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In September, C3 Presents—the massive promotion company responsible for mega-festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits—made its D.C. debut with the Landmark Festival, an event headlined by Drake and The Strokes on the National Mall. In all, the festival, which was billed as a benefit for the National Mall’s upkeep, drew about 50,000 attendees and raised $570,000—a fraction of the $750 million needed for Mall repairs and upgrades.
The event, organized in part by the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall, was the first paid-admission concert on National Mall grounds (it was held in West Potomac Park), where events have traditionally been free and open to the public. Controversy ensued.
The Trust wants Landmark Fest to be more than a one-off event, though no formal plans have been announced yet (its website simply states “Thanks, DC, see you next year!). C3 Presents is also hoping to make it an annual festival, and it’s hired a lobbying firm to ensure that happens. As Texas Monthly reports, C3 Presents has enlisted the Austin-based Ben Barnes Group to lobby Congress for “use of national parks for events,” as its filing states.
If the road to last year’s Landmark Fest is any indication, the Ben Barnes Group has its work cut out for it: According to emails obtained through an open records request and provided to City Paper, several National Park Service employees expressed concerns about having a paid-admission event on the Mall with outside concessions and branded merchandise. In February of this year—seven months before the festival—Kristine Fitton, the Trust’s vice president of marketing and communication, emailed NPS to say that the head of C3 Presents was “nervous about the viability of the concert since he has big financial contracts in front of lots of bands but the material we’re getting from the permitting department reads as though a gated and ticked event isn’t allowed.”
Activists in support of long-running, small-budget events on the Mall heavily criticized NPS and the Trust. Kim Stryker of the Save the Smithsonian Folklife Festival organization told City Paper “if [Landmark Fest] was supposed to be about raising awareness for the National Mall, why didn’t the artists waive their performance fees,” she says, “or only have a nominal fee and do it because of the prestige of the National Mall?”
C3 Presents’ lobbying efforts could ultimately benefit other companies. I.M.P. chairman and 9:30 Club co-owner Seth Hurwitz previously tried to organize a similarly styled music festival on National Mall grounds, but his permits were turned down because he was told that they couldn’t hold a ticketed event on that land. But with a lobbying firm taking up the cause, portions of the National Mall could see more ticketed events in the future.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery