Last week, React Presents, an SFX-owned concert promoter, announced plans to move its massive EDM festival, Spring Awakening, from Soldier Field to Jackson Park. The move kicks off festival season not only in that Spring Awakening is Chicago’s first festival of the year; it’s also the latest to plant roots in a public park—an increasingly controversial trend in the city’s ballooning concert market.
This will, of course, cause some hubbub. While Spring Awakening has fast become one of Chicago’s more grating festivals, its saving grace was that it happened more or less out of the way. But with Soldier Field hosting the Copa America soccer tournament in June, Spring Awakening’s tanklike subwoofers could occupy Jackson Park for nearly three weeks this summer (setup to takedown spans from May 30 to June 16, according to an application obtained by Chicago; the festival runs from June 12 to 14). If it rains (likely), the park could be out of commission for longer. And those residents not affected by weeks of lost park access may be by noise bleed in neighboring Kenwood, Hyde Park, and Grand Crossing—charges that got Riot Fest chased from Humboldt Park last year.
5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who presides over Jackson Park, says nothing is set in stone. “What I met with the Parks District about was the concept of bringing the festival to Jackson Park,” she says. “It hasn’t been fully approved.” Once she’s been briefed on a layout and met with local police, she’ll present the festival to her constituents. But with React already selling tickets to the event in Jackson Park, it seems as good as stamped.
Early reactions to the move have been mostly critical and mostly misguided. Some fans are miffed at having to trek south of Roosevelt for a music festival. Others are incredulous at even being asked to. That’s neither here nor there—Jackson Park isn’t dangerous—but ickier than the South Side fear-mongering is React’s growing monopoly on public land. The promoter now operates three music festivals in South and West Side parks (Spring Awakening in Jackson Park, North Coast in Union Park, and Mamby on the Beach at Oakwood Beach), all of which take days to set up and tear down. If Spring Awakening’s application goes through and Mamby on the Beach and North Coast take the weeks they did for setup last year, React will corner public parkland for more than a month in the heart of beach, picnic, and barbecue season.
Of course, Jackson Park could need Spring Awakening as much as Spring Awakening needs Jackson Park. The park is currently hearing proposals for a $10 million visitors center, and an $8 million habitat restoration— partially funded with Park District money—is underway. Revenues from a major festival could help. Lollapalooza pays $1.5 million annually to use Grant Park, and throws in a percentage of total revenues surpassing that amount (13.5% this year). For its hold on Northerly Island’s FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, Live Nation pays the city $300,000 annually, a chunk of concessions revenue, and $1.25 a ticket ($37,500 a sold-out show). The fees in Jackson Park wouldn’t be nearly as high, but for a potential site of Obama’s presidential library, a fraction of that would be consequential.
In the end, 5th Ward residents will decide whether Spring Awakening stays in Jackson Park. In Humboldt Park, damaged parkland wasn’t worth the uptick in foot traffic. In Uptown, noise and congestion got Wavefront canceled. Similar complaints have come out of Douglas Park (Riot Fest) and Bronzeville (Mamby on the Beach). For residents of the 5th Ward, it may come down to trading today’s park for tomorrow’s.