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Tucker Carlson is the featured speaker at the fourth annual "America Safety First" event honoring first responders on Sept. 10. While the event is now scheduled to take place at Jimmy John's Field in Utica, Michigan, the original plan was for Carlson, a pair of major comedians, and esteemed musical guests to do what they do best before thousands of people at a covered venue in Sterling Heights.
According to the organizers, following weeks of discussions, permission granted by the Macomb County executive, a ready down payment, and a tentative arrangement to hold the festivities at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater, the venue's new corporate owner, Live Nation Entertainment — recognized by some lawmakers and watchdog groups as a monopoly that should be broken up — allegedly pulled the carpet out from under them at the last minute.
As a result, the conservatives who arranged to have Tucker Carlson speak before Michiganders indicated that they found themselves weeks behind in ticket sales and at risk of potentially losing millions of dollars.
While they have persevered and are now holding the event at a venue free from Live Nation, the organizers are nevertheless considering the possibility of taking legal action.
Dave Clark, regional president for Live Nation, told TheBlaze in a statement, "We decided to decline new rentals with the promoter involved after repeated cancellations, and were not involved in discussions with any additional parties for this specific benefit."
The chairman of the political action group sponsoring the event and the event co-chair both stressed to the TheBlaze the gravity of this apparent cancellation, noting that Live Nation Entertainment's stranglehold over the event venues in the United States will enable it to continue to largely control who speaks, when, and where.
Event co-chair Kevin Rinke underscored, "People have a right to be heard and to attend to educate themselves. And you can't have businesses directly or indirectly restricting those rights. That's not how our country works."
So close, but forever far away
Eric Castiglia, the chairman of the Brighter Michigan PAC, and Rinke told TheBlaze they had been in talks with the former owner of Freedom Hill Amphitheater, still in a position to book events at the venue. The former owner, in turn, had reportedly patched in Live Nation Michigan president Dave Clark and others in the talks.
After figuring out a date that worked, the event organizers indicated they started jumping through various hoops to secure the venue and make sure the show would go smoothly. This involved, for instance, securing county parking for the venue via the county executive.
Once the hoops had been cleared, Rinke indicated, "We call them and say, 'Look, we've got a non-refundable deposit that is due to Tucker. Are we good?' He said, 'Yes.'"
The former owner of the venue told the Midwesterner that prior to the apparent about-face, he received a phone call from Clark's office, indicating that "everything is a go."
"Understand that when they said 'yes,' we submitted a $100,000 non-refundable deposit to Tucker," said Rinke. "Live Nation absolutely knew that we gave a deposit, absolutely told us the date was okay, absolutely worked with us on catering, on sound. They gave us pricing. And as soon as we said, 'We've sent in the deposit, we need a contract,' they said, 'Oh, we changed our minds. Too bad.'"
The Midwesterner reported that emails show the organizers sought in late July to pay a $25,000 deposit for the venue and secure an agreement.
"Eric and Kevin were informed that it was good to go, and a few days later they tell me that, 'No, we've changed our policy at Live Nation and we're not allowing anybody to use the facility,'" said the former owner. "We said, 'Well, we've already had it in the books. I understand if in 2024 you want to change the policy, that's great, but we've already paid a deposit to Carlson."
Ultimately, Castiglia said the organization "just said they didn't want to do the event. And David Clark made a comment to the old owner that he was not interested in taking our money. I don't know if that was due to the political undertone, but they knew who our speaker was. They knew we're honoring first responders. They knew everything."
The former owner told the Midwesterner, "I just think honestly we were done wrong. We had the day, he gave us the date, and then he took the date away from us after dragging this out for weeks. ... Well, I mean, we had the date; we were just waiting for the final confirmation. We got the final confirmation, and then it was less than a week later he called Eric and then told us that we couldn't do the show."
TheBlaze reached out to Live Nation Entertainment and Live Nation Michigan president Dave Clark, but did not receive a response.
As a result of the apparent change of heart, the organizers indicated they lost four weeks of ticket sales, money partly in the form of advertising spend, and a venue where the audience would be protected from possible rain.
Castiglia told TheBlaze that in such a circumstance as this, where you're dealing with "an organization that has basically a monopoly" and left with few alternatives, it's problematic "if they start picking and choosing who they want, who they don't."
"The biggest message we can send in Michigan is we're not going to stand for those types of actions," added Rinke. "Both sides of the aisle deserve a right to express themselves."
Tickets for the relocated Sept. 10 event are presently on sale.
'The 800-pound gorilla'
When addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Joe Berchtold, president and CFO of Live Nation Entertainment, suggested the company had more than 60% of market share on the ticketing side and indicated further that Live Nation operates roughly 200 of the 4,000 venues active in the U.S..
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Berchtold at the hearing, "The fact of the matter is that Live Nation/Ticketmaster is the 800-pound gorilla here. ... You have clear dominance, monopolistic control."
While routinely hounded by lawmakers in Washington, it appears that Live Nation might have bought some deference on the Hill with the millions it pours into lobbying efforts, including the $1,230,000 it has spent to that effect so far this year, according to Open Secrets.
Criticism of the behemoth has been bipartisan, yet the organization's corresponding PAC, formed in October 2021, appears to be funneling money in just one direction.
Forbes reported that much of the Live Nation PAC's money has gone to Democrats in recent years.
Krista Brown, a senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project, told Vox, "They are not held accountable on a competitive landscape, and thus far, regulators have allowed for almost all abuses to go through with extremely minor ramifications."
The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice has been investigating the company for well over a year, "looking at whether the company maintains a monopoly over the industry" despite the organization's claims to the contrary.
Late last month, Politico indicated that the DOJ was possibly looking to file an antitrust lawsuit against Live Nation as soon as this fall over its alleged abuse of power regarding the live music industry.
That has yet to occur. In the meantime, it appears the company is free to throw around its weight, leaving some aspirations crushed in the process.
Update: This article has been updated to incorporate a response from Live Nation Entertainment regional president Dave Clark.
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Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.