Northerly Island will host as many as eight 30,000-capacity concerts a summer in addition to a full slate of smaller shows, promoters Live Nation and the Chicago Park District will announce Monday.
The first major concert will be Jimmy Buffett on June 29, and Live Nation officials confirmed that Phish will perform in the larger-capacity site July 19-21. Mark Campana, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation, said he aims to bring in two more 30,000-capacity shows to the pavilion this summer, and that in future years there will be six to eight larger shows a year in that space in addition to a full slate of smaller concerts. He confirmed that he expects park district revenue to double with the bigger shows at Charter One Pavilion, to more than $2 million a season.
About 16 to 24 concerts a year have been staged at the 8,500-capacity Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island since 2005. The park district began exploring ideas to increase revenue at the temporary concert facility two years ago, Campana said, and Live Nation (which had been booking the facility) proposed reconfiguring the current stage to accommodate more fans. For the bigger shows, the stage will now face south instead of east. About 22,000 fans will be accommodated on a lawn behind the grandstand seats; fans will be able to see the stage from the lawn, but there will also be two large LED video screens and a new sound system installed. For shows like Phish, there will be a general-admission floor in front of the pavilion; the Buffett show, for which tickets go on sale next Monday, will have temporary seating in front of the grandstand area.
With four times as many people in attendance for the bigger shows, access to the concert will become more challenging, Campana acknowledged. He said that the main access road to Northerly Island, Linn White Drive, will be configured to allow more pedestrian traffic into the facility.
“With bands like Phish, the fans will be hanging out at the (Soldier Field) parking lots until the last minute before entering the show, and we’ll have some bottleneck when they all come at once,” Campana said. “I don’t want to be naïve and say it’s going to be great all the time. If they come hard from the parking lot all at once, it’ll be like coming into Alpine (Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis.) or Wrigley (Field) right before a show.”
Campana also acknowledged that the bigger Charter One concerts could cannibalize some of the shows that would normally have played at other Live Nation venues, such as Alpine Valley and First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Ill.
“We can’t let our own agenda get in the way of the agenda of the bands and fans,” Campana said. “There is a real interest in festival settings. For Phish, a place like Tinley never worked for them. They’re all about green grass and trees. It’s about giving artists options. With Northerly Island, you have a Lollapalooza feel outside the Lollapalooza time period (referring to the annual music festival that plays Grant Park on Aug. 2-4). If it was easy to use Grant Park, you wouldn’t need Northerly Island. But it’s too complicated to book shows regularly at Grant Park because of the street closings and security and other issues.”