May 14th, 2008 5:33 pm | by LocalCut News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

What Happens in Chicago Ought to Stay in Chicago

lc buttonI thought we had some problems in the Portland music scene. Then I read about Chicago. Ever since the E2 Club disaster in 2003, where 21 people died (long, horrible story short, pepper spray was fired in the second story club and people freaked out, stampeding each other to death), the city has been looking for ways to clamp down on small venues in order to prevent a similar disaster from happening again. But the city has gone beyond tightening codes and regulations on clubs with existing problems (as E2 apparently did), and into the realm of cracking down on independent promoters.

Earlier today, Chicago's city council decided not to enact an ordinance that Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot says "would make Chicago's most responsible music clubs pay a steep price for a tragedy they had nothing to do with." But the ordinance will likely pass in some form in the not-too-distant future. It would require independent promoters to purchase a license (for between $500 and $2000 annually) in order to book anything at a small venue. The fees would go to cover insurance on top of what Chicago's clubs already pay. Those fees would be enough, Kot argues, to drive a lot of independent promoters out of the business altogether—canceling shows and events in the process.

When you think of Portland, a city with a nightlife driven almost entirely by small to mid-sized clubs, this kind of legislation would be totally disastrous. Still, LocalCut reader and sometime-contributor Arya Imig wondered in an email: "Could this happen here?"

Maybe. Lord knows we already have an overzealous, outdated liquor commission, crazy tax laws for venues and a police force that thinks it takes an army to handle a Wu-Tang crowd. But it would probably require some form of nightlife tragedy akin to the one that went down in Chicago. Which has me thinking that next time the fire marshal gives a club lame capacity numbers or a club owner goes apeshit about a band doing some fire-breathing, maybe I should be a bit less jaded and pissed off about it. And the next time I see emergency exits blocked at a club, maybe I ought to talk to the owners about getting it taken care of. Man, I know I sound square, but maybe you should do the same. If the last seven years of war on terror bullshit (I always tie it in, don't I?) have taught us anything, it's that the folks in charge are prone to severe overreaction once tragedy strikes.

That said, anything that targets the little guy—be it a hefty promoter licensing fee or Oregon's unjust and slowly changing liquor/entertainment laws—needs to get a long second look. That happened here, and the OLCC eventually listened to public outcry and passed rules changes. Likewise, the cool thing about the situation in Chicago is that, from the sound of it, the city's music community has come together to defend itself from rules changes that would limit the scope of and accessibility to the city's scene. Should a similar fate befall Portland, I hope we'll all be ready for the fight.

Greg Kot's blog
Chicago Sun-Times article
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