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The Cure, the city are big winners at Lollapalooza

A fan crowd surfs as Major Lazer performs Sunday closing day LollapaloozGrant Park. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

A fan crowd surfs as Major Lazer performs Sunday, the closing day of Lollapalooza, in Grant Park. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 6, 2013 11:17AM

The Lollapalooza formula is now a reliable one for moving people through the gates — more than 300,000 this year, at several hundred dollars a person. The festival, which ended Sunday, assembles some of the biggest rock or pop bands of the day, adds a few veteran acts that haven’t been seen in a few years, and fills in the rest with up-and-comers or unknowns to help pass the time until nightfall.

That’s a lot of music, and much of it isn’t very vital. But Lollapalooza is not necessarily about the music. It has developed into a marketing bonanza that arrives during the best weather season in Chicago, which means that partygoers are buying tickets because they want to experience a lifestyle event, mud or no mud.

Veteran band the Cure came away as the headliner that drew the most people, with spectators stretching from the tip of Hutchinson Field to the field’s northernmost steps. Other highlights included a renewed Nine Inch Nails and New Order, two bands whose beefy sound were perfect fits for the giant setting. Younger bands that dominated smaller stages with great effect were Wavves, the Vaccines and Baroness. The festival also was a reliable platform for Chicago bands that appear destined for larger stages in the near future, such as Wild Belle, Chance the Rapper and the Smith Westerns.

With so many bands, there were inevitable surprises if you happened to find them. One was an afternoon performance by the Court Yard Hounds, featuring two of out three Dixie Chicks, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. The band kept things low-key and it worked, just playing to about 200 people. Considering the last time they were in town they helped headline Soldier Field with the Eagles, this was quite a feat.

The festival is also big business for the city. While this year’s data is not yet available, last year the festival generated $120 million into the local economy, according to the city. That includes the many after-show concerts and parties. The city says that 70 percent of Lollapalooza ticketholders live outside city limits.

“Lollapalooza is an incredible event that the City of Chicago is proud to host, pumping more than $100 million into our local economy, bringing world-class music talent to our front door, and drawing hundreds of thousands of people to our city,” said Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This year we launched ThinkChicago: Lollapalooza 2013, which is an innovative partnership leveraging the success of the festival to attract the nation’s top technology students to Chicago’s thriving technology economy. The city and park district are focused on ensuring the three-day festival is just as successful in the coming years as it has been this year.”

Chicago police reported no major incidents, with 46 arrests and 38 tickets issued.

Nine people — most in their early 20s — appeared in bond court Monday, accused of either buying or selling suspected drugs during Lollapalooza Sunday.

Some of the accused wore shorts and tie-dyed shirts as they appeared before Judge Laura Sullivan at the 26th and California courthouse. Bond amounts ranged from $5,000 to $50,000. Police reports show undercover cops recovered a host of suspects’ drugs, including Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis. Many of the defendants had no prior criminal history.

Chicago Police Superintendant Garry McCarthy said police ramped up festival security after learning of the threats abroad that led to the closures of some U.S. embassies.

“I can tell you now that we knew about this before Lollapalooza,” McCarthy said Monday, “and we took some actions to ensure the ramp-up of security a little bit more.”

McCarthy said police paid special attention to vehicles pulled over on Lake Shore Drive, and increased bag searches and bomb-sniffing dogs in the crowds at the three-day music festival.

“We also put more undercovers into the crowd than we had in the past,” he said, “just like we did during the Blackhawks parade and [last year’s] NATO.”

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy and Advisory Council, called the 2013 festival “the best run it’s ever been,” leaving Grant Park in better shape than previous Lollapaloozas.

“The only thing I saw was one hedge got trampled near Buckingham Fountain,” he said. “People were just behaving much better than I had seen in a long, long time.”

O’Neill thinks there is an appreciation by those at Lollapalooza that “you’re in Grant Park. You’re not out on a farm. It’s a luxury to have it with the lake, the skyline, in such a beautiful park.”

While the final damage won’t be known until a walk-through at the end of the week, O’Neill said Grant Park is in much better shape over all because of the festival’s investment in it, which includes trees, bushes and a “higher quality and more resilient lawn.”

“We wouldn’t have this nice of a park without Lollapalooza,” O’Neill said.

Even though the festival is in its ninth year, many problems from past years remain unsolved: sound bleeds between nearby stages, human bottlenecks caused by artists booked on stages far too small for their escalating popularity, and programming decisions that pit the most popular artists against one another, forcing festival goers to miss half the advertised headliners.

The festival is produced by C3 Presents in Austin, Tex., and co-owned by William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood talent agency run, in part, by Ari Emanuel, a brother of Chicago’s mayor.

C3 Presents has grown since bringing Lollapalooza to Chicago, becoming the nation’s third largest concert promoter behind Live Nation and AEG Live. A renegotiated contract, announced in March, yanked the company’s exemption from paying city and county amusement taxes as well as state liquor taxes, resulting in C3 paying a minimum of $4 million in local taxes this year, more than $1 million more than last year.

The Chicago Park District also receives a higher guaranteed payment of $1.5 million a year through 2021, on top of a percentage of ticket, sponsorship and food/drink revenue.

Mark Guarino is a local free-lance writer. Twitter: @markguarino

Contributing: Kara Spak, Nausheen Husain, Stefano Esposito, Fran Spielman

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