Courtesy Sterling Bay
Nothing says “Chicago music culture” like a 200-million-dollar venue built and run by the largest concert-promotion company on the planet.
Live Nation Entertainment is the biggest concert promoter in the world—and it was even before it merged with the monolithic Ticketmaster in 2010 or bought a controlling stake in C3 (the company behind Lollapalooza) in 2014. These days, according to the New York Times
, Live Nation operates more than 200 venues globally and manages 500 musical acts (including U2 and Jay-Z), and last year it presented more than 30,000 shows and sold half a billion tickets. Now you can add to that portfolio a handful of future Chicago venues: this morning news broke that Live Nation had struck a deal with Sterling Bay to build and operate between three and five venues in the new "Lincoln Yards" redevelopment, on the north side between Lincoln Park and Wicker Park.
In a press release Sterling Bay managing principal Andy Gloor said, "Chicago already has a reputation as an entertainment hub and we are excited for the community to have easy access to a variety of new events with some of the biggest names in music." But Chicago owes its reputation as a concert hub to a constellation of independent promoters and venues, and Live Nation has proved itself inimical to their existence. As Jim DeRogatis pointed out
during the recent confrontation between unionized Riviera Theatre stagehands
and independent concert company Jam Productions, back in the 90s Live Nation openly expressed its desire to destroy Jam. Jam still survives, but a couple years ago one of its largest venues, the Aragon Ballroom, was taken over by Live Nation.
Live Nation presents many of the biggest concerts in Chicagoland, at huge venues such as the Huntington Bank Pavilion, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley, and the United Center. But the places where you can consistently see live music any day of the week remain in the hands of smaller companies and promoters.
So what will it mean if Live Nation builds three to five new venues in a 70-acre plot on the north side? At the very least, Sterling Bay will get more money for a bland, expensive development that's also the proposed site for Amazon's second headquarters, should that
monolithic company decide to plant its vampiric roots in Chicago. (I'm not even getting into Tom Ricketts's plan to bring a United Soccer League expansion team to a 20,000-seat stadium on the site
.) According to the Chicago Tribune
, the costs of the proposed Live Nation venues vary, from a combined $50 million for the smaller concert halls to around $200 million for a big stadium.
If Live Nation goes through with this, there's reason to worry. According to a recent New York Times feature
, the Justice Department is investigating Live Nation for alleged monopolistic behavior, including threats to pull shows from venues owned by competitors—its simultaneous control of venues, artists, and a huge portion of the ticketing marketplace gives it a frankly frightening amount of leverage. With more land and more places to sell more tickets for artists it works with exclusively, Live Nation could cause real trouble for larger indoor venues that aren't controlled by the company but depend on occasionally being able to book shows with its artists. Even more alarming to many Chicagoans, this proposed development would dim the future prospects of one of the city's most beloved venues, the Hideout
—it's smack in the middle of Sterling Bay's gleaming new development. (I've called Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten and e-mailed talent buyer Sullivan Davis, and if they get back to me I'll add their comments here.)
Live Nation Concerts COO Mark Campana told the Tribune
, "As the exclusive entertainment partner for Lincoln Yards, we look forward to bringing even more live entertainment to the great city of Chicago." But Chicago's music scene wasn't built on exclusivity—and as the Hideout proves every week, it thrives on the opposite.