Karen Heller: Peace, love, and dollar signs on the Parkway, but crickets at the Linc

Posted: August 23, 2012

Philadelphia will host a monster music festival Labor Day weekend featuring Jay-Z, Pearl Jam, Rick Ross, Drake, Skrillex, and Run-DMC on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, one of the city's central arteries, our museum mile and cultural backyard. Organizers hope to attract 50,000 patrons on each day of the two-day event.

The central difference, and huge break with previous Parkway concerts, is that the Budweiser-sponsored spectacle isn't free.

Instead of Lollapalooza, it's Brewzapalooza on the Bud Franklin Parkway.

On the plus side, the city stands to collect tax revenue from tickets and performers (including the beloved wage tax), as well as from ancillary sales during what is traditionally one of the year's deader weekends.

Then again, human beings don't like paying for what they've always gotten free.

Which hasn't been lost on organizers. As The Inquirer's Jeff Gammage reported Tuesday, not one but two eight-foot fences are being erected around the perimeter, the second shrouded with scrim to block viewing by people without tickets, sort of like Christo's running fence without the art, a way of separating the paying from the pay nots.

And, yes, we already built a pricey venue to keep rowdy drunk people inside. It's also perfect for large concerts. More on that later.

Police and private security officers will be stationed outside to prevent potential pole-vaulters and Shawshank-trained burrowers. Signs will warn violators they will be arrested. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation plan to stay open, although it remains to be seen how anyone could get to either.

Actually, it remains to be seen how anyone will get anywhere.

Made in America tickets become more costly the longer patrons wait. The early $99 two-day passes for the festival, which also boasts Jill Scott, Calvin Harris, Janelle Monae, D'Angelo, and Dirty Projectors - really, it's an amazing lineup - quickly sold out. Now, passes are $135. Soon, $150. Then, $175, sort of like Facebook stock in reverse.

"As each level sells out," the website states, "prices are subject to change without notice." Nice. Most likely, the people who wait the longest, young people who are miserable at planning, will be the least able to afford those changed-without-notice prices.

But there will be beer. (Though the festival is called Made in America, which is technically true, sponsor Anheuser-Busch is owned by a global beer conglomerate based in Belgium.) Patrons can bring in precisely one sealed water bottle for the concerts, which run from 2 to 11 p.m. The website states: "Encouraged items: sunscreen, sunglasses, government-issued ID, cash/debit card." Especially the debit card.

Another potential drama is how the anticapitalist, Ticketmaster-loathing grunge rock titan Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder feels about participating in a corporate-sponsored event handled by Ticketmaster.

There's also the potentially volatile combination of beer, heat, long lines, longer hours, sizable crowds in enclosed spaces, and not enough outdoor plumbing.

While Bruce Springsteen performs at the Phillies' ballpark on Sept. 2, Made in America's second night, and Sept. 3, Lincoln Financial Field across the street will be empty Labor Day weekend, as it is virtually every other day of the year.

The costly, sorely underused 67,000-seat stadium - which your taxes continue to subsidize, though the majority of us will never, ever score Eagles tickets in our lifetime - was built for large concerts like this one.

In addition to the state's coughing up millions for the stadiums, the city's annual debt service on the Linc and the appropriately named Citizens Bank Park (citizens continue to pay whether they patronize the Phils or not) is $24.1 million. Those payments will continue until 2027.

When the Linc opened nine years ago, then-Eagles president Joe Banner proclaimed that "a dramatic new venue such as this can play a major role in enhancing the city's profile, while at the same time having a positive economic impact. In all, we're conceivably talking about hosting 30 to 50 major events a year."

Uh, no.

This year, the stadium will host 22 on-field events and precisely one concert, while we continue to foot the bill.

The stadium may have been built through Pennsylvania politics, but it wasn't worthy of Made in America. Understandably, festival organizers desired a more urban-yet-verdant setting, a place that offered multiple stages and a photogenic vista - Ron Howard is filming a concert documentary - that mirrors Lollapalooza's Chicago home of Grant Park.

Personally, I hope the festival goes beautifully, the music is great, the patrons happy, the city's revenue mighty. And I hope, as Live Nation's Geoff Gordon announced this spring, that the contribution from ticket sales headed to the local United Way is "significant."

Civic leaders hope the festival becomes synonymous with our city, our Coachella or Bonnaroo, though there's no promise that this first date will get Philly asked out on a second.

In May, Jay-Z was asked by The Inquirer's Dan DeLuca, "Do you envision it as an annual event?" To which the rap impresario, exhibiting his considerable political moxie, responded: "Yeah, but it may move around."

Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.


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