City's new attitude music to my ears


November 2, 2005


In a city where political demands often conflict, one thing is certain: Money talks.

For the last decade, Chicago officials have shied away from major rock concerts in the parks and at city facilities. They refused to allow members of the Grateful Dead to perform at Hutchinson Field in 2002, and they stopped alternative rockers the Smashing Pumpkins from playing at the Petrillo Bandshell in 1998.

In both cases, tens of thousands of local music fans were denied the opportunity to hear their heroes in their parks because of the complaints of a small number of neighborhood residents who objected to the potential for noise and traffic.

The no-rock-in-the-parks attitude, initiatives such as the "anti-rave" ordinance barring dance parties and the often heavy-handed crackdown on music clubs stemming from the E2 tragedy all combined to make Chicago -- home of the blues, birthplace of house music and hotbed of rock and hip-hop -- increasingly unfriendly to live music.

But as Parks Supt. Timothy Mitchell indicated Tuesday, Chicago has a new attitude: The Park District opened the doors to rock last summer, and it hopes to host even more cutting-edge sounds when the warm weather returns.

It would be nice to credit the overdue realization by city officials that rock 'n' roll is one of the factors that makes this city a great place to live and a vibrant tourist destination. But the real reason is more mundane.

Revenue from the revitalized Lollapalooza in Grant Park, the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field and 20 summer concerts that drew 100,000 people to Northerly Island generated $2.2 million for Park District coffers.

This is good news for residents' wallets, since the strategy helps forestall a tax increase. But it's even better news for music lovers, since we may get to hear more of the sounds we love in the parks we help fund.