Concert producers rose to challenge of Obama rally

By | November 22, 2008 at 2:06 AM

November 4 was a historic night for the United States, the city of Chicago and, on another level, for C3 Presents.

C3, an Austin, Texas-based promoter/event producer whose principals are Charlie Jones, Charles Attal and Charlie Walker, produces Chicago’s Lollapalooza and Austin’s Austin City Limits Festival .

It now has another production credit: Barack Obama ‘s election night victory rally in Chicago’s Grant Park.

“It was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever been involved in,” Jones says. “It was a humbling experience and very emotional.”

C3’s relationship with the Obama campaign began during the Democratic Party presidential primaries , when C3 produced a few outdoor rallies in Texas.

“Their campaign office is right across the street from Grant Park , and it’s very well-known that we produce Lollapalooza ” in Grant Park, Jones says. “It was a natural fit.”

QUICK STUDY

The election night rally was different from other C3 events not only in its purpose but in how quickly it had to be put together. Those involved in the planning included the Obama campaign and Chicago police, public works, sanitation and the mayor’s office.

“A lot of different organizations had to communicate on this one. We just produced it on their behalf,” Jones says.

Another factor that made the event unique was the hundreds of media, VIPs and guests of the campaign, staff, volunteers and other credentialed attendees. The press were sequestered in one massive tent, with desks, high-speed Internet and everything else they needed to do their jobs.

One large video screen was situated directly by the stage for the crowd in lower Hutchinson Field, where the speech took place, and the city and C3 placed Jumbotron screens throughout Grant Park for overflow.

“Where Barack Obama gave his speech could only hold 65,000 to 70,000 people, but there were close to a quarter million people there, so we had to provide services throughout the park so everybody could see, hear and feel like they were part of history,” Jones says.

CNN called the election for Obama at 10 p.m. Central Time, and the president-elect took the stage about 45 minutes later. But the masses had been at Grant Park for hours.

“There were some people in line to make sure they were right up next to the barricades that waited all day,” Jones says. “Published doors time was 8:30 p.m., and I think we got the doors open around 6.”

The Obama campaign began taking online applications for rally tickets close to the stage a week before the election. They ran out quickly.

LEVELS OF SECURITY

“As people were coming in they were separated, ticket holders from non-ticket holders,” Jones says. “Ticket holders had to go through a couple levels of security, including magnetrons, if they were going to get within a certain distance from the stage. It was like the largest airport line you’ve ever seen.”

Security was tight, thanks to the combined efforts of the Chicago Police Department , the U.S. Secret Service and private security. Even so, the crowd was “as peaceful as a group of 240,000 people could possibly be,” Jones says.

As for Grant Park, it will continue to be the site of C3 productions for years to come. The event producer said in early November that it secured a deal with the Chicago Park District to produce 10 more Lollapalooza events at the park.

The extension runs for 10 events rather than 10 years because the music festival can’t be held in 2016 if Chicago succeeds in its bid to host that year’s Summer Olympics.

C3 also has a long-term deal for the Austin City Limits Festival at Austin’s Zilker Park .

C3’s 2005 transformation of Lollapalooza from a tour that seemed to have run its course to a world-class festival in Chicago is one of the biggest success stories in live entertainment.

According to Jones, Lollapalooza “wasn’t dead. It was just asleep.”

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