Lollapalooza: First Chicago, then the world

Lollapalooza: First Chicago, then the world

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In a recent interview with Austin Chronicle music editor Raoul Hernandez, Charles Attal, one of the “three Charlies” behind Austin-based Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents, spoke for the first time about why the company sold a controlling interest to international mega-promoters Ticketmaster/Live Nation.

In short, C3 wants to rule the live music world—or at least the festival part of it. And this corporate global invasion plan started in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Asked if there was “a notable event that pointed the way” toward the company’s ambitious expansion program—it already stages Lollapaloozas in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Germany, in addition to the Chicago concert and the Austin City Limits Festival in its hometown—Attal said:

 “Lolla Chicago [2005]. That was a massive show. It was a big undertaking. We took a lot of punches at first, working downtown in the city. They’ve been great with us over the years, and we’ve learned how to operate in the city of Chicago. They’ve embraced it. It took a long time to embrace the festival there, and it’s running better now than it ever has.”

The “running better” part is, of course, debatable. As an artistic endeavor? Well, we all have different opinions about that. But as a massive, lucrative business venture? As such it’s an undeniable success—for the promoters, though not necessarily for the rest of the Chicago music scene, which scrambles for crumbs in its shadow for a good chunk of the year, thanks to its exclusionary radius clauses.

As for “learning how to operate in the city of Chicago,” that’s handy code for the company figuring out how it could get everything it wants from two city administrations. It began its original tax-free deal with Mayor Richard Daley by hiring his nephew as its attorney and paid lobbyist. Then it solidified its lock on Grant Park in a contract that runs through 2021 (though it can be extended in perpetuity after that) by cozying up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose brother Ari oversees the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, which happens to own a chunk of the concert in a mostly silent partnership with C3.

Now that 51 percent of Lollapalooza is owned by Live Nation, with the three Charlies and William Morris splitting the remainder 49 percent, ties are even tighter, since Ari Emanuel also sits on Live Nation’s board of directors. As this blog reported last month, the Charlies, their wives, the regional head of Live Nation, his wife, Lollapalooza figurehead Perry Farrell, his wife, and assorted William Morris employees all are among the donors to Emanuel’s reelection campaign.

C3's 'three Charlies'--Jones, Attal, and Walker--plus Ari Emanuel (WBEZ file).

“Yeah, so what? Politics as usual. I just wanna get drunk in the sun and listen to tunes in the park,” the disinterested music fan grumbles. “Why should I care?”

The answers are all in the Hernandez interview, though one has to parse Attal’s polite corporatese and read past passages of good ol’ boy chumminess about standing side by side watching bands at Stubb’s BBQ and how the small-minded music lovers in Austin don’t adequately appreciate C3’s business genius.

Here are some of Attal’s most notable comments and what they really mean.

On why C3 sold out: “Live Nation wanted to buy it, because we’re growing in the festival market and they wanted to grow in that market as well. We needed each other.”

Translation: “We want to rule the festival game worldwide. So does Live Nation. Together, we’re an unbeatable Axis of Evil!”

On what the influx of capital means: “I think we’ll probably take a little more risk. We took a lot [of] risk [back] in the day. And then we kind of sat back for a minute and got nervous about taking risk, because we’re like, ‘Hey, we’ve got kids. We’ve have families.’”

Translation: “Thanks to Live Nation, we can now be as reckless and move as quickly as we want! Get ready for global festival blitzkrieg!”

On why festivals are so important today: “It’s about the live space. Eighty-five percent of a band’s income is live, so everything now revolves around how to promote a record around a tour. A lot of bands launch their record around Lollapalooza… So we’re now the product managers. The live space is the product manager.”

Translation: “Silly you; you thought it was about music? It’s about product, product, product! Ticketmaster/Live Nation pioneered the whole thing about the concertgoer merely being a target for synergistic cross-promotion, and we love that and want a bigger piece of it!”

Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino (WBEZ file).
On a small, “independent” company’s fit with a global conglomerate: “[CEO] Michael Rapino is the reason we did the deal, and Live Nation is a great company. He understands our business. He knows the nuts and bolts of our business. He’s great and we get along with him well. We already did before. It was just an easy fit… He’d always been mellow, great. He’s a great CEO of a company.”

Translation: “Yeah, sure, a thousand articles have been written about Rapino’s ruthless, voracious ways—and there was that lawsuit filed by a smaller promoter in Chicago about how he wanted to ‘crush, kill and destroy them,’ as he’s done with so many other independent promoters in so many other cities—but hey, he’s a cool dude, and we think exactly the same way! Plus, the piranahas Charlie Jones keeps in our office really liked him, and he bought us a keg of beer.

On if the festival bookings will change: “No way. We’re only going to book what we want to book, and that’s what Michael wants us to do… Festivals are big revenue generators—big business—so there’s no reason for them to start force-feeding bands to mess up the vibe of the festival… [But] I would love to be able to lean on them if they have the relationship [with a bigger artist]. We haven’t gotten into that yet, because it’s so new and everything’s booked, but I’d love to be able to make phone calls to some of the people that are managed by [Live] Nation and say, ‘Hey, are you interested?’ and have that direct line of communication.”

Translation: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a bunch of Lollapaloozas all over the world headlined by Live Nation products Madonna and U2? Good times!”

You’ll forgive this veteran observer of C3 and Ticketmaster/Live Nation for being a little flip about the lack of context in the Hernandez interview, as well as the many substantive questions that he failed to ask Attal during what the writer proudly called “an exclusive.” Here are just a few of them:

  • Live Nation’s predatory business practices were widely vilified by a long list of artists from all corners of the music industry when the federal government held congressional hearings weighing the proposed merger with Ticketmaster in 2009. Doesn’t that give you any cause for concern?
  • Because of its horrible customer service and egregious tacked-on “convenience” fees, Ticketmaster is the most reviled entity in the entertainment world. But Ticketmaster is part of Live Nation. Will you now be selling tickets “the Ticketmaster way,” even if you don’t use their service?
  • How are a dozen or more Lollapaloozas scattered across the face of the globe good in any way for those regional music scenes, or for the diversity of the bookings at those festivals? Be honest: You just want to have a focused list of headliners each year atop all of your festivals with a lot of filler below, don’t you? These global tours are how Live Nation always has worked.
  • What about those radius clauses? Isn’t your end goal to create a stable of “C3/Lollapalooza/Live Nation artists” who are locked in and then unable to play with any other concert promoter?
  • And how do you feel about Live Nation’s vaunted philosophy of promotional synergy? That concertgoers all exist primarily as targets of advertising? Or do you just want to admit that you’ve always seen Lollapalooza in that light anyway?
  • Call me naïve, but why—really—is bigger unquestionably better, in music or in any other business? Why are you guys not just the Walmart of the music world?

Valid questions, one and all. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the answers.

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