If you ever feel like massaging any latent class-warrior outrage you might have lurking around, I suggest planning a wedding. If something costs you twenty bucks for the hell of it, that something will cost you two hundred for a wedding. Companies will try to sell you shit you don’t need by guilt-tripping you about “making your special day perfect.” It’s criminal, and implicit in it is the suggestion that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to wed. But if you’re not getting married this summer (I am. In forty-one days. My fiancee and I have managed to plan our wedding on a budget without the purchase of excess expensive bullshit) and you still want to feel shat on for your paltry five-figure salary, why not try to see a cheap concert at a small venue in your city?
Because assholes are making that harder now too. Lollapalooza has a radius clause preventing participating bands from playing “competing” shows within 300 miles of Lollapalooza for 180 days before the festival and 90 days after. Radius clauses are pretty typical of big festivals and I can see the necessity of preventing a band from, say, playing a 1pm set at Coachella and then playing a club in Indio that night. But 180 days is six motherfucking months and what that tells me is that Lollapalooza wants your three hundred bucks and wants to be the only game in town for your concert-going buck. Meaning if you don’t have that kind of disposable bread to throw at a festival (not counting the money you’ll spend on food and water, depending on your festival’s rules regarding coming and going from the concert grounds), Lollapalooza would like you to please go fuck yourself.
To be as fair as I’m gonna be to the assholes who write up these clauses, they do offer exceptions to so-called “smaller” bands on the bill (of course, they choose what that means) but if the festival in question is more indie-oriented, their headliners might be the kind of band you can see for twenty bucks if they’re allowed to play a local gig. Lollapalooza’s clause covers a total of 270 days of the year. That means if your band plays Lollapalooza, they have a 95 day window (96 during a leap year) in which to swing back around through Chicago for a more affordable gig. If that sounds criminal to you, you’re not alone. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is investigating Lollapalooza (an ancient Algonquin word meaning, “Better in the 1990s”) on antitrust grounds.
I’m not sure if Lollapalooza will be forced to change its ways because of this or not, but I want to talk a bit more about what constitutes a “competing” show for a band playing a festival. Because I live in Los Angeles and frequent local shows as well as Coachella (which takes place about 100 miles from here and undoubtedly has its own radius clause, though a possibly less severe one than Lollapalooza), I’ll stick to what I know and use that festival as an example. It’s about three hundred bucks to attend all three days of Coachella. Over those three days, you can see a lot of your favorite bands, many of which will play shorter sets (unless they’re headlining, but I was only interested in one of the three headliners at this year’s festival), but you can also see reunions and special gigs of bands you might not otherwise see (my prospects for seeing De La Soul and Pavement would be slim indeed were it not for Coachella 2010, which allowed me to see both bands on the same day). But again, it’s three hundred bucks for the tickets and then there’s money for food, drinks, souvenirs, etc. And Heineken has a beer monopoly at Coachella, although I complain to them about it every time I go. By way of contrast, I saw a show at the Troubadour (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. They were fucking awesome) this year for twenty dollars without giving Ticketmaster/Live Nation any money and I could get Guinness at the show. What’s not to like? But my point is that people who can only pay twenty bucks to see a band are generally not foregoing a festival because they already saw the band for twenty bucks. They’re skipping the festival because they can’t afford the fucking thing. If Jesus returned and ordered ’em to go to the festival, they’d be damned to hell by their lack of dollars. Generally speaking, you have to buy festival tickets several months ahead of time and if you’re like me (i.e. poor), that money erases any concert-going dollars you have to double-dip on bands, assuming they can squeeze your city into the fistful of days that lie outside of the radius clause for your local festival. So I don’t think too many of these so-called “competing” shows are really competing. For the most part, they’re playing to different audiences. Granted, there are a handful of superfans who will see a band’s local show and festival gig the same month, but festival organizers and club owners should both see that as win-win.
But here’s what really pisses me off about the radius clause: it smacks of cowardice. Yeah, that’s right. If you need a radius clause to protect your monolithic, corporate (i.e. shitty beer) sponsored festival, you’re a fucking coward. In a free market society, which this is (don’t kid yourself – the Market is America’s state religion, largely because we love our stuff and hate our neighbors. It’s getting interesting now because we love our stuff, hate our neighbors, and are really starting to hate things like education and hard work, which means we’re getting ’round to the time where some asshole is going to make a billion dollars because they think they know what plants crave.), you’re supposed to compete for consumer dollars. Theoretically, Lollapalooza should have to go head to head with small clubs to fight for your concert-going dollar. They clearly can’t win on price (although, if you can see enough bands at a festival, you end up paying like twelve bucks per concert – remembering, of course, that they’re probably shorter concerts), but perhaps they can offer you something small clubs can’t. I already pointed out that Coachella, for their part, tries to provide some awesome reunion shows (Pavement was really awesome, by the way, but this year’s Coachella also featured gigs by Public Image Ltd., Devo, and the Specials. They also provided me with the opportunity to see Mick Jones and Paul Simonon live because they played with Gorillaz who, by the way, couldn’t really do what they do at a small-venue gig) and stuff like that. But the radius clause allows festivals to take the lazy way out (we hate hard work now, remember) by simply choking off the competition instead of offering the consumer a unique experience (i.e. a reason to go to the fucking festival in the first place). My suggestion to the folks who organize Lollapalooza? Organize Ultimate Fighting style cage matches between concert promoters and music industry executives and have them on one of the festival’s smaller stages. If I could see whoever dreamed up the radius clause bloody up (and get bloodied up by), say, an EMI exec who had a hand in killing Dark Night of the Soul, I might just book a flight next summer.