The Illinois attorney general’s office is reportedly investigating Lollapalooza, the Chicago rock festival featuring Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire and Soundgarden, on antitrust grounds. As Rolling Stone first reported early this month, like Coachella, Bonnaroo and others, Lollapalooza has a “radius clause” preventing acts from playing competing shows, in this case within 300 miles for 180 days before and 90 days after (read the full story, “Summer Festivals Force Bands to Skip Local Venues” in All Access now). Reps for the attorney general, Lisa Madigan, wouldn’t comment, but Chicago concert-business sources confirmed a report on writer Jim DeRogatis’ blog that her office has looked into the August festival for at least a week.
“The radius clause does seem extreme,” says Matt Rucins, talent booker for Schubas Tavern, the longtime Chicago club that frequently books Lollapalooza-friendly acts. “It’s nine months, essentially. It’s hard to deal only with three months of available talent, assuming Lollapalooza is grabbing the cream of the crop. But I think it’s something that can be hashed out without the attorney general getting involved — or lawyers, period. That seems like an awful waste of time and money.”
Local club bookers and promoters have been complaining about these clauses for years. In a story last month, numerous sources in Los Angeles and Manchester, Tennessee, told Rolling Stone that Coachella and Bonnaroo cripple their schedules every summer. “A lot of people are thinking, with the decline of the record industry, they can just make their money on touring. There isn’t that much money out there, and a lot of them are just making money from festivals,” says Brian Smith, a talent buyer for Los Angeles’ Troubadour club. “And that hurts a lot of the clubs.”
Festival promoters counter they can’t possibly allow the Dave Matthews Band, for example, to play nearby Red Rocks a month before headlining Denver’s Mile High Music Festival in July. “We’re banking on the headliners and their draw in the market,” says Brent Fedrizzi, Mile High’s producer. “We don’t want to dilute it.” Lollapalooza’s organizers, C3 Presents, wouldn’t comment, but Chicago-area sources say the company grants exceptions to the radius clause frequently, especially to smaller acts on the bill. “I have certainly, many times, been presented with a clause, and negotiated down prior to confirmation — or [said], ‘I really want to be able to do this with the band; will you guys look the other way?’ ” recalls David T. Viecelli, a Chicago agent whose company represents Lollapalooza headliners Arcade Fire and New Pornographers. “I haven’t found it to be an incredibly rigid thing.”
Still, Lollapalooza’s clause is especially hard to get around, because it affects some 120 bands on the bill and a huge swath of Midwest concert markets, including Milwaukee, Detroit and Indianapolis. In Chicago, it’s especially difficult, because the Pitchfork Music Festival has its own clause, as do numerous neighborhood music festivals. “If I put [up] a bunch of money for a festival and took the risk, I guess I would make every attempt to have some sort of radius clause as well. But a band has every right to say no,” says Bruce Finkelman, owner of Chicago’s Empty Bottle club. “Does it affect me? Yes. Do I wish it wasn’t there? Yes. Is business a little slower in the summer? For sure. It’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘Oh, that sucks.’ “