Park district finally opens arms to rock concerts


April 24, 2005


The recent approvals of Lollapalooza in Grant Park and a new concert venue on Northerly Island suggest the Chicago Park District has a new attitude about rock music.

In 2002, after initially green-lighting the concerts, the Park District at the last minute rejected two shows in Hutchinson Field by Terrapin Station, a tour featuring the surviving members of the Grateful Dead.

And in 1998, only days before showtime, the Park District reversed an earlier decision to allow hometown heroes the Smashing Pumpkins to perform for free at the Petrillo Music Shell for fear that the alternative rockers would attract too many people.

Former Smashing Pumpkins bandleader Billy Corgan said last week that the canceled concert remains the biggest disappointment of a career that included 22 million albums sold. "But I've heard recently that the city regrets what happened back then, and it wouldn't happen now," Corgan added.

City officials haven't suddenly become rock fans. "I listen to [Newsradio] 780 in my car all the time; I'm not a big music person," Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchell said Friday. But the city has realized that rock concerts can be a major source of revenue for much-needed park improvements.

Lollapalooza promoters Capital Sports & Entertainment of Austin, Texas, will donate at least $250,000 to the Parkways Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for city parks. And the Park District expects to make $800,000 from Clear Channel Entertainment when it produces 25 to 30 concerts starting in June at a new 8,000-seat venue on Northerly Island, the former site of Meigs Field.

Mitchell said he is not concerned that Clear Channel has not yet begun construction of the Northerly Island venue, and that no shows have been announced.

Although he was scheduled to appear, Mitchell did not attend a Friday press conference where Capital Sports announced the Lollapalooza lineup. But in an interview later in the day, the superintendent said he was impressed with Capital Sports when he investigated the company's reputation in Austin.

Mitchell said that he "could not speak to the past" concerning the rock concerts that were shut out of Grant Park under his predecessor, David Doig. "I don't know if the promoters for those concerts didn't give my predecessor a comfort level," he said.

"But [Capital Sports] gave me a comfort level for my people to go ahead and sit down and have months of conversations with them about what kind of program they'd put on and how they would lay it out."

'Moving forward'

In fact, Mitchell is so confident in Capital Sports that he said the Park District is "open" to allowing beer sales at Lollapalooza. When local promoters Jam Productions hosted successful shows in Hutchinson Field by Radiohead, Shania Twain and Sting, alcohol sales were prohibited.

Rather than dwelling on the contentious relationship with rock in the past, Mitchell said the Park District is dedicated to "moving forward."

"The Park District for decades has paid for the Grant Park Symphony [but we have to] represent a variety of people, not just those that like classical music. There are a lot of people that like the type of music that [Lollapalooza] will bring, and hopefully we'll even have a different mixture over on Northerly Island."