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Is Lollapalooza's radius clause that big of a deal?

Brent DiCrescenzo

The music biz has been abuzz over Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s reported undertaking of an antitrust investigation of Lollapalooza promoters C3 Presents. Madigan is taking aim at the festival’s radius clause, an industry-standard contract of exclusivity with performing acts that restricts their touring within a certain distance of Lollapalooza. Two years ago, we printed a story on the radius clause, finding local venues to be both reluctantly understanding and challenged by the practice.

Former Sun-Times music writer Jim DeRogatis, a vocal critic of Lollapalooza, broke the news of Madigan’s legal action Thursday on his new blog. His Sound Opinions partner, Tribune music man Greg Kot, followed with response from local club bookers. Friday, Kot gave the details on the radius clauses of other large festivals. Unsurprisingly, much of the fine print of these contracts is industry boilerplate. Both Lolla and Bonnaroo include a 300-mile blackout for attending bands (which must hurt less in theory for Bonnaroo players, as that fest is in the middle of nowhere). Along the same line, Coachella mandates bands not play Southern California for nearly six months. And even the indie gurus at Pitchfork ask that bands not play any festival in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Missouri the same month as their festival.

Clearly, Lollapalooza is not the only event causing difficulty for concert venues in summer. The proliferation of street fests—one every weekend during this high season—makes it more difficult for bars to bring acts indoors. Which is why the Empty Bottle and House Call Entertainment (bookers of Subterranean and Beat Kitchen) play can’t-beat-’em-join-’em, wrangling acts for Do Division, West Fest and Wicker Park Festival.

But this entire sudden kerfuffle struck us as rather odd. This year, it seems as if the Lollapalooza radius clause is hardly being enforced. C3 has always contended that it’s open to working with bands. It appears the company is true to its word.

Consider the following examples:

Major Lolla draw MGMT hit the Riv last week, while Spoon headlines the World’s Largest Block Party on Madison next week.

Smaller groups, the supposed victim of the Man in all this, have popped up in Chicago all season, too. Warpaint hit Do Division. Harlem is opening for Dead Weather at the Congress. Javelin plays Millennium Park the Monday after Lolla. The Constellations were at the Empty Bottle in early June. Jukebox the Ghost has a gig at Lincoln Hall later this month. The Morning Benders supported Broken Bells at the Vic a month back. And so on. (Not to mention the many after-parties during Lolla weekend.)

As for the 300-mile radius, well, that seems rather loosely enforced as well. New Pornographers hit Milwaukee on Jun 12. Matt & Kim, the Black Keys and the Big Pink pass through Detroit around their Lolla date. Phoenix visits St. Louis.

The big boys (and girl [right?]) at the top of the bill—Soundgarden, the Strokes and Lady Gaga—aren’t even touring the States around that time.

So why are these contracts still being written in such a manner? If the radius clause is hardly being adhered to, let’s rewrite it. You’re not going to do away with these clauses, as it is legitimately in these festivals’ interest to not allow the big draws to suck away tickets sales with competing gigs.

There is also the case to be made that after, say, the Constellations play Lollapalooza in August before thousands of people, they’ll draw better at a Chicago club like Lincoln Hall or Bottom Lounge the next time they pass through town. Most of these acts (who, by the way, are largely buzzed-about indie acts) tend to come back in the fall. If Lisa Madigan is dying to see Wavves, fret not. Those dudes’ll come back soon. Besides, to make the claim that Lollapalooza is monopolizing concert booking is to say that there are only 150 bands in the world.

Look, there are reasons to be critical of Lollapalooza and large outdoor festivals in general. No one is above reproach. Nor is everyone a fan of bulk concertgoing, of standing in the blazing sun to hear bar bands on a giant outdoor stage, nor of waiting in line for porta-potties. Personally, I’d rather see all these groups at Lincoln Hall or SPACE or the Vic, etc. So I do. And so can you.

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