For knowledgeable music fans, two things jump out from the list of donors to the campaign of mayoral frontrunner Rahm Emanuel. The first is the contributions from the two top executives at Ticketmaster/Live Nation, the monopolistic giant that has become the most reviled entity in the music business.
Executive chairman Irving Azoff, the notorious “Poison Dwarf” of the music industry and a man who’s been pushing concert ticket prices ever higher since he started as manager of the Eagles, gave the campaign $10,000. And CEO Michael Rapino, as ruthless a figure as the music business ever has produced, gave $5,000.
The second fact that leaps out is that no fewer than 15 employees at William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood super-agency run by Ari Emanuel, have donated a total of $141,000 to his brother Rahm’s campaign. Not coincidentally, William Morris co-owns Lollapalooza, which has a tax-free sweetheart deal with the city of Chicago that keeps it in Grant Park through 2018.
Never nurturing to begin with, the waning days of the Daley administration have been a singularly dreadful time for the city’s relations with the music community. The dismantling of the Department of Cultural Affairs has cast uncertainty on the future of music programming at Millennium Park, and when the push to privatize the free summer music festivals resulted in a stellar proposal that could have created Chicago’s answers to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Milwaukee’s Summerfest, Daley abruptly reversed himself and arbitrarily rejected it.
The radius clause imposed by Lollapalooza continues to decimate the summer schedules of local indie promoters and venues, but the Attorney General’s investigation of the musical Walmart on the Lake either has stalled or been dropped, despite subpoenas flying as far as the William Morris offices in L.A. (Robyn Ziegler, press secretary for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, via email on Friday: “Thanks for checking in on this. I still have nothing to provide you. Have a good weekend.”) And, long after E2, city inspectors continue to heavy-handedly harass and sometimes kill live music at smaller venues, with the punk-rock dive Ronny’s just the latest victim.
The next mayor not only will have to deal with the fallout from all of these problems, but oversee new music initiatives such as the long-term future of the amphitheatre on Northerly Island—which Ticketmaster/Live Nation is hungry to control—and what will become of Taste of Chicago and the six other big music festivals in Grant Park.
In recent weeks, readers commenting on this blog and music lovers in many other corners of the local community have asked: Will things get better under the next administration? Some are hopeful, reasoning that they can’t get much worse. But is that true?
Rahm Emanuel, a self-professed Wilco and Smashing Pumpkins fan, hasn’t spoken much about his vision for music in Chicago, aside from mouthing a few platitudes in TimeOut Chicago’s survey of the candidates’ stances on the arts (“The arts help to define who we are, and they make our city an exciting place to work and live while attracting business and tourism”). Like everyone else in the race, he also added his signature to Arts Power Chicago’s feel-good “Principles for a 21st Century Creative Chicago.”
Meanwhile, state records listing Emanuel’s campaign donors include the aforementioned top execs at Ticketmaster/Live Nation, which many musicians consider the most destructive force the concert business has ever seen, and all of those civic-minded workers at his brother’s company, all of whom live in a different city across the country. Meanwhile, there is not a single Chicago artist, venue owner, or local independent concert promoter to be found on the long list of financial supporters.
These are not facts that bode well for the man most likely to be the next mayor when it comes to fostering relations with the grassroots music community and bolstering indie promoters, clubs, and theaters in their life-and-death struggle with the clouted-up big boys muscling in from out of town.
It’s surprising that the musical names and connections have been overlooked in the handful of local news reports about Emanuel’s donors, including those in the Trib and the Sun-Times, both of which endorsed Emanuel in recent days. These stories either focused on the remarkable success of his last-minute push to rake in the big bucks before new state limits took effect in January, or the big-name celebrities who forked over. Among the latter: television and film writer Aaron “West Wing/The Social Network” Sorkin ($10,000), Apple computers guru Steve Jobs ($50,000), real estate and reality TV tycoon Donald Trump ($50,000), producer/director Steven Spielberg ($75,000), and music and media mogul David Geffen ($100,000).
Also on that list: a bevy of other Hollywood producers and directors, TV executives, employees of real estate and private equity firms, high-powered Chicago attorneys, and top honchos at corporations with strong local interests, including Lettuce Entertain You, United Airlines, Boeing, Exelon, Walgreen, and Comcast.
Oh, yeah: There also is a local scalper—er, ticket broker: Best Seats Available of Bensenville, which gave $1,000.
