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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

A Fest Where Fans Can Get Up Close, Personal

April 01, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

Marc Geiger was one of the inventors of Lollapalooza. And while he's proud that the rock-fest format is still viable-with Ozzfest, Warped and others set to follow the basic blueprint this summer-he wonders if people really find the shows memorable anymore.

"You go to one of these events and you see people doing the same show they do every night, and you talk about it with your friends for a few days," says Geiger, now chief executive of the Internet-centric music firm ArtistDirect. "But suppose instead you go to a show and you meet [Counting Crows singer] Adam Duritz or get a guitar workshop from [Wallflowers front man] Jakob Dylan. You talk about that for the next six months."

That's the idea of Fan Nation, which ArtistDirect is producing in conjunction with radio station KYSR-FM (98.7) on May 6 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine. Although it will feature performances by Counting Crows and the Wallflowers, as well as Third Eye Blind, the Go-Go's, Uncle Kracker (plus others to be announced), the main attraction will be the close personal contact between fans and stars.

"When we made offers to the artists, we said, 'This is the main part. The playing is secondary,"' Geiger says.

The inspiration came from two places: The success of ArtistDirect's Web sites connecting acts with fans, and the annual country music Fan Fair held in Nashville, where top acts will sit for hours shaking hands and signing autographs.

Performers at Fan Nation will interact with the audience not only at autograph booths, but also in music workshops, question-and-answer sessions and other features to be held on the facility's promenade throughout the day.

Geiger and his partner, Lollapalooza co-founder Don Muller, took the concept to Clear Channel, the broadcasting conglomerate that owns KYSR. For the station, it offered the perfect way to get into the big leagues of radio concerts alongside KROQ-FM (106.7), Clear Channel sibling KIIS-FM (102.7), KKBT-FM (100.3) and KPWR-FM (105.9), all of which have reaped ratings and revenue benefits from holding such big events. The station will announce ticket information and lineup additions on the air sometime this week.

"This is in keeping with other things we've done to bring fans together with artists-special concerts and contests," says KYSR marketing director Robert Lyles. And for ArtistDirect, beset by financial problems despite a high profile and relationships with some of rock, hip-hop and pop's top acts, it's a chance to take a leadership role and start a new franchise. Geiger hopes to continue working with the Clear Channel family and with other stations on shows around the country.

"This is not dependent on any genre," he says. "This would work for any format or kind of music. The physical connection and emotional connection between fans and stars has been lacking, and this is a way to give back."

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THE WAITING: If you plan to wait to read reviews of Tool's much-anticipated new album before deciding whether to buy it, you might have to wait until after its May 15 release. Tool is the latest major act to decide not to send advance copies of its album to the press, largely out of concern about the music being made available on the Internet without authorization.

Journalists will have chances to hear the album in listening sessions in an office or hotel suite, but many major publications balk at reviewing albums under those conditions.

In Tool's case, it may be no big deal-most of the band's fans won't be basing their decision on reviews.

'Tool's a band that has never depended on critics or reviews or any sort of press coverage to sell albums," says Rolling Stone magazine assistant managing editor Joe Levy. "They've depended on the audience, and if they decline to make review copies available, then they're following their path of depending on the audience."

A similar stance is expected from the Janet Jackson camp with her upcoming "All For You," due April 24. The singer's recent single, also titled "All for You," turned up on the Internet before it was officially released and was then downloaded and played prematurely by radio stations. Jackson spokesman Paul Freundlich says a handful of advances may be given to major publications shortly before the release, but the potential sacrificing of reviews is outweighed by the need to control the timing of the music's release.

In contrast, Radiohead-which withheld advances of its "Kid A" last fall, giving a few key publications copies on portable digital players but otherwise playing it only at listening sessions-has reversed policy for its "Amnesiac," due in June. Advances will be sent out in plenty of time for full coverage.

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SENSITIVE GUYS: The group 311 is emphasizing the harder side of its rock-rap hybrid in the first half of its upcoming album. And this will be the first of the band's albums backed by the music-business muscle of Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, the managers of Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers et al, whose Volcano Records bought the Capricorn label last year specifically to get 311 on its roster.

Singer Nick Hexum says the album, due for a June release, also reaches a bouncy, sunny extreme that he hopes will be a counterbalance to the rock world's darker tones.

"We see promoting our band as a mission not to get rich and famous, but to inject some positivity into pop culture," he says. "There's so much machismo going on. . . . I see culturally a need to represent that to be a guy you don't have to be totally macho. You can sing a love song and a nice melody and still be cool in rock."

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