Chicago’s Jam Productions to stage Emanuel’s inaugural concert

April 27, 2011

In an encouraging sign that perhaps Rahm Emanuel will not show undue favoritism to his big-bucks corporate-concert supporters at Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza, he has tapped Chicago-based independent promoters Jam Productions to stage the celebratory free concert he’s hosting in Grant Park on May 14, two days before he is sworn in as mayor.

True, the concert will be headlined by creaky nostalgia act and horn-driven schlock-meisters Chicago. But as middle-of-the-road and uninspired as that choice may be, it’s hard to imagine outgoing Mayor Richard Daley hosting a free concert of any kind to celebrate anything.

As first reported here shortly before the election, Emanuel received campaign contributions from the two top executives at the controversial and monopolistic national concert giant Ticketmaster/Live Nation: $5,000 from ruthless CEO Michael Rapino and $10,000 from executive chairman Irving Azoff, the infamous “Poison Dwarf” of the music industry. These contributions come at a time when Ticketmaster/Live Nation is looking to secure a long-term contract for a concert venue on Northerly Island, as well as any other advantage it can grab over Jam and other independent rivals in this market.

The new mayor’s brother, Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel, serves on the board of directors of Ticketmaster/Live Nation. What’s more, Ari’s agency, William Morris Endeavor, is 50/50 partners in Lollapalooza with concert promoters C3 Presents of Austin, Texas. The concert has a tax- and competition-free deal negotiated in part by its lobbyist, Mayor Daley’s nephew Mark Vanecko, keeping it in Grant Park through 2018. And no fewer than 15 William Morris Endeavor employees donated a total of $141,000 to Rahm’s campaign.

“Given his brother’s position at WME and on the board of Live Nation, Rahm would ask the City Council to appoint an outside negotiator to handle any negotiations with these companies so that there wasn’t even a question of favoritism,” Ben LaBolt, the Emanuel campaign’s communications director, wrote in an email response to my story on those companies’ contributions, after which he stopped responding to all of this reporter’s questions and requests for comment.

Following the mayoral election, LaBolt left Emanuel’s inner circle to accept a job as national spokesman for President Obama’s reelection campaign. He has been replaced by Tarrah Cooper, who will continue as the new mayoral spokeswoman.

Last week, Cooper reiterated the pledge that Emanuel will keep a “hands-off” policy on all city dealings with Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza/C3/WME. And yesterday, she said that Jam Productions will stage the inaugural concert in Butler Field.

Jam executives declined comment on who would be running the concert when asked last week; at the same time, the Park District had not received any permit applications specifying what company would be in charge of the inaugural concert. But many political observers predicted that the honor would go to the politically connected C3: After all, it had been tapped to run President Obama’s election-night celebration at the same site, as well as several inaugural bashes in Washington, D.C.

Though Jam paved the way for Lollapalooza by hosting a celebrated Radiohead concert in Grant Park several years before the reinvented destination festival came to Chicago, the local company had been shunned for the last decade by the Daley administration, which thwarted its efforts to bring other musical events to the park. And when a partnership including Jam was the only respondent to a recent request for proposals to privatize Taste of Chicago and the other big city music festivals, the mayor decided that he didn't really want to privatize those concerts after all.

Emanuel’s planned inaugural shindigs have garnered criticism in some corners for drawing funding from big-money donors; witness this piece in the New York Times noting that some will pay as much as $50,000 for V.I.P. access to the concert and other inaugural events. But Cooper defended the celebrations, reiterating her comments in that article to this reporter yesterday.

 “The inaugural festivities will be open and accessible to the public and an opportunity for all Chicagoans to come together block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood to celebrate a new chapter in Chicago’s history and our commitment to addressing the challenges we face with common purpose,” Cooper said.

And why did Emanuel—a self-professed Wilco super-fan—turn to what is left of the band Chicago, which formed at DePaul University in 1967 but moved its base of operations to Los Angeles in June 1968, instead of other local greats such as, say, Jeff Tweedy and company, Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, Kanye West, Common, or Frankie Knuckles?

“The Mayor-elect is a fan of the band Chicago,” Cooper said.

Though that group is the biggest name on the inaugural concert bill, other locals will take part in the musical celebration, Cooper said. And Emanuel already has named one other act: J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound.

Eariler reports in this blog about Rahm Emanuel and music and the arts:

Mar. 10: Rahm names arts & culture committee… with no voice for indie rock or hip-hop

Mar. 3: Rahm finally talks about music and the arts… sort of… on WXRT

Feb. 24: Dear Rahm: How to quell fears about your ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza and fix relations with the Chicago music scene

Feb. 21: Tomorrow we vote, but still no answers from Rahm on his cozy ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Feb. 8: Rahm Emanuel pledges hands off all dealings with Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Feb. 7: Rahm Emanuel: Pal$ with thuggish concert giants Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza