Big Shoulders, Cold Feet

An "event promoters ordinance" that would have required organizers to obtain city licenses and face other restrictions was pulled from the Chicago City Council’s agenda May 12th.

Alderman Eugene Schulter, chairman of the board’s license committee, decided not to present the proposal following an outpouring of opposition from music fans, artists and promoters, including Jam Productions.

The proposal would have imposed a fee of as much as $2,000 for a two-year license, require promoters to carry liability insurance of at least $300,000 for events and submit to fingerprinting and background checks. In addition, the proposal would require promoters to be at least 21 years of age.

Promoters would also be required to notify police of their events and maintain signed contracts with venues specifying responsibilities, venue capacities and any special effects or hazardous equipment such as pyro.

The idea was to block "underground" promoters from booking unsafe events, such as 2003’s E2 nightclub disaster, at venues with fewer than 500 fixed seats. But legit promoters and small venue owners took issue with the proposal once it was approved by the license committee and sent to the city council.

Jam Productions’ Jerry Mickelson and Arny Granat made their feelings known in a detailed letter to city officials who would be considering the proposal.

Mickelson and Granat commended the city for redrafting the proposal from an even more restrictive one.

However, "the exclusion for the larger venues creates prohibitive business barriers for many smaller, upstanding Chicago music venues such as The Hideout, Schubas, Metro, Uncommon Ground, Park West, Vic Theatre, the Aragon Ballroom and Martyrs’ that regularly contract with third-party entities to promote events," they wrote.

"Together the provisions of this proposed ordinance as drafted would price out of the market many promoters from the established, responsible and well-run venues for music in Chicago, reducing the amount of music in Chicago, making events more expensive for consumers, dampening the large and growing economic engine that is Chicago music, and creating a much less supportive business climate for Chicago’s small music business community."

Mickelson and Granat were not the only ones making their feelings known to the aldermen. The Chicago Sun-Times online editions ran regular updates about the coming vote, generating passionate responses from readers.

Save Chicago Culture, a Web site hosted by Michael Teach, garnered some 6,000 petition signatures against the ordinance.

"I understand that the large organizations were called into the meetings about this ordinance and the reaction to it, but it is also the efforts of the creative singer/songwriters and bands that spent their personal time to get the word out to the music community. Six thousand music professionals and listeners become like the roar of a lion," Teach posted in response to a blog written by Sun-Times music columnist Jim DeRogatis.

Even Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, a Chicago native, chimed in on the controversy.

"I do understand that there are people who practice illegitimate business or dangerous business, and there has to be a way to regulate those people," Wentz told DeRogatis. "But at the same time, you can’t penalize people who are creating a great counterculture and a great art culture and leave it so that they have nowhere else to go."