News from the summer music festival front | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Jim DeRogatis

News from the festival front: Live Nation buys Bonnaroo, more corporate consolidation

Previous Next
Fun times at the festivals (WBEZ file photo)

Catching up on a number of stories in recent days about the summer concert festival scene, the biggest news is Live Nation’s purchase of a controlling interest in Bonnaroo, the massive jam-band soiree in Manchester, Tennessee.

Coming not long after the Death Star of the concert biz acquired a majority stake in Lollapalooza for a reported $125 million—making Live Nation partners here with C3 Presents and silent co-owners William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood talent agency run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari—the move makes clear that the corporate concert monopoly intends to own the festival market throughout the U.S. as attendance continues to drop at conventional summer “shed” shows (like those at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park and the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island, both owned by Live Nation, which also happens to include Ari Emanuel on its board of directors).

Like some of the characters with C3, Bonnaroo’s founders maintain in an interview with Billboard that the fundamental character of their “immersive” musical party will not change. But Live Nation’s oft-stated business strategy is all about treating its customers as a prime demographic targets for marketing (you may think you’re at their fests for the music, but it’s really for the advertising) and vertical integration (expect to see even more of the same headliners at all of its festivals). To say nothing of the blandness of its bookings and partnerships with mainstream concert giants (the company recently sent an email poll to customers on its mailing list asking about interest for Lady Gaga, U2, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Beyonce as headliners at future Lollapaloozas).

Meanwhile, a study by a team of doctors at Lurie Children’s Hospital has shown a spike in visits to the emergency room from teenage girls with alcohol poisoning on the weekend of Lollapalooza, evidence of another primary purpose of the concert: alcohol sales (if not binge drinking).

“It was pretty crazy," one emergency room doctor said. “Late at night, there was room after room of kids that came after Lollapalooza, that were brought by their friends and paramedics.” Granted, the numbers are not astronomical. But this was just one hospital reporting. And every year, the actual number of arrests and incident reporters from police at Lollapalooza is close to zero, indicating that the city is cozy indeed with the concert promoters when it comes to admitting that anything bad at all happens in Grant Park during the cash-cow event.

Also worth noting: C3, which has a virtual lock on events in the park and is clearly our mayor’s go-to out-of-town corporate events promoter, also are the folks staging all of the hoopla for the NFL Draft activities dominating the South Loop over the next four days. Don’t expect many police reports from that, either.

Finally, things don’t seem to be nearly as friendly or cozy between Riot Fest and some of the city officials from its surrounding neighborhood in Humboldt Park.

Red Eye today quotes Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) as flat-out saying, “I don't support them coming back,” largely because of the extent of damages to the park after last year’s concert and the amount of time it took for repairs, though Riot Fest as a spearhead of gentrification in the neighborhood also is an unstated concern.

Festival founder Michael Petryshyn has responded with a statement that, after a few perfunctory comments about “shining a positive light on our culturally rich and magnetic neighborhood,” seems to hint that the festival has more powerful friends than some pesky local alderman, who might want to prepare to be steamrolled.

 “Between the support we have received from the Mayor’s office, congressmen, state legislatures, county commissioners and the many Alderman in having Riot Fest’s permanent home in Humboldt Park,” the statement concludes, “we are completely confident that any and all future concerns from Alderman Maldonado will be handled in the fashion we know best: as good neighbors.”

Follow me on Twitter @JimDeRogatis, join me on Facebook, and podcast or stream Sound Opinions.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.