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Oregon promoter Soul’d Out sues AEG over Coachella clauses

A Portland, Oregon, festival promoter has filed a lawsuit against Coachella Music Festival, along with organisers AEG and Goldenvoice, over what it calls attempts by the companies to “monopolise the market for popular music” on America’s west coast.

Soul’d Out Productions, which organises Soul’d Out Music Festival in April, says a contractual restriction (dubbed the ‘radius clause’) that prevents acts on the Coachella bill from playing at “any other festival or themed event within a distance that extends over 1,300 miles” amounts to anti-competitive behaviour on the part of organisers.

According to Soul’d Out, AEG/Goldenvoice prohibit performers from playing any other west-coast festival, as well as those in Arizona and Nevada, for five months around their Coachella show (from 15 December 2017 to 7 May 2018).

Such radius clauses, say Soul’d Out’s lawyers at Portland-based Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, “are expressly forbidden by California” and intended to use “Coachella’s market power in the music festival market to suppress competition by other festivals”.

Coachella 2017 was attended by 250,000 people and grossed $114.6m – the highest figure of any festival globally.

“We seek no less than to operate in a fair and open environment,” says Soul’d Out Productions’ co-owner and co-founder, Nicholas Harris, in a statement.

“We seek no less than to operate in a fair and open environment”

“But as our industry has become more consolidated, it is subjected to more and more corporate tactics that penalise the public. Music, and the culture that births it, is not a commodity to be exploited. It is meant to inspire and enrich our lives.”

According to court documents obtained by IQ, Soul’d Out seeks to bar Coachella and AEG from “enforcing any performance contracts that contain such a radius clause”, as well as damages and attorneys’ fees.

A spokesperson for AEG says the company will “vigorously defend” itself against claims of abuse of radius clauses, which they describe as “an industry standard used by festival, concert and tour promoters designed to protect the integrity and exclusivity of their events.

“While Coachella is a marquee brand, with close to 250,000 people attending from across the world and is a premier performance stop for 120 artists and bands, there are hundreds if not thousands of artists available to perform at venues around the country. The producers of Coachella will vigorously defend ourselves against this lawsuit, which calls into question the common industry practice employed by promoters and producers throughout the year.”

Soul’d Out Music Festival 2018 takes place from 18 to 22 April across multiple venues in Portland, with performers including De La Soul, Wyclef Jean and Erykah Badu. Coachella, meanwhile, is headlined by Beyoncé, Eminem and the Weeknd, and runs from 13–15 April and 20–22 April in Indio, California.


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Opposition to publicly funded Oregon concerts

A taxpayer-funded grant of US$96,500 for three concerts in the Dalles has split the population of the Oregon city.

Councillors in the Dalles, which has a population of just over 15,000, voted 3–2 on 25 April to allocate the money towards to the concerts, which will be organised by local musician Nolan Hare and concert promoter/radio DJ Randy Haines. Two of the shows will feature as-yet-unannounced national-level acts and the third local students, with the city receiving 100 per cent of the revenue from ticket sales.

While councillor Dan Spatz views the concert series as an “anchor attraction” and “investment into the future as much as infrastructure is”, others aren’t so convinced: Russ Brown, who voted against the grant, says: “It’s our responsibility to provide citizens of the Dalles with basic services – sew[age], water, streets – and I have a hard time investing in something I don’t consider a basic service.”

“Should a government agency take that kind of a risk with taxpayer dollars?”

Brown’s position is supported by local newspaper The Dalles Chronicle, which has penned an editorial opposing the concerts. It writes:

Kudos to Brown for this exhibition of common sense. At a time when the costs of government are continually rising – healthcare, payroll, contract labour and materials – every effort should be made to pare back unnecessary expenditures.

The investment for entertainment is puzzling given that the city gave only $20,000 last year to the Youth Empowerment Shelter that serves homeless teens. You wonder what that organisation could have done with $96,500.

The paper also recalls a 2015 concert in the Dalles by country singer James Otto, which didn’t sell as well as planned owing to extremely hot weather: “What might the chances be of a hot-weather repeat here in July and August, the two hottest months of the year? Should a government agency take that kind of a risk with taxpayer dollars?”

However, councillor Linda Miller is confident hosting the concerts will make economic sense for the town. She points to the nearby city Sweet Home, which has a population of under 10,000 but swells to four times that number each year for the three-day Oregon Jamboree, which started with a similar number of public investment. “It’s a town with a population of about 8,000 that turns into 40,000 that weekend,” she comments.