Riot Fest moves to Douglas Park

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hicago’s summer music festival season is here. Fans of Lollapalooza, Pitchfork and other festivals have already purchased tickets or have clear plans for where they’re going to enjoy their respective festivals this year.

Riot Fest fans on the other hand have been unsure of the location of this year’s three-day event because of unrest in the Humboldt Park community regarding the punk rock festival. That changed Wednesday morning, when the festival announced it was moving to Douglas Park in the city’s 12th Ward.

“In my very first meeting with Ald. [George] Cardenas, I was happy that we were discussing logistical details and how we could enrich the community,” said “Riot” Michael Petryshyn, founder of Riot Fest. “We are so very excited to get to know our new neighbors and to work with them to hold an event that is beneficial to the community, local businesses and the residents. Essentially, everything we have brought to Humboldt Park over the last three years.”

Douglas , a historical regional park, is a ten-minute ride from Humboldt Park and just steps from the CTA’s pink line. Designed by William Le Baron Jenney—who also designed Humboldt and Garfield Park—Douglas Park captures the same elements that made Riot Fest unique as a city event, says festival organizers.

Interestingly, Riot Fest’s organizers will also be co-hosting Rudio Fest, the U.S.’s first three-day, multi-stage outdoor Latin alternative music festival, at nearby Addams Park this summer.

“What I liked about this festival is that it’s in September. So it’s not really going to impact the families that want to use the park or the sports leagues that use the park,” Cardenas told EXTRA on Wednesday. “And if there is damage to the park, there’s plenty of time to fix it before the next season starts.”

Speaking of park damage, Cardenas pointed out that the park’s fields, which get worn out every year because of soccer games, haven’t had the kind of regular maintenance he’d like to see performed on them.

“The leagues of the park will be benefitting from the new grass that Riot Fest will plant every year,” said Cardenas. “Really it’s a win win.”

The opening salvo in the battle for Humboldt Park between supporters of the punk rock festival and its opposition was fired at the end of April when 26th Ward Ald. Roberto Maldonado made it known that he wouldn’t support Riot Fest in Humboldt Park this year.

On May 4, Riot Fest opposition and supporters clashed at Maldonado’s office at his weekly ward night. The war of words began to heat up, as videos shot by long-time Humboldt Park resident Kurt Gippert show.

In the videos, the two groups are apprehensive towards each other, with neither side really listening to the others’ arguments as they tried to talk over each other. It wasn’t until the alderman went outside and mediated the discussion that the two groups started to have some semblance of a calm, frank discussion. However, this reasonable discussion quickly lost ground to the more passionate voices of people from both sides of the debate. Maldonado looked frustrated as he left the two groups to shout over each other as he went back into his office.

After the alderman left, an enraged Jose Lopez, whom Chicago Magazine once described as the unofficial leader of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican Agenda, said Riot Fest’s supporters were making the fight to keep the festival in Humboldt Park a racial issue.

“What you’re doing is wrong. What are you? Who are you people?” he said, before he profanely told the pro-Riot Fest group to leave the area.

In a release sent out last week, Riot Fest set up a timeline that included spending nearly $180,000 in repairing the park. The release also refutes the opposition’s claims that the park was not accessible for days, with Riot Fest claiming the park was still accessible for seven out of the 10 days it occupied the park. Along with the pictures taken by Riot Fest, many social media users have taken their own pictures of the park to show that the park is in great shape.

But the opposition feels that the argument is about more than fixing damage to the park following the festival.

“I think it’s very difficult for us to negotiate with Riot Fest; they make it seem they have ownership of the park,” stated Charlie Billups, spokesman for the Humboldt Park Citizens Against Riot Fest.

Because of this, the opposition has accused Riot Fest of trying to “buy” the community with donations like the nearly $250,000 given by the festival to charities located in the 26th Ward. And besides donating to organizations in Humboldt Park, Riot Fest has been an active member of the Humboldt Park Advisory Council. Some of the $15,000 donated to the HPAC has been used to fund various little league teams that play in the park.

However, some residents of the area feel the money has strings attached. This is why The Spanish Action Committee of Chicago issued a statement recently asking organizations that have taken in Riot Fest donations to give the money back because they consider returning the donations a “restoration of the community’s collective dignity.”

So when Riot Fest announced they would donate $30,000 to fix Humboldt Park Beach, the opposition quickly rejected the offer.

“It could be perceived as them trying to buy access to the park,” said Billups. When asked what alternatives could be taken in lieu of a Riot Fest donation, Billups said that the opposition was working on other options, but he didn’t state what they were.

Meanwhile, Jackie Baez, a former festival organizer of the Puerto Rican Fest and Committee, felt that although improvements could be made to the footprint Riot Fest left last year, the festival should have stayed in Humboldt Park.

“I would say that 30 percent of the Puerto Rican community opposes Riot Fest, while 70 percent are just fine with it. They are concerned about the damages, but they aren’t opposed to Riot Fest happening,” said Baez.

She made an effort to communicate to Riot Fest supporters to extend an invitation to the opposition groups and says the supporters made an effort while the opposition failed to respond and accept their invitation.

Now with a new location secure this year’s Riot Fest is scheduled for Sept. 11-13. The lineup for the festival will be released next week.

Additional reporting by Alex V. Hernandez

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