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Taking Names: ‘Hunger Games’ director won’t helm sequel

- - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gary Ross said he won't direct "Catching Fire," the second installment in Lionsgate's blockbuster "The Hunger Games" franchise.

In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Ross said "after difficult but sincere consideration," he decided not to direct the film. According to the Associated Press, he blames limited time to write and prep the film because of the fixed, tight production schedule.

Mr. Ross said making "The Hunger Games" was the happiest experience of his professional life. He also denied reports that negotiations with Lionsgate had been problematic.

Lionsgate officials said in response that they're "very sorry" Mr. Ross has chosen not to direct "Catching Fire," but they look forward to working with him on future projects.

"Catching Fire" is the second installment in the franchise based on Suzanne Collins' book series. It's scheduled for release in November 2013.

Chili Peppers, Black Keys among Lollapalooza acts

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Keys and English indie darlings Florence and the Machine will headline this year's three-day Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, Jane's Addiction lead singer and Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell announced Wednesday.

"Every year it's kind of a nail-biter putting a lineup together," Mr. Farrell said in an Associated Press interview. "There were moments when I looked at it and I was beside myself. I didn't know what to do."

But with the final list also including Black Sabbath, Jack White and Sigur Ros, "that lineup is just going to be so exciting and it's so diverse. I think it works so well," Mr. Farrell said.

The festival in Chicago's sprawling Grant Park begins Aug. 3.

The schedule of more than 120 bands features Lollapalooza's signature mix of mainstream headliners and indie bands. The global factor is strong with acts from across Europe, Chile, Australia and Malaysia. It also reflects American music hubs such as Austin, Nashville and Portland, spanning genres from rock to pop, hip hop and rap to electronic dance.

Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, the Afghan Whigs, the Shins and former "American Idol" contestant Haley Reinhart are on the bill. The full lineup is available on Lollapalooza's website.

In recent years, headliners have included Lady Gaga, Green Day, Eminem and Coldplay.

Putting together the perfect lineup has a special set of challenges, Mr. Farrell said.

"You are trying to balance a lot of things," he said. "Balance economics, there's budget — how much we can afford for talent. You're trying to balance that with who's available."

Mr. Farrell said he sees his role as curatorial, "purely as a music selector."

This year he sees a special place for electronic dance music, with acts Justice and Avicii headlining the main stage.

"To me that's honoring dance music," Mr. Farrell said.

Lollapalooza competes for music fans' festival dollars with other events throughout the summer and early fall. This year's Lollapalooza lineup goes up against Radiohead, Phish and the Beach Boys at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival from June 7 through 10 in Manchester, Tenn. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also are playing Bonnaroo this year.

This month's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., features Radiohead, Feist and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The Austin City Limits Music Festival hasn't released its October lineup.

This is Lollapalooza's eighth year in Chicago. Last year's festival sold out at 90,000 visitors a day, or 270,000 over the three-day event. Discounted souvenir and early bird three-day passes for this year's event, priced at $75 and $200, have sold out. Regular-priced $230 passes are available.

Urban surprised with Grand Ole Opry invite

Keith Urban was slyly dropping hints about the surprises he had in store at the All for the Hall benefit concert this week, but little did he know the night's biggest surprise was aimed at him.

Vince Gill and members of Rascal Flatts, the Oak Ridge Boys and Diamond Rio surprised Mr. Urban on Tuesday night with the announcement that he will officially join the Grand Ole Opry later this month, a revelation that clearly took the Australian country star by surprise.

"I'm shocked, I've got to say," Mr. Urban told the sold-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. "It's a huge honor and how beautiful to have this happen tonight of all nights."

As for Mr. Urban's surprises, he brought Merle Haggard and childhood hero Don Williams on stage, fittingly trotting out a couple of inductees for the fundraiser to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

"This is one of the biggest thrills of my life, getting to play a little guitar with this guy coming out," Mr. Gill said before bringing Mr. Haggard on stage.

Mr. Haggard played four songs, including crowd favorite "Workin' Man's Blues." Mr. Williams, a childhood idol of Mr. Urban's, performed two songs, including "Tulsa Time."

"I heard more records in my house growing up by this guy than anybody," Mr. Urban told the crowd before bringing Mr. Williams on stage.

With the exception of the night's surprise guests, the theme of Mr. Urban and Mr. Gill's third installment of the benefit was duos, vocal groups and bands.

Mr. Urban and Mr. Gill served as co-musical directors and house band leaders, sitting in on almost every song and merging their bands for the night.

Little compared with the moment when Mr. Gill called all the Opry members in the house back on stage following Rascal Flatts' performance. That trio, also recently invited to join the Opry, brought out a black duffel bag with a surprise inside for Mr. Urban. He opened it to find an Opry microphone stand.

Mr. Urban appeared to tear up before recovering and addressing the crowd. He also dedicated his invitation to his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, and his daughters.

"I've been here 20 years this year," Mr. Urban said. "1989 was the first year I came over from Australia to take my demo to the record labels. I got a lot of strange looks. ... This night here is in a whole other stratosphere."

Compiled from wire service reports.