Douglas Park neighbors weigh in on the ways Riot Fest attendees can be good neighbors to those living near the park. Credit: Pascal Sabino/Block Club CHicago; Christopher Matthew Morrison, Leslie Miller/ Riot Fest 2015

NORTH LAWNDALE — Starting Friday, thousands will pack Douglas Park in North Lawndale for Riot Fest — three days of loud punk, indie rock and even the Wu-Tang Clan and the B-52’s.

The festival began in traditional concert venues 15 years ago but later expanded to a three-day music fest and carnival in Humboldt Park. After a few years, some Humboldt Parkers (and Ald. Roberto Maldonado) gave it the boot, and the fest has called Douglas Park home since 2015.

While complaints have been down from the festival’s days in Humboldt Park, some North Lawndale neighbors still want it gone. Others are fine with it — they just want newcomers to treat the neighborhood with respect while they’re passing through.

Sunday Fowlkes said to follow the golden rule: Visitors should treat this neighborhood like it is their own. Credit: Pascal Sabino

Sunday Fowlkes, who lives at the north end of the park, said she tends to run into parking issues during the festival weekend. While she acknowledges it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the music and libations, she wants people to remember they are occupying somebody else’s neighborhood.

“Just be respectful of the neighborhood, of the people. As if you would want someone to respect your own neighborhood,” Fowlkes said.

Take public transportation

Traffic jams in general annoy Douglas Park neighbors. One way you can help? Take the CTA. The California or Kedzie stops on the Pink Line will let you off less than a mile from the fest entrance.

The Metra has also increased its service to accommodate the festival, and bike parking is available. For more transit options, click here.

Uber and Lyft drivers, as we all know, tend to “pull over” in the middle of the street. Try to ask your driver to pull to the curb or around the corner to avoid holding up traffic — and cross at marked crosswalks.

After the show, don’t be obnoxious

Families directly across from the park expect loud music pretty late into the evening — but they could do without people screaming outside their homes hours afterwards.

“On Saturdays, you still have people that get up and go to work and church on Sundays. And we don’t really want to be disturbed because of that,” said neighbor Angela Hopkins. “And then when the Riot Fest ends on Sunday, we got kids going back to school that Monday, so just be mindful especially of those two days.”

Angela Hopkins, nearby resident of Douglas Park. Credit: Pascal Sabino

Generations of Keith Mitchell’s family have lived around Douglas Park. The festival can be beneficial to the community by providing jobs, commerce and entertainment within walking distance to residents, even though there is a downside when it comes to the mess left behind, he said.

Mitchell advises people enjoying the music to be careful not to damage the park since the park is meant to serve residents first and foremost.

Keith Mitchell advises visitors to pick up after themselves. Credit: Pascal Sabino

“You would expect them to want to leave the neighborhood like they would want theirs,” he said. Mitchell wants visitors to be willing to pick up after themselves, “as if, when they walk out their house, there’s beer bottles or trash or cans and stuff in front of their property.”

Luleeliza Coleman, who lives on Douglas Boulevard just west of the park, said she isn’t affected much by the festival. Coleman said concertgoers are typically mindful of the noise and respectful of neighbors as they walk past her home to the festival from their cars and buses. 

Folks at the concerts should be quiet as they exit the festival and find their rides on residential streets, she said.

Luleeliza Coleman said she typically does not run into issues with Riot Fest. Credit: Pascal Sabino

Eat and drink at local businesses

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), who lives on Douglas Park, said one of the easiest ways Riot Fest-goers can help the West Side economy is by eating and drinking at area businesses before heading to the fest.

There are always local vendors selling water and snacks outside. And Scott challenged fest fans to start their day at one of the many Mexican restaurants south of the park or at Dave’s Red Hots, 3422 W. Roosevelt Road.

“Surrounding businesses love folks coming in,” the alderman said. Scott will be at Riot Fest Saturday night to see Wu-Tang Clan.

Residents, including Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), use shovels crafted from recycled guns to plant trees in September 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Foundation for Homan Square

Don’t treat Lawndale like a restroom

Rev. Larry Dowling of Saint Agatha Church, located at 3147 W. Douglas Blvd. on the park, said most fest-goers don’t mean any harm — but some ruin it for the rest by doing things like urinating in a driveway (he’s seen it) or someone’s yard.

One tip from the reverend who lives there: Don’t treat Lawndale like a public restroom. Use a porta potty before you leave the fest.

Reverend Larry Dowling advises concertgoers to be mindful of the social circumstances that allow them to get away with things that residents have been incarcerated for. Credit: Pascal Sabino/ Block Club Chicago

When the fest ends, do your part

In an effort to be a better neighbor, Riot Fest has partnered with several local organizations over the years, including the Douglas Park Advisory Council, the North Lawndale Eagles football team and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

They also offer free tickets to residents of North Lawndale with proof of address, though organizers said they could not provide the number of free tickets given out to locals as of Wednesday.

“We’re very excited to be involved with Riot Fest. We’ve been involved since they’ve been an outdoor festival,” said Michael Nameche, development director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Nameche said the partnership has helped to raise over $150,000 for the nonprofit.

The festival also hires locals and allows North Lawndale vendors to set up shop and sell their wares on festival grounds.

For opponents of the fest, the wear and tear to the park and the general ruckus isn’t worth it, though organizers stress they invest in park cleanup year-round.

Riot Fest cleanup underway in 2017. Credit: Ariel Cheung/Block Club Chicago

Sara Heymann, who is a part of neighborhood group Concerned Citizens of Riot Fest in Douglas Park, said the best way for punk rock lovers to support the residents of the neighborhood during Riot Fest is to simply not go at all.

“Fest-goers should spend the weekend reading ‘Family Properties’ by Beryl Satter instead, and organize with us to get this fest out of our park,” Heymann said.

“Family Properties” explores the history of segregation, redlining and urban decay in Chicago, things Heymann said the white-owned festival should be aware of coming in to a community of color.

Rev. Dowling also observed that during the festival, despite the beefed-up security and police presence, visitors openly smoke marijuana in the streets and at the concerts. Concertgoers should be aware that even though they can get away with it and nobody cares to arrest them for smoking pot, residents of the area have historically been policed and incarcerated for exactly the same behavior.

That should make them think — and get involved.

“I think it’s just that counter dynamic,” Dowling said. “You have this festival where it’s allowed freely and the police don’t do anything in regards to it in a community that has been really so damaged by the criminalization of the stuff.”

Dowling’s final piece of advice to those attending the festival: Listen to the neighbors of the park when they say they want more control over who reaps the rewards of the festival.

“What they can do is push some of the people that run the event and the local politicians that support it to find ways to drive more of the, the benefits of back into the community, to programs that will benefit the community,” he said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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