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A Complete History of Riot Fest 2015’s Troubles

This week’s 11th-hour lawsuit wasn’t Riot Fest’s only hiccup this year.

Riot Fest 2014   Photo: James Bernal

With less than two days until gates open and a lawsuit hours in its rearview, Riot Fest may have just caught its first break of 2015. The suit, filed Friday by neighboring Saint Anthony Hospital on grounds of “extreme” noise that could disturb patient recovery, was settled neatly in court yesterday after a weekend of public mudslinging—and barring some wicked meteorological snafu, that should be the last hiccup in Riot Fest’s uphill battle through 2015. As Friday’s 11th annual punk fest looms in Douglas Park, behold the year of bumbles, controversy, and political posturing that took Riot Fest from a Humboldt Park stalwart to thin ice with the city at large.

September 12, 2014: Storms turn Riot Fest into a muddy mess

After expanding its footprint to the north side of Humboldt Park and doubling in size, storms and poor traffic flow turn Riot Fest’s first day into an intraversible mess which nevertheless draws 160,000 by the end of the weekend.

September 16, 2014: Humboldt Parkers react to damage

Two days after Riot Fest wraps in Humboldt Park, residents air grievances in the press. “This is the park I take my dog to and it’s ruined,” one man tells DNAinfo; another neighbor compares the stench to “dung and dumpsters.” A day later, founder Mike Petryshyn issues a statement vowing to repair Humboldt Park and make it better than before. When the park reopens on September 18, one resident compares the damage to a “battleground.”

September 30, 2014: Riot Fest estimates damages at $182,000

Two weeks after its muddy run in Humboldt Park, Riot Fest organizers and the Chicago Park District assess damages at $182,000, more than three times the cost in 2013.

November 17, 2014: Riot Fest says repairs are complete despite fenced-off areas, launches ticket pre-sale and charity

Two months after its pledge to make Humboldt Park better than before, Riot Fest announces that repairs have been completed to the tune of $150,000—$30,000 less than estimated—despite sections of the park remaining closed to the public. In the same statement, Petryshyn debuts the Riot Fest Foundation, which aims to raise $500,000 for nonprofits, charities, and scholarships in Humboldt Park. A week later, for the second year in a row, Riot Fest gives away 600 Thanksgiving turkeys at the 26th Ward Office and releases pre-sale tickets for its 2015 festival, still set for Humboldt Park.

April 30, 2015: 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado opposes Riot Fest’s return to Humboldt Park

Five months after tickets go on sale for Riot Fest 2015, 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado tells RedEye he does not support the festival returning to Humboldt Park, citing community outrage at lingering park damage and closed-off baseball diamonds that displaced park leagues. Petryshyn issues a response saying he’s “extremely surprised” by the alderman’s comments, especially given a donation to his reelection fund and spurred job growth in the area, but remains confident that the festival will return.

May 4, 2015: Riot Fest scrambles to keep its home

Days after Alderman Maldonado’s statements in RedEye, Riot Fest issues a statement detailing completed park repairs and a petition to stay in Humboldt Park, which gains thousands of signatures. A week later, the festival offers $30,000 to keep the park’s inland beach open despite the Park District’s plans to the contrary.

May 8, 2015: Humboldt Park residents rally behind Alderman Maldonado

Echoing their alderman’s sentiments, hundreds of 26th Ward residents gather at the Humboldt Park Field House to protest Riot Fest’s return to their neighborhood, presenting a petition with 700 local signatures opposing the festival. One resident recalls seeing “mud and dead birds” while taking his children to the park. Riot Fest’s own petition to stay has racked up nearly 7,000 signatures, though most are from out-of-towners.

May 20, 2015: Riot Fest moves to Douglas Park

Amid continued repairs in Humboldt Park and unyielding opposition from residents, Riot Fest announces it will move to Douglas Park in 2015 and offers ticket-holders a full refund. Mayor Emanuel warns that if the festival fails to repair a second Chicago park, it’ll get the boot for good.

June 3, 2015: Mark Konkol sheds a light on Riot Fest’s rough new home

Mark Konkol writes at DNAinfo that Riot Fest’s new home in Douglas Park puts it at the center of “open-air drug markets…where dealers sell white heroin, weed, cocaine, crack and occasionally PCP, and defend their turf with guns.” 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas notes that most of the neighborhood’s gang crime occurs north of Ogden, along Roosevelt—nearly a mile from where the festival will take place.

June 24, 2015: Douglas Park residents protest Riot Fest

At the first 24th Ward meeting since Riot Fest’s proposed move to Douglas Park, 200 residents protest the festival with signs reading “Lawndale is a community, not a commodity” and “A 3-day binge is not an economic development plan.” One resident calls the meeting “a joke,” saying, “If [Ald. Scott] was serious about considering the community’s concerns, we would have had this meeting two months ago.” Aldermen and festival officials do little to ameliorate the public, but the festival does hire 150 residents at its annual job fair at the same field house six weeks later.

September 4, 2015: Neighboring Saint Anthony Hospital sues Riot Fest

A week from Riot Fest’s first day in Douglas