Lollapalooza Preview: C3's Charlies Jones Talks Repeat Headliners, 10th Anniversary & More
As Lollapalooza in Chicago approaches its 10th anniversary, there's still one tradition that Charlie Jones of C3 Presents, which produces the annual music festival, looks forward to most each year.
"One of my favorite parts of the entire weekend is Friday morning at 11 a.m. before we open the doors," Jones tells Billboard from a condo overlooking Chicago's Grant Park, the festival's longtime home. "When we're all ready to go, the signal to the city that we're open for business is that we blast the 'Star Wars' theme from every PA system in the entire park. It's awesome."
This year's sold-out Lollapalooza will be held Aug. 1-3 with a lineup boasting Outkast, Eminem, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex and Calvin Harris as headliners. Other acts on the 130-artist lineup include Lorde, the Avett Brothers, Foster the People, Nas, Childish Gambino, Spoon, Cage the Elephant, Interpol, Phantogram and Chance The Rapper.
Lollapalooza Chicago ranks among the world's top-grossing music festivals. In 2013, the C3-produced event placed third on Billboard's Top 10 Festivals list, grossing $26.5 million and drawing 300,000 people over three days, according to Billboard Boxscore. Jones expects similar numbers this year.
In addition to booking and promoting concerts across the United States, Austin-based C3 has a stake in about 20 festivals around the world, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas, which ranked at No. 2 on Billboard's 2013 festivals tally.
This year marks Lollapalooza's 10th year in Grant Park. Since being founded by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell as a traveling rock festival in 1991 and planting its roots in Chicago in 2005, the Lollapalooza brand has expanded into South America with additional festivals in Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
Just days ahead of Lollapalooza 2014, Jones – a partner in C3 alongside Charles Attal – spoke with Billboard about why Chicago is the perfect location for the festival, this year's unusual amount of repeat headliners, how the new Lolla cashless wristband benefits attendees, details about Shepard Fairey's coinciding art show, whether C3 plans to expand the Lolla brand into other markets, and much more.
Billboard: Reflecting back on your 10 years in Chicago, what makes the Windy City an ideal place to hold Lollapalooza each year?
Charlie Jones: There's so much that has made Lollapalooza successful in Chicago. I'd start with the people who live here -- they've embraced it, from the music fans to the press to the politicians. And probably our most successful factor is Grant Park.
Do you have anything special planned for festival's 10th anniversary?
No, there's nothing planned, just business as usual. It's one of the biggest music festivals in the world and we've got a lot of responsibility. Our job is to put on a good, safe event and take care of the city, the park and all the fans.
Will Lollapalooza festival-goers see anything new this year that they haven't seen in the past?
As far as our footprint, it's identical to last year. In this city, with this many people in a sensitive location, there are a lot of security concerns. So we've ramped up security protocols over the years, from public safety to larger threats. We've elevated our medical communication protocols. A couple of years ago, we evacuated the whole site during a weather concern. We've elevated those plans to make sure that things happen smoother than they did last time, if needed.
Billboard recently featured an article about the rise of deaths at EDM festivals. What measures do you take to prevent deaths at C3 events?
Fortunately, we haven't had it happen. But there are measures you can take to prevent and reduce the chances. We work very closely with all the departments of the city of Chicago, including fire, medical, police, FBI and Homeland Security. After every Lollapalooza, the festival and security directors and I will meet with the office of emergency management and all their departments, and we go over what we did right and wrong. We make those changes every single year.
With the exception of Outkast, the headliners booked on this year's Lollapalooza Chicago have played the festival in past years. Do you find that there's a lack of newer artists capable of headlining major music festivals?
That's a fair question. Bands are growing bigger every day. For example, Kings of Leon is one of our headliners this year. Ten years ago they were a baby band. That's the way with a lot of our bands.
C3 also produces Lollapalooza festivals in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. How do you leverage the overall Lolla brand when it comes to booking talent?
They're in another hemisphere in another time of the year, so it's not going to route like a tour. Will there be some of the same bands? Absolutely. It all depends on who's working that time of the year. It's a big travel commitment. You can look at the lineups and there will be some similarities. But there needs to be some music indigenous to the country you're in. So there are a lot of South American bands on the bill down there.
Do you have plans to expand Lollapalooza into other territories beyond South America?
We don't have any confirmations at this time, but we're exploring.
Explain what Lolla Cashless is and how it's beneficial to attendees.
It will be attached to a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that you link to your credit card. It's cashless but you need your ID. You're able to go throughout the festival, whether it's food and beverage or merchandise, and swipe your wristband that's linked to the credit card. It's all about the fan experience and making it more enjoyable and easier.
Stateside music festivals like Coachella continue to step up their game when it comes to on-site artwork. How important is this to the overall festival experience?
Coachella does an amazing job with their art installations. This year they had this really large spaceman, which was absolutely incredible. The Goldenvoice people (who produce Coachella) sent us a nice framed photo of it and we have it hanging in our conference room at C3 as inspiration. Being in downtown Chicago, we're fortunate to be in one of the most beautiful parks in the world with one of the most beautiful skylines – that's half of our art right there.
Speaking of art, there's a new street exhibition coinciding with Lollapalooza that's being curated by contemporary artist Shepard Fairey. How did that come about?
It's actually their idea. This will be the second time they've done this. The first was in Washington, D.C. He's attached to a very similar demographic as Lollapalooza fans, so it made sense to do it at the same time. One of our goals when we come here every year is to not only put on a big music festival, but to activate the city as much as possible. We have about 47 after-shows throughout the city that are all sold out.
Is there anything you haven't been able to do with Lollapalooza in Chicago that you hope to accomplish in future years?
Our footprint is almost as big as it can possibly be. But I think there's opportunity to further expand the activation of the city, like the Shepard Fairey exhibition. We'll watch how that goes down this year and see how the crowd responds. If that works, I think we'll be exploring doing it again or other similar activations.