as creative consultant, and promoters are remodeling the event after southern California's Coachella Festival, which draws 50,000 fans a day.

So far, the acts rumored to be part of Lollapalooza 2005 -- alternative rocker Beck, the jam band Widespread Panic, and underground favorites the Killers and Kings of Leon -- lack major drawing power, and industry insiders question whether the festival can succeed in this city's ultra-competitive summer concert season.

After a five-year hiatus from 1998 to 2002, Lollapalooza returned as a conventional tour in 2003. But last year's bill with headliners Wilco and Sonic Youth was canceled because of slow ticket sales at nearly every stop -- except Chicago, which may explain why the Windy City has been chosen for this third comeback attempt.

In 1993, Lollapalooza promoters experimented with the Chicago audience, putting tickets on sale without announcing the lineup. The concert sold out, largely because Nirvana was falsely rumored to be headlining, but that test has since been cited as evidence that the concert's name and concept are more important than the specific acts.

Capital Sports & Entertainment bills itself as "an integrated management and marketing firm providing services to athletes, artists, events and entertainment brands," and its clients include bicycling champion Lance Armstrong. The company promotes the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival and is affiliated with Stubb's BBQ, a popular 2,200-seat Austin concert venue.


Chicago's hip, but not that hip

CSE has not worked with Lollapalooza before. Following the failure of the 2004 tour, sources said the company bought a 50-percent stake in the festival from the Beverly Hills-based William Morris Agency, whose veteran alternative-rock booker Marc Geiger has joined Farrell in programming this year's concert.

But neither CSE nor Geiger have dealt with the Chicago Park District before -- the tour previously stopped at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park -- and the city has been notoriously hostile to hosting edgier rock concerts in Grant Park.

In 1998, city officials barred hometown heroes the Smashing Pumpkins from performing a free concert at the Petrillo Bandshell. Local promoters Jam Productions successfully hosted a show by Radiohead at Hutchinson Field in 2001, but Michigan Avenue residents and fans of the Grant Park Orchestra, which performs at the northern end of the park, complained about the noise and the crowds.

The Park District subsequently rejected a bid by surviving members of the Grateful Dead to perform at Hutchinson Field in 2002.

"The event that they have proposed is not the Lollapalooza of the past -- it's a softer, tamer event," Park District spokeswoman Jennifer Maxey-Faulkner said Wednesday.

But a source familiar with the Lollapalooza proposal said plans call for as many as four stages hosting cutting-edge rock bands, plus a rave dance tent. "These promoters have no idea of the amount of aggravation involved in working with the city to do anything like this in Grant Park," the concert industry insider said.