By Mark Guarino
Organizers of a revamped Lollapalooza are promising musical bliss in downtown Chicago this summer, but the city has yet to give them the green light, putting the reality of the two-day festival in Grant Park on shaky ground.
A partial line-up of bands was announced at a press conference Friday for Lollapalooza, refashioned as a destination festival in Grant Park July 23-24. Despite the Chicago Park District’s history of preventing rock concerts downtown, the lack of secured city permits by organizers and a less than impressive line-up of major headliners, organizers insist the revamped Lollapalooza will match its golden era in the early ‘90s when the festival was the barometer of cutting edge music.
Widespread Panic, Weezer and the Pixies are among the bands announced to perform, with the possibility of four to five additional bands to be added in the coming weeks, said talent buyer Charles Attal. Although Lollapalooza press materials say 60 bands will perform on five stages, only 33 bands were announced Friday.
Despite the uncertainty, tickets are being sold at $85 for a two-day pass. The festival website reports that at least a $16 service charge will be added to each ticket and that tickets will be raised to $100 “without notice when (the $85 tickets) run out.” A final ticket price will be $115.
The new Lollapalooza is being produced by Austin-based Capital Sports & Entertainment (CSE) and Charles Attal Presents, twin companies that host the successful Austin Cit Limits festival, currently in its fourth year. Last year, Austin City Limits had 75,000 concertgoers through its gate per day. Organizer Charlie Jones said he expects Lollapalooza to be under 50,000 people a day.
Jones said he reached out to Lollapalooza founder and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell because the festival is “one of America’s most cherished brands.” Farrell said he will likely not perform at the festival, but is merely “helping out.” His participation makes him a major partner.
Despite the fact that tickets are being offered for sale, the organizers have yet to secure all the permits needed to produce an event of its scale, said Chicago Parks District spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner. “It’s in progress,” she said. Details still need to be worked out regarding city services such as security and portable toilets. She said expects things to go smoothly because the organizers “want to return (next year).” “That also signals they want to do the right thing when they’re here,” she said.
Even so, the Chicago Park District has a history of denying permits to rock concerts downtown. In 1998 the Smashing Pumpkins was prevented from playing a hometown show at the Petrillo Music Shell. The Other Ones, a reunion of the Grateful Dead, was denied permits in 2002. Radiohead successfully played a show in Hutchinson Field in 2001, but was followed by complaints from neighbors on the north end of the park plus Grant Park Orchestra concertgoers at the nearby Petrillo Music Shell.
CSE pursued talks with the city starting in December, agreeing to partner with Parkways Foundation, the park district’s non-profit philanthropic organization, and donated money to the organization. Parkways Business Manager Jennifer Griffin would not verify how much CSE donated. “I don’t want people to think ‘if you give x amount of money, you can have a concert in the park’,” she said. She did say CSE promised “they wanted it to be a kinder, gentler, tamer Lollapalooza.”
Lollapalooza’s roots go back to 1991 when it was launched as one of the most successful touring rock festivals of all time, presenting bills that included the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden and others. It fizzled out in 1997 and was resurrected in 2004 only to be canceled three weeks before the first date due to poor ticket sales.
CSE hopes to reconstruct Lollapalooza as a Midwestern version of other destination rock festivals, like Coachella outside Los Angeles and Bonnaroo in southern Tennessee, that both attract visitors from all around the world.
Friends of the Park, a 30-year non-profit advocacy organization, said Chicago should welcome Lollapalooza — but only in Soldier Field. “(The Park District) sold this to the state … that (the Soldier Field redesign) wasn’t for private use, that there would be many uses like large scale concerts,” said president Erma Tranter. “It has everything they need — 6,000 parking spaces, new seats, built-in concessions and sufficient washrooms. It’s the perfect venue for an event this scale.”
Tranter said she made several attempts to get information from the park district but has not gotten any of her calls returned.