I've joked before that the city's primary tactic for passing its terrible, poorly thought-out independent-promoter ordinance seems to be to rewrite it and reintroduce it until the opposition succumbs to outrage fatigue. So here we go again.
The latest iteration of the ordinance--I'm starting to lose count of how many there have been--showed up in my inbox this morning courtesy of an anonymous source at City Hall. It's since been posted by the Chicago Music Commission, which claims it's being considered by the City Council's license and consumer protection committee (but thanks all the same, mystery person). The general idea is the same: if passed the ordinance would require any event promoter not exclusively employed by a venue to apply for an expensive license and take out a large insurance policy.
Like every revision so far, the new ordinance is riddled with exemptions: Events booked at venues with fixed seating, events promoted by licensed nonprofits, events involving fewer than 99 people and with no admission charge. Family picnics are singled out for exemption, which means the ordinance has at least reached a point in its evolution where its language isn't so vague that it could be applied to literally any event that more than a couple of people show up to for any reason at all in any setting in the city at any time. Good work there.
The tiered licensing structure that was added a couple revisions ago is still in place. A two-year Class D license allowing you to book events of 99 people or fewer with an admission fee would run $500, a Class C (500 people or fewer) is $1,000, a Class B (2,000 or fewer) is $1,500, and a Class A (anything above 2,000) is $2,000.
To get the license you still have to submit to fingerprinting and acquire $300,000 in insurance. Promoters must print their license info on every piece of advertising for an event, arrange written contracts with every venue where they book events, and hold onto all that paperwork for up to three years.
The requirement that promoters alert their local police commander in writing of any event they've booked seemed to have fallen out of the ordinance with its previous iteration, but it's back again, and now promoters are also supposed to give the same warning to their local alderman. Promoters are required not only to call 911 if they're aware of any illegal activity at their events (a reasonable request) but also to keep a log book of any such activity for inspection by city officials (less reasonable, but possibly good reading).
The ordinance has been somewhat softened during the revision process, but if it seems almost fair now, keep in mind that 40 years of hard labor can look totally reasonable to a guy who was just staring down a firing squad. The ordinance will still force honest small-time promoters--the ones who put on safe events but don't have the money, time, or resources to meet the license requirements--out of business, thus opening up the market for dishonest promoters. With all the new restrictions and fees the ordinance would attach to putting on an event, it's likely many law-abiding folks who'd otherwise try to get into the game will instead leave the field to promoters who plan to ignore both the law and the license. And the people who show up at these independently promoted events--the ones this regulation is supposed to protect--won't be any safer.
The ordinance's backers--including the mayor--are willing to cause grave damage to Chicago's musical culture so they can collect a few grand in license fees and say they've finally done something about the E2 disaster, six years after the fact. (Not that this ordinance will do anything to prevent another similar tragedy.) It's a garbage idea, and if it passes Chicago will look like a cultural black hole run by greedy ignoramuses. What we have to do right now is send an unambiguous message to our city government that we don't need this version of the ordinance or in fact any version of it. We need it to stop. They need to make it stop coming back.
This Friday, March 6, the Old Town School's First Friday event has been repurposed as a Free Speech First Friday to help raise awareness of this issue. There will be a "free speech open jam" at 6:30 PM and a screening of a documentary about the ordinance at 7:30.
This Web site will help you share your opposition to the ordinance with the appropriate officials and agencies.