Is the ACL Spillover Effect Just a Big Myth?

Seasons will change. The sun will set and rise again. Austin will host some music festival.

It happens every few months with almost mathematical precision: Some massive event will pop up just beyond our southern horizon, causing an exodus of North Texans to flood Interstate 35 to take in the event. While the event itself—this weekend's Austin City Limits festival, for example—might prove irresistible for many, there are some who may want to avoid the whole beating of sweaty mobs and packed highways.

Luckily, Dallas is pretty well positioned to enjoy a "spillover" effect, usually catching dozens of bands as they travel to, or from, events like the Austin City Limits.

In fact, many will contend that, when it comes to booking bands that are also playing ACL, Dallas is, to borrow a gubernatorial slogan, open for business. Take, for example, Kris Youmans, director of entertainment for The Loft, the newly christened South Side Music Hall and Gilley's Dallas as a whole (which includes the Palladium Ballroom).

"It's been overwhelming, actually, and all the other clubs are packed up, too," Youmans reports. "Between the Granada, The Loft and Palladium, House of Blues...there's a lot more shows than I've seen in previous fall touring seasons."

A cursory review of the calendars of those venues appears to support Youmans: The Granada Theater is hosting The xx, the House of Blues has The Local Natives and The National; Youmans' Palladium Ballroom is hosting Vampire Weekend. And those are just some of the marquee acts.

"That whole week, all the shows we have in the Loft are playing ACL," says Youmans, while pointing out shows coming through like those from Phantogram and Mayer Hawthorne. Youmans has even booked Morning Benders, who play ACL on Sunday, to play Oak Cliff's Kessler Theater on Saturday, October 9.

Of course, if you want to see some larger acts (or local favorites) like the Eagles or LCD Soundsystem or Norah Jones or Midlake, but don't want to travel to ACL—well, you missed your chance. Those bands have already played North Texas dates this year. And in the cases of the biggest acts coming through Austin for ACL, there are other factors at play. Legal ones.

Like Youmans, Mike Schoder, owner and head of booking for Granada Theater, sees the "spillover" effect in a largely positive light. But though he's quick to credit large booking agencies such as AEG Live and Live Nation for flushing the region with money and high-quality tours, Schoder maintains that the pleasant seasonal touring climate has very little to do with Austin City Limits or its booking company, C3 Presents. In fact, it's quite the opposite, he says.

Schoder envisions a world where every band coming to Texas for ACL will also play Dallas that same weekend. There's a problem with that vision, though, thanks to pesky little things called "radius clauses," which C3 forces most ACL performers to agree to before signing on to play the festival. They're the little sticklers that talent buyers or promoters put in contracts to keep artists from playing neighboring cities for a determined period of time. It's a way for the venue and promotions folks to get the most out of the money they're paying to the artists. Since even small venues use radius clauses, you can be sure that when there are millions of dollars on the line at the big-time festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and, yes, Austin City Limits, they're sure to use them. And they're sure to be drastic.

According to Schoder, the Granada tried to book just about every act that would be appropriate for its space, only to be spurned by ACL's radius clause which says that bands can't play within 300 to 500 miles of Austin, up to six months before the festival and up to three months after the festival. (Yes,that means nine months of missed shows.)

Some bands were able to circumvent the clauses—like The xx, who will make their Dallas debut at Schoder's theater on Thursday night. Most of the bands he reached out to, though, were handcuffed by their legal concerns.

Schoder understands the business aspect.

"How can you blame a promoter who's putting down big money for an artist and including a radius clause?" he asks. "You would do it if your money was on the line, and I would do it if my money was on the line as well."

Clearly, though, he dislikes the practice. And, in his defense, in recent months that very matter has come under increased scrutiny. In June, the Illinois Attorney General opened an investigation on Lollapalooza, William Morris Endeavors and C3 Presents—which organizes Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits—for antitrust issues. Apparently, local venues in Chicago and surrounding cities—like Detroit, Indianapolis and Milwaukee—are missing out on a lot of shows, just as Schoder claims Dallas is.

"Very few bands are going to play the neighboring cities," Schoder says. And in turn, he says, that can hurt a lot of small businesses.

But is it worth the concern? Booking a show so close in time and location to a major festival doesn't guarantee attendance. Lance Yocom, owner of Spune Productions, says that, instead of major festival ticket sales being hurt by regional shows, the opposite sometimes occurs—something easily seen during SXSW spillover in the spring.

"The market gets clustered pretty quick," says Yocom. "I've tried snatching up a bunch of shows around these festivals in the past, but the turnouts have not always been great."

A festival Dallas could call its own would squelch these concerns, Yocom says—so long as it's not one of the many that currently cater to ardent local music supporters, with bills featuring mostly local acts.

"I think it'll happen," Yocom says. "Can't say where or when, but I feel it will be soon."

Not soon enough, though. In the meantime, Dallas music fans can either stay home and enjoy the run-off, or they can spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and head south. And, for now, that remains better than nothing.

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