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Jimmy Buffett Fans Offered Free Tickets After Northerly Island Debacle

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | July 1, 2013 2:19pm | Updated on July 1, 2013 8:37pm
 Jimmy Buffett fans were livid about the conditions of Northerly Island's recently renovated music venue Saturday night.
Jimmy Buffett Fans Complain About Northerly Island Venue
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SOUTH LOOP — The first big concert at Northerly Island's newly-sponsored and renamed "FirstMerit Bank Pavilion" was supposed to highlight the value of expanding the seating capacity to 30,000.

But attendees at the June 29 Jimmy Buffett concert are rattling off a laundry list of complaints: The venue was a muddy mess, the sound system failed to pipe tunes out to the lawn seating effectively, there wasn't enough beer for sale and the drinks they did have were warm.

In response, Live Nation announced in a statement early Monday evening that ticketholders who had lawn seats would receive complimentary lawn tickets to any upcoming show at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre or Alpine Valley, based on availability. No details on how patrons would acquire tickets were given, but the company said it would email concertgoers with details.

 Thousands of parrotheads converged on Northerly Island Saturday evening to see Jimmy Buffett perform at the recently-renovated FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, which can now hold up to 30,000 people.
Buffett Concert
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The news came after Buffett fans flooded the Internet and the former Charter One Pavilion's Yelp page with negative reviews before the concert even finished.

"I have been going to Buffett for 14 years now and I will say this one was the worst," Mark Hentschel told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "Right dab in the middle of the lawn section there was a few inches of standing water, mud due to tire tracks, and the acoustics just plain sucked."

On Yelp, User Mike T.'s one-star review warned: "Do NOT EVER go here with lawn seats. We walked out on the Jimmy [Buffett] concert along with hundreds of others. The lawn was a swamp.

"The worst thing, though was the sound. The lawn area is huge & there are only two column PA speakers, next to each other, right behind the grandstand seats. The reason we & others walked out was because you could not hear the concert. I realize on the lawn I probably won't see the stage, but if you can't hear either, what's the point."

Another slammed the construction meant to expand seating from 8,000 to 8,600 and increase the lawn capacity to 22,000.

"Not capable of holding more than 8k visitors," John Ourednik from Arlington Heights wrote in his review.

"This venue is not ready for large events," wrote another Yelper, who reported waiting 30 minutes for a beer before deciding to leave early.

Chicago Park District representatives referred concertgoers with complaints to Live Nation, which operates the venue. 

Monday evening, Live Nation blamed the muckiness on "record-breaking rains" in the days leading up to the show.

"Chicago experienced record-breaking rains in the wettest first half of the year on record, 11.93 inches above average year to date," read the Live Nation release. "As a result of these conditions, the lawn retained a significant amount of water and some lawn seating patrons encountered mud or were subjected to compromised sight lines as other patrons moved away from muddy areas."

The statement did not address fans' complaints about the sound, concessions or other issues.

Eric Przybylski from Carol Stream had lawn tickets, but left after four songs, he said, "and I was only there that long because I was trying to find someone to complain to." He was directed to contact Live Nation, and said he has reached out to the production company.

"I've been to venues after and during rainstorms and I've never seen anything like this," he said. "The problem is that the sod was still too new, but also the design. It hadn't rained all day. There was obviously no drainage."

Fans also took Live Nation to task over the tailgating arrangement, which barred entry to parking lots before 2:30 p.m. and charged an additional fee for early admission.

Bill Brehm, president of the Chicago Parrothead Club, said Live Nation didn't provide specific information on tailgating rules until two weeks before the show, and on-site security enforced different rules than those posted, including a ban on canopies.

"You've got people coming from all over the country for this event, so to get around the city, and plan for a tailgate, and stuff like this, it takes a lot to get that all together," he said. "I had dozens of people coming to me for help. Charter One [Pavilion staff] helped me out a bit, Soldier Field [staff] helped me out a bit, Live Nation didn't help at all."

Brehm's group organized a pre-tailgate event at Trader Todd's at 10 a.m., after which he says hundreds of Buffett fans killed time at Navy Pier and Margaritaville Chicago, which was swamped with a two-hour wait.

"If they wanted to get the extreme test of it, they picked the right one, because the people that come for these concerts, they're diehard tailgaters," he said.

The new venue was already off to a rocky start before the Parrotheads descended on the island Saturday. The original season opener, a Dispatch show scheduled for June 1, had to be moved to the UIC Pavilion at the last minute after heavy rains delayed construction.

Dispatch christened the new venue nearly a month later with a free make-up performance Thursday, which had a lower attendance that likely relied less heavily on FirstMerit Bank Pavilion's new, expanded lawn seating. That show was delayed by rain, too, but kicked off around 9 p.m., more than an hour after the scheduled start time.

Many lawn seat ticketholders complained that the new grassy seating area is too flat, causing water to pool and making it difficult to see the stage.

But Bob O'Neill, who works with the park district as the president of the Grant Park Conservancy and Advisory Council, said there is a slight pitch to the lawn seating, which, combined with the newly-laid sod, caused part of the problem.

"The lawn is pitched for drainage and view — it actually slopes slightly — and so in the main area, we had so much rain and it got so wet, so most of the mud was created and pitched toward the stage," he said. "So the back end was all right" but closer to the stage "got really wet."

"Live Nation has to work all that out," he said, and the need to do so before the next big-capacity show this summer: a three-day residency by jam band Phish July 19-21.

Przybylski said he's not optimistic that improvements will be made by then.

"It will be real interesting how three days of Phish goes at this venue," he said. "You couldn't pay me to go."

Blackhawks star Patrick Kane brought the Stanley Cup onstage with Buffett and his band Saturday, but even that wasn't enough to salvage some concertgoers' experiences.

"Lawn was a mud swamp, sound was awful. Tailgating with multiple parking lots was not the same," a user named Steve commented on BuffettNews.com. "Everyone I spoke to hated the venue and said was worst ever."

Chicago Park District day camps kicked off Monday, two days after the Buffett concert, including programming scheduled at Northerly Island. Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the park district, said they received no complaints about the park's condition: "parents and campers were very happy this morning," she said.

As for the Parrotheads, many, like Dan Ireland, say they'll probably skip future shows at the Northerly Island venue.

"Spent all evening looking at the backs of other Parrotheads and watched the concert on the tiny screens," said Ireland, who drove from Grand Haven, Mich., foregoing a Buffett show in Detroit, because FirstMerit Bank Pavilion sounded so picturesque.

"Would have been better to stay home and listen on Sirius."