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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Riot Fest Organizers Promise Noise Control, To Include West Side Artists As Fest Looks To Win Over Neighbors

Riot Fest organizers are making changes to its sound system, traffic management and park restoration plans in a bid to win neighbors who are increasingly skeptical of the event.

Fans watch Sublime performs with Rome during the first night of Riot Fest in Douglass Park on Sept. 17, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Riot Fest organizers are promising a slew of changes to the megafest this year as it looks to win over the Chicago Park District and skeptical neighbors.

At a virtual meeting Wednesday, Riot Fest’s community engagement director George Herrera and other organizers laid out a slew of improvements to the festival’s operations and plans for investment in Douglass Park, the park at 1401 S. Sacramento Drive that houses the annual rock music festival.

Changes include new measures for noise control, traffic management around Mount Sinai and St. Anthony’s hospitals, park accessibility and park restoration.

“We are getting the word out there to learn about Riot Fest, learn how we operate and what we can do for the community,” Herrera said. “The future is looking bright.”

The virtual meeting is the one of the first public meetings held by Riot Fest officials after a chaotic and tense meeting in April, one that Herrera himself during the virtual hearing called a “bumpy” experience. The festival and similar events that take over Douglass Park have increasingly been met with apprehension by neighbors who say the fests do not serve the community.

Riot Fest wants the Chicago Park District’s clearance to hold the festival Sept. 15-17 at the park, with an expected crowd of 50,000 people per day. This year’s headliners include The Cure, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age.

The Park District has not yet signed off on the fest amid the debate between neighbors and organizers. As it awaits approval, Riot Fest organizers said this year’s event will include community friendly tweaks to operations.

Noise adjustments will include putting speakers away from the hospitals and houses, setting hard limits on audio to prevent volume surges and real-time noise monitoring, organizers said. Parking would also be further away from the venue to prevent traffic congestion for the hospitals.

Fest organizers said some park features will remain accessible to the community during the event, including the football field, tennis courts and track-and-field grounds. Tickets to the fest will also be given to those who will help with cleaning and restoring the park after the event.

Thus far, Ald. Monique Scott (24th) supports the festival.

Marcus Betts, a North Lawndale resident, said the festival would help build a more equitable community by encouraging other businesses to invest locally.

The fest will also give a platform to West Side musicians. Betts and Herrera announced that three artists from North Lawndale would perform at Riot Fest but didn’t mention who they were.

“Leveraging the presence of Riot Fest to build businesses in the community,” Betts said. “I’ve been in this community my entire life, and we’re on the verge of something special.”

The festival remains divisive as neighbors complain about the festival blocking public access to Douglass Park, damage to the park grounds, displacement of youth sports teams and attraction of large crowds that create safety risks.

Some listening during the meeting were not impressed.

Attendee Tanqueray M. Hart said the meeting was disappointing because of the lack of engagement between the representatives and those on the call. The chat textbox on the Zoom meeting was disabled at the time.

She also said there was little data provided to prove some of the claims made regarding money generated by the community and if restaurants were opened as a result of Riot Fest’s presence.

“The [Riot Fest] representatives spent the entire time talking at the audience. There was not any engagement with the actual audience/community at all,” Hart said in an email after the meeting. “It is clear they are not interested in hearing what the community actually has to say.”

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