Update 8/10/2022: On Wednesday, the Tribune reported that Riot Fest terminated their relationship with Scott Fisher because of his tone at this community meeting.
On Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen residents gathered near the soccer field at Douglass Park for a community meeting about Riot Fest that left them with more questions than answers.
It was the first community meeting led by Riot Fest since the three-day music festival moved to Douglass Park seven years ago, after getting kicked out of Humboldt Park. According to a Chicago Park District spokesperson, large-scale events are required to host a community meeting no less than 45 days prior to the event as part of a community engagement process.
The meeting, which lacked an agenda, was led by Scott Fisher, an independent contractor hired by Riot Fest. According to contracts Riot Fest signed with the Park District in 2015 and 2016, Fisher is the founder and president of Special Event Services Group (SESG), which Riot Fest hires as its primary service provider. Fisher said this would be the only community meeting before Riot Fest takes place in September.
Residents complained that the meeting was poorly advertised, lacked structure, and ignored their concerns.
“Today was not a good meeting because it was set up to the disadvantage of the community,” longtime nearby resident Denise Ferguson said. “It took place at about 12:30 on a Tuesday afternoon; a few people here had to take off from work to attend. Most of the neighbors who live across the street, who are directly impacted by the festival, aren’t here and probably didn’t know about it.”
Fisher said flyers about the meeting were mailed out last week.
Standing in the shade of trees flanking the soccer field, residents grilled Fisher for almost an hour about the festival. One resident asked why Riot Fest chose Douglass Park as the site of its event.
“These types of festivals don’t belong in a working-class community,” she said. “There’s other places downtown or on the north side, so I’m really curious as to why you chose Douglass Park.”
“I was not involved in the picking of this, so I can’t answer that,” Fisher responded.
“But you’re here and this is the community meeting for Riot Fest,” another resident shouted.
“Listen if you can’t understand pure English and the fact that I can’t answer that question . . .” Fisher said before getting drowned out by angry residents.
Another resident asked how much money Riot Fest gives to the local alderpeople.
“We do not give any money to the aldermen,” Fisher replied.
In 2020, SESG, the event company Fisher is president of, donated $2,000 to Alderperson George Cardenas, the local alderperson who has final say over the festival.
“How are you going to keep concert-goers safe?” one resident asked, referencing an incident from last year when a man died after falling on the Kedzie Pink Line tracks hours after Riot Fest.
“To my knowledge, that guy was not a part of Riot Fest,” Fisher said. “Just because something happens during Riot Fest doesn’t mean they’re actually at Riot Fest.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to host a community meeting if anything the community says will not make a difference in how Riot Fest does things,” another resident said. “It’s a waste of everyone’s time.”
“We’ve listened to you, but the only thing short of me telling you we will not have Riot Fest here anymore, will make you happy, am I correct?” Fisher asked.
There were no Spanish interpreters available at the meeting, which made it difficult for residents like Jorge Angel, who doesn’t speak English.
“It seemed like [Fisher] evaded all of our questions, but I couldn’t understand much,” Angel said in Spanish. “I was expecting a translator because half of this neighborhood speaks Spanish.”
Since Riot Fest moved to Douglass Park, two more festivals have joined: Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash, which takes place in June, and Heatwave, in July. For residents, that means the park is now unavailable to the public for 46 days, or about a quarter of the summer.
“Now that we have three festivals, it feels like the park never has a chance to get fixed, and by the time it gets fixed, it’s festival season all over again,” Jose Manuel Almanza said.
Youth and adult soccer leagues are forced to find another park to play at for the summer while families are left without a playground for their kids.
“One thing that’s not talked about are the food vendors that provide food for the people who come to the soccer games,” Almanza said. “Those vendors have to pay a small fee to sell their food here. Now during the summer, those vendors lose access to their income and nobody matches that. The city doesn’t give them a discount, give them their money back, or give them an alternative. They just get shut out.
“Of course, working-class people have the least political capital, so it just feels like we’re all taken advantage of.”
Youth soccer coach Ernie Alvarez recounts his days in Douglass Park.
It’s music festival season again, and of course we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 222.3 million U.S. residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19—roughly 67 percent of the population. Vaccination is a great safeguard against serious illness or death, but it’s less effective against infection…
Does Riot Fest have any business taking over a public park in a largely Black and Brown neighborhood?