Lollapalooza vs. the Chicago club scene

March 11, 2008


The owners of Chicago’s most prestigious live music clubs say they welcome competition from new venues such as Reggie’s and the Bottom Lounge, at least when they’re talking on the record. But they’re starting to be much less gracious about what they call their most serious competitor: Lollapalooza.

Since Texas promoters C3 Presents reinvented Lollapalooza as a destination festival in Grant Park three years ago, local clubs have lost dozens of shows each summer as acts that would play their venues sign on to Lollapalooza and accept strict “radius clauses” that prohibit them from playing anywhere else near Chicago for months before and after the big concert.

On the one hand, Lollapalooza promoters trumpet their festival as a one-of-a-kind event unmatched by anything else in the music world. On the other, they stamp out competition from venues a fraction of their size, decimating local club calendars for a third of the year.

Here are the thoughts of some of the driving forces in Chicago club land.

Joe Shanahan, owner, Metro: “It’s a very different summer now for all of us. I look at those Lolla bills, and I know they’re paying so many of those bands really well. It may not be the career moves that all of them should be making, but I’m not their manager or their agent. I’ll still be standing in the fall, and they’ll come back to work for us then or in the winter. But the shift has definitely been to the other seasons because of this.”

Michael Yerke, talent booker, House of Blues: “There’s no doubt about it: If Lollapalooza wasn’t there, there would be more shows at places like Metro and the House of Blues and the Vic Theatre and probably for that matter Reggie’s. On the other hand, we have a good relationship with those guys [Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents], and we do a couple of the after shows. At least we’re getting a couple of shows during that weekend, where if we didn’t have a relationship with them, we’d probably have no shows at all! It’s hard, but Lollapalooza isn’t the only culprit: You also have the Warped Tour and the Linkin Park tour that swallow up a lot of bands that take away from Metro and House of Blues as well.”

Bruce Finkelman, owner, the Empty Bottle: “If you look at summertime in Chicago and summertime around the country now, it’s just festivals taking over everything. The summer used to be a really big time, but now, you’re not looking at bands that are on tour, but at acts that are just going from one festival to another. It’s a completely different scenario now.”

Sean Duffy, talent booker, the Abbey Pub: “When I first started rolling at the Abbey, before Lollapalooza and Pitchfork and Intonation, my summers were awesome. Summers always slowed down a little bit: You lost some of the bands to Ribfest or the Randolph Street Festival or whatever. But then, all of the sudden, the summer that Lollapalooza came here, the talent pool was completely empty. During the summers now, you’re lucky if you have a couple of shows, and you’re just picking up the leftovers that couldn’t get into any of the festivals. And some bands that play at these festivals can’t play anywhere else in the city for 90 days before and 90 days after — that’s six months, and that’s just ridiculous! I’m not against more clubs opening; I’m against more festivals! Lollapalooza alone probably wiped out about 60 club shows last summer, and we’ve just got to rein that in.”

Brian Peterson, talent booker, Reggie’s and the Bottom Lounge: “I haven’t really encountered much of a problem with Lollaplooza yet, because the [old] Bottom Lounge was closing at the time when Lolla was just starting up. I’m sure Lolla will have more effect on me this year as the Bottom Lounge is just getting going and Reggie’s is starting out. It’s going to make it even tougher to get established. But I’ve always been intrigued and found it more personally rewarding to book bands that are more unknown and that end up growing. A lot of these bands aren’t on the map yet for clubs like Metro or the Empty Bottle or for Lollapalooza. And I just have to hope that by the time they are on the map for those places, I’ve got the history with them.”