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Parrotheads christen expanded Live Nation venue

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The city's plan for a permanent concert venue. (Studio Gang Architects)

UPDATED: Live Nation offers free lawn tickets as make-good for muddy mess.

Thirty thousand parrotheads swarmed onto Northerly Island and into Live Nation’s newly expanded political plum of a concert venue on Saturday night. The Jimmy Buffett show was the first at the amphitheater’s new capacity of 30,000, and the first under a new name representing the latest corporate sponsor: FirstMerit Bank Pavilion.

What was old news was Live Nation’s shoddy treatment of its paying customers. Buffett fans got good sound but dealt with a muddy lawn area, obscured sight lines, a traffic nightmare, and a venue that “in many ways turned out to be unsuited and unprepared for the large crowd,” according to Chicago Tribune reviewer Kevin McKeough.

Also a familiar story: the political shenanigans of the Chicago Park District in sidestepping competitive bidding for the expanded concert venue when awarding it to Live Nation, a company that includes on its board of directors the brother of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

This blog reported on the questionable aspects of that deal on May 30. At that time, Park District Spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner had failed for seven weeks to provide interviews with parks officials or answer questions about the deal.

Another month later, the public information officer still has not answered questions submitted in writing or provided the requested interviews with parks officials.

The Park District’s haughty stonewalling of critics and reporters probing difficult issues is not unusual or unique to this blog. It has been no more forthcoming with Great Lakes Echo columnist Gary Wilson, who last August criticized the Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Park District for misusing almost $3 million to turn part of Northerly Island into an eco-tourist site.

“It’s a nice project but has nothing to do with restoring the Great Lakes, which was the purpose of the source of the money,” Wilson wrote.

In a follow-up commentary a few weeks ago, Wilson noted that, “The increase in the size of the concert venue will double the revenue to $2 million annually for the Chicago Park District. That’s just shy of what U.S. taxpayers are shelling out for the lagoon and other nature-in-the-city amenities. And that’s in year one.

“How come taxpayers are footing the bill for a project of dubious environmental restoration value when the Park District is getting a huge revenue boost from the expanded venue?”

Good question, but it’s another one the Park District isn’t answering.

“The responses are parsed and vague,” Wilson wrote.

Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly did, however, deign to give a gushing quote to the Live Nation press release issued Thursday announcing the venue’s name change.

“We are excited to welcome FirstMerit Bank as the title sponsor of the concert venue at Northerly Island,” Kelly said. “Together with Live Nation we will continue to bring great music and fans to this unique lakefront venue. We look forward to the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island being one the city’s most popular summer concert destinations and supporter of the Chicago Park District’s Northerly Island nature development.”

Readers who haven’t followed developments in the concert industry over the last decade may wonder why, aside from questions of political nepotism, Live Nation is a less than ideal partner for the Park District.

The short answer: Since its merger with the reviled and monopolistic ticket broker Ticketmaster, the giant corporation has sought to corner the concert market, stamping out all competition while consistently increasing the price of tickets and decreasing the concertgoer’s experience in terms of comfort and, some say, safety.

As reported last month by The New York Times, Canadian officials have brought charges against Live Nation Canada for safety violations in connection with the stage collapse at an outdoor Radiohead concert in 2012 that killed the band’s drum technician, Scott Johnson, and injured three other workers.

The company has vowed to fight the charges, and it issued a statement saying that “Live Nation and our employees did everything possible to ensure the safety of anyone who was on or near the stage.”

UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon, Live Nation released the following press release:

“Chicago has experienced almost thirty inches of rain so far this year, which is already more than fell in all of 2012,” said Mark Campana, Co-President North American Concerts, Live Nation. “We apologize for the wet ground experienced by lawn patrons on Saturday, June 29 and so we are inviting those people to be our guests at another Live Nation outdoor show this summer.” Lawn ticket purchasers for the Saturday, June 29 show will be contacted directly via email, where they will receive information on how to redeem a complimentary lawn ticket for each lawn ticket purchased for Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, to any available show at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, or Alpine Valley. The offer is based on availability and will be subject to expiration, so participants are encouraged to respond quickly for best selection, once they receive the email from Live Nation.

Earlier reports in this blog about Ticketmaster/Live Nation:

May 30, 2013: Did the Chicago Park District sidestep competitive bidding for the Northerly Island concert venue?

Mar. 21, 2013: City OKs expansion of Ticketmaster/Live Nation on Northerly Island

June 20, 2012: Toronto stage collapse: Blame Live Nation, not Radiohead

Feb. 24, 2011: Dear Rahm: How to quell fears about your ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza and fix relations with the Chicago music scene

Feb. 7, 2011: Rahm Emanuel: Pal$ with thuggish concert giants Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

Feb. 4, 2011: Will there be concerts on Northerly Island this summer?

Nov. 2, 2010: Jam to Ticketmaster/Live Nation: Drop dead!

June 21, 2010: It’s official: Ticketmaster/Live Nation free to devour the concert business

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