The bigger picture, though, is that the approval of the unholy marriage of Ticketmaster and Live Nation marked one of the most disappointing decisions of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, as noted numerous times in this blog and my previous forum at the Sun-Times. (Some of those links below.) And many political insiders and Beltway pundits saw the influence of two key people behind that decision: the President’s Harvard roommate and longtime pal Julius Genachowski, formerly on the board of directors of Ticketmaster and now the chairman of the FCC, and Rahm Emanuel, then the President’s Chief of Staff.
Rahm’s brother Ari, the inspiration behind super-agent Ari Gold on the HBO series “Entourage,” not only is CEO of William Morris Endeavor, one of the most powerful talent agencies in the world. He also is a member of the board of directors of Live Nation, and a key figure in pushing the winner-take-all, to-hell-with-the-little-guy policies of that voracious and all-consuming mega-company. (Here is a 2008 profile of Ari Emanuel from the L.A. Times; here is a 2009 piece from the New York Times, and here is an amusing account of the mogul in action at a contentious Ticketmaster/Live Nation board meeting last September.)
Why is Ticketmaster/Live Nation such a negative force? This is a company whose execs once stated—in writing, no less—that they would like to “crush, kill and destroy” one of their few remaining independent competitors, Chicago-based Jam Productions. And they’ve done just that to hundreds of smaller music promoters across the country through the last decade, becoming the all-powerful and bullying Microsoft of the music world.
Here are some comments made at or before the Senate hearing on the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger in 2009:
“[This merger] is vertical integration on steroids, [creating] the poster child for why the country has and needs antitrust laws.”—Jerry Mickelson, co-founder of Jam Productions.
“You can’t blame Live Nation at this point any more than you can blame a shark for eating people.”—Seth Hurwitz, owner of Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club and co-owner of indie promoters I.M.P.
“Giving Ticketmaster near total control over the distribution of concert tickets here in New York and across the country is a recipe for disaster. This merger would give a giant, new entity unrivaled power over concertgoers and the prices they pay to see their favorite artists. It must be viewed skeptically.”—Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrat from New York.
“We are concerned about the antitrust implications of the proposed merger.”—Joint statement from Sen. Orrin Hatch, conservative Republican from Utah, and Sen. Herb Kohl, liberal Democrat from Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, the merger got the Obama administration’s seal of approval, and the company continues to follow a brutish way of doing business that Emanuel implicitly endorses—at least to the point of benefiting from its leaders’ campaign contributions.
Then there’s Lollapalooza.
The super-concert’s Austin, Texas-based promoters not only were favorites of the Daley administration; they’ve gotten a lot of love from the Obama administration. C3 Presents staged the election-night festivities in Grant Park as well as organizing several of the most high-profile events in Washington, D.C. after the inauguration. And several sources in the administration saw Emanuel’s hand in choosing the company.
Conspicuously absent on Emanuel’s donors list are the “three Charlies” who run C3, one of whom, Charlie Walker, formerly served as a top executive at Live Nation. C3 benefits from a long-term, tax-free deal with the Chicago Park District crafted in part by their attorney and lobbyist, Mayor Daley’s nephew Mark Vanecko. But C3 only owns 50 percent of Lollapalooza.
The other half of the massive festival is owned by Ari Emanuel’s company, William Morris Endeavor, which bought it from its founder and the agency’s client, Perry Farrell, and William Morris agents and execs are all over Rahm’s donor list. They include Adrianae Alberghetti ($2,500); John Fogelman ($100,000); Peter Grosslight ($5,000); Mark Itkin ($5,000); Sharon Jackson ($1,000); Brandt Joel ($2,500); Charles King ($5,000); Lance Klein ($2,000); Jason Lublin ($1,500); David Lubliner ($1,000); Sean E. Perry ($2,000); Matthew Solo ($1,000); Jennifer Walsh ($5,000); Patrick Whitesell ($5,000), and David Dominique Wirtschafter ($2,500).
“Chicago is a fantastic city for local music all year round, and the fact that the Lollapalooza festival has chosen to make Chicago its home reflects that. We should work to ensure, however, that local music venues are not adversely impacted by the music festivals and events that come to Chicago,” Emanuel said when asked by TimeOut if he sees Lollapalooza as “a boost for the local music scene or a challenge to local venues.” The publication did not point out that his brother’s agency co-owns the festival.
Idealistic readers might protest that such familial connections and financial endorsements never would influence the city’s top elected official. To which this reporter and other skeptics rightly could reply, “Of course not. We’ve never seen that happen in Chicago, have we?”
Some of this blogger’s earlier reports about Ticketmaster/Live Nation:
Earlier reports in this blog about Lollapalooza’s shenanigans: