With 130 bands
on eight stages over three days next weekend -- a sprawling site
covering all 319 acres of Grant Park -- and a total attendance that
could top 180,000, the second installment of the reinvented
Lollapalooza Music Festival will make history as the biggest concert
Chicago has ever hosted.
promoter, Capital Sports & Entertainment, is an Austin, Texas,
company that remains an enigma to many local residents. Who exactly
is throwing this enormous and unprecedented lakefront party?
force is an energetic and wildly ambitious tag team that some in the
music industry simply call "the two Charlies" -- 37-year-old Charlie
Jones, one of Capital Sports' three principal partners, and his
friend, 38-year-old talent booker Charles Attal.
music business, their names are barely known. But the man who
launched them on the path toward success is a different story:
bicyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of seven consecutive Tours de
France in 1999-2005.
us at hello
Sports story starts in 1995, when Bill Stapleton, a native of
downstate Edwardsville and a former Olympic swimmer, was working at
a law firm in Austin and heard about an up-and-coming cyclist from
nearby Plano who needed an agent. A year later, Stapleton left the
law firm to start a sports agency. It was a scene right out of
"Jerry Maguire," but things got off to a rocky start when his only
client, Armstrong, was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer.
At the time,
Jones had risen from working in the concert business as a runner or
gofer to booking an Austin club called the Backyard under the aegis
of the city's then-dominant concert promoters, Direct Events. "Lance
had just literally gotten his hair back after the cancer when just
coincidentally we met," Jones said. "He wanted to come to shows at
the Backyard, so I would hook him up, and we more or less became
beer-drinking and golf buddies."
Though he knew
Armstrong was "a famous cyclist," Jones wasn't fully aware of his
friend's status in the sport. "I remember in the summer of 1999, me
and him would e-mail back and forth, and he was in Europe, training.
He sends me an e-mail saying, 'My coach tells me that I have to turn
my computer off because I have to go ride this race now.' I said,
'Well, have a good time, and I'll talk to you tomorrow.' That
weekend, I'm flipping to ESPN, and there's 'Lance Armstrong wins the
first stage of the Tour de France.' And I was like, 'Holy s---!' "
When it began to
look like Armstrong would win the entire race, Jones started to plan
a proper homecoming. "We don't have a Chicago White Sox or a Dallas
Cowboys in Austin; we have Lance Armstrong," he said. "I said, 'If
he brings something big home, we need to do a citywide celebration.'
Long story short, he wins, I put this citywide celebration together,
and that's how I met Bill [Stapleton]."
A short time
later, Jones left Direct Events and started his own promotions
company, Middleman Management, specializing in booking events such
as Austin radio station KROX's annual Christmas and summer concerts.
He shared office space in a 900-square-foot house with another young
promoter, Charles Attal, the former guitarist for what one Texas
critic called "the dreadful punk rock band Clown Meat."
In the mid-'90s,
Attal had been dabbling as an auctioneer for rare books -- his
Lebanese father is a noted antiques appraiser -- when he stumbled
into the role of talent buyer for a 2,200-capacity nightclub and
barbecue restaurant called Stubb's.
"A buddy of mine
was starting up Stubb's and said, 'Hey, we're doing this thing, do
you want to get involved and help with the bands?' " Attal said. "I
went from there to being an investor, investing my sweat equity and
the little bit of cash that I did have." Like many inexperienced
promoters, Attal made some memorable mistakes -- he lost nearly
$15,000 booking a George Clinton show -- and by his own admission, "Stubb's
almost went under a couple of times. The first couple of years were
hosted the platinum-selling Fugees in 1996, Attal thought the name
was pronounced 'Fudgies,' " Austin American-Statesman music critic
and feature writer Michael Corcoran wrote recently.
learned quickly -- he soon earned the nickname "Wolfie," as much for
his voracious appetite in business as the fact that his given first
name is Wolfred -- and soon he was booking other venues in Austin,
as well as branching out to Houston and Dallas.
Charlies -- as one
Chicagoans think of Austin as a Mecca for live music, thanks to the
annual South by Southwest Music Conference, for much of the rest of
the year, the city is a backwater that attracts a mere fraction of
the touring acts that play Chicago. There's no comparison to the
cut-throat competition in this city. In fact, things were so cozy in
the small offices Jones and Attal shared that even though they had
different phone numbers, some people in the music business wondered
if the two Charlies were actually the same person.
In August 2001,
Jones abandoned Middleman and partnered with Stapleton in Capital
Sports. Stapleton and the company's third principal, Bart Knaggs,
oversee the sports agency, while Jones spearheads concert
'You know, maybe if we work together, 1 + 1 will equal 4,' " he
said. The company's subsequent success brought offers to sell out to
larger firms, but Stapleton and Jones vowed to remain independent.
"We were both like, 'I don't think I can go work for the Man.' "
close with Attal as Capital Sports grew. In 2002, hoping to create
an event similar to New Orleans' Jazz and Heritage Festival, Jones
approached the long-running PBS concert showcase "Austin City
Limits" to lend its name to a massive concert in Austin's Zilker
Park. He tapped Attal to book the talent, which was a tall order,
since the first ACL Fest was thrown together in two months. But it
proved to be a success: In its fifth year, this Sept. 15-17, it is
expected to draw 70,000 fans a day.
Sports and Charles Attal Presents officially remain separate
companies, and they still pursue projects on their own: Attal is on
course to independently promote 1,000 concerts in 20 cities by the
end of 2006. But with ACL and Lollapalooza, the two Charlies are one
entity, with Jones handling the political approvals and marketing,
and Attal booking the artists. They share the same offices in
Austin's San Jacinto Center, where the hallways are adorned with
signed cycling jerseys, concert posters and guitars, and their
combined total of 60 employees usually can be seen wearing the
familiar yellow "Live Strong" wrist bands of Armstrong's cancer
Lollapalooza in their laps
In a marked
contrast to many concert promoters, Jones and Attal do not come
across as enthusiastic or even particularly knowledgeable music
fans: In a dozen conversations with this reporter over the last two
years, neither has ever been the first to bring up a band or album
he's excited about.
beginning of the ACL Fest, they weren't unduly concerned with
booking the kind of rootsy artists regularly seen on "Austin City
Limits"; they just thought it would help to add the TV show's name
to their festival, and they simply booked as many popular big-name
acts as they could. They now are bringing that same approach to the
TV show itself.
In 2003, the
show's home base of KLRU-TV struck a five-year deal with Capital
Sports to co-produce and fund the broadcast. Reports in the Texas
press say that Terry Lickona, who had produced the show since 1977,
was shocked when he learned about the deal, and he remains wary of
his new partners; in the Austin-American Statesman, Lickona
described the relationship as "a work in progress." Jones is now a
regular presence in the control room during tapings of "Austin City
Limits," and any bookings on the show must be approved by him and
has floated nebulous plans to further expand into broadcast with a
reality TV show, as well as issuing CDs and making movies.
(Stapleton is producing an Armstrong biopic.) It is involved in
artist management -- clients include Ben Kweller, Jack Ingram and
Blues Traveler -- and it's building the sports agency beyond
Armstrong: It now represents 10 NFL stars, including Delanie Walker,
Brian Carter and Willie Andrews.
"These guys are
real go-getters, really ambitious, and they want to be the biggest
concert promoters in the world," Austin journalist Corcoran said in
an interview. "Lollapalooza was a huge brand that had failed. They
saw that, and they wanted to do something national -- something
really big to break out of Texas and prove what they could do -- and
they just followed the model of what they did with the ACL Fest."
former Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in 1991, Lollapalooza
started as a traveling day-long festival epitomizing the
alternative-rock era. It grew as Farrell partnered with the
Hollywood-based William Morris Agency, but petered out when the
alternative scene waned in 1998. Revived in similar form in 2003, it
fell apart again in 2004. Music-business insiders thought it was
dead for good -- until Capital Sports bought a controlling interest
from William Morris, which maintains a stake, and Farrell, who was
convinced to stay on as a spokesman and consultant after the two
Charlies wined, dined and flew him to Europe to watch the Tour de
Given that they
had no interest in following the original Lollapalooza's edgy
musical aesthetic, one of two key questions is why the two Charlies
wanted the name: Like "Austin City Limits," they think it's a
moniker people know and trust. At a press conference last year,
Jones boasted that he'd conducted three years of "brand analysis and
marketing surveys" to determine that "not only does this brand still
have merit, but Lollapalooza is the most recognized name in music
to know you
In mid-July, the
two Charlies and their families temporarily relocated to Chicago,
and they're living here through Lollapalooza. Asked what he's
learned about the Windy City, Jones paused.
"That's a loaded
question," he finally said. "It's a very, very proud city. I think
we had a reputation in Austin of being trustworthy, so we got a lot
done for us by city officials, and the permitting processes was
pretty easy. Since it happened once, I assumed it would happen
again. It did not happen, and people were very skeptical, wondering
about the kind of show we might bring. Plus, just being
out-of-towners, no one here knew us: We had to prove ourselves. We
learned the hard way, whether it was financially or with stress or
with losing sleep. But we swallowed every punch that they threw at
us, and we took it with a smile, knowing that if we did it the way
we knew we could do it, it would work."
2005 was indeed a well-run and fan-friendly show, but it was a
financial failure in year one: Jones and Attal call it "an
investment," though they decline to say exactly how much they lost.
They're confident that this year will be a hit, however, and they
claim advance ticket sales have already reached the break-even point
-- which they also decline to specify.
sheer size of Lollapalooza is having a big impact on Chicago's
summer concert season, drawing dozens of acts away from other
venues, and adding another twist to the intense competition between
Jam and Live Nation.
The two Charlies
pay bands top-dollar fees, but they require "blackout dates" before
and after Lollapalooza, prohibiting groups from performing here at
other venues. Although Lolla's ticket prices are fairly reasonable
at $65 a day or $150 for a three-day pass, this means that
concertgoers who don't want to endure a hot and crowded festival
miss out on seeing acts such as the Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth at
the Auditorium Theatre or the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the First
Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. Jam and Live Nation also lose the profits
from promoting those shows, though executives at those companies
have refrained from bad-mouthing Capital Sports, at least on the
"I don't think
we really considered [the competition in Chicago] when we stepped
into the ring," Jones said. "We have a certain business model that
not many people have been able to figure out ... I think we just
kind of operate fearlessly." Added Attal: "We're throwing one big
festival. I know we're taking up a lot of the bands for the summer,
but our world is so different, no one is doing what we're doing. I
don't feel guilty [about competing with Chicago promoters] at all."
daring and ambition, many in the concert business believe that the
two Charlies will never be content to keep Lollapalooza as a
Chicago-only event, and that it's only a matter of time before they
expand to other cities.
It's a question
they say they can't answer -- yet.
"I would be very
happy if Lollapalooza was just a Chicago thing," Attal said. "I'm
not going to say, 'No, we'll never expand.' ... Last year, we had
big plans," Jones confessed. "We wanted to roll it up to a couple of
cities in 2007, but it was a tough road last year: It stressed out
the staff and stressed the company financially. Over the winter,
when we regrouped, we knew that the most important thing that we
could do this year was to pull off Lollapalooza in the eyes of the
media, the fans, the bands and the industry. It's feeling good, but
we're not there yet. When it's all over, I'm not going to say we're
not going to talk about expanding. But right now, the number-one
priority is pulling this thing off perfectly in Chicago."
several-hundred-thousand-dollar question: Why did Charlie Jones and
Charles Attal choose Chicago for Lollapalooza's rebirth?
For one thing,
they say they wanted a location in the center of the country that
could draw music fans from either coast. For another, they saw that
outside of their native Texas, more people came to their Austin City
Limits Festival from Chicago than anywhere else in the country.
numbers showed Chicago was one of the nation's most vibrant markets
for live music, and they were shocked that it didn't already have a
But they didn't
bother to investigate the reasons. Unaware of the city's contentious
history of barring rock concerts from Grant Park, the two Charlies
underestimated the amount of time, money and bureaucratic wrangling
it would take to secure city approval. As a result -- and similar to
the first ACL Fest -- they were left trying to pull their initial
Lollapalooza together in about 10 weeks, instead of a preferred 10
Jones and Attal learned a lesson the hard way. But they still aren't
completely in tune with Chicago politics, as evidenced by a gaffe
earlier this year when they distributed promotional Lollapalooza
rolling papers -- commonly used to roll marijuana cigarettes -- at a
press conference with city officials. The controversy overshadowed
the accomplishment they intended to trumpet: raising $400,000 for
park improvements in 2005. (This year, Lollapalooza will contribute
more than $800,000.)
"Like a lot of
Texans, those guys are pretty cocky, and they just thought they
could go up there to Chicago, waltz in and do whatever they wanted
to do," said a former Texas music promoter and rival who did not
want to be identified. "A lot of us down here had a good laugh last
year, watching them learn about dealing with Chicago politics, and
we were laughing again this year with the whole marijuana thing.
They don't seem to realize yet that they're in the big city now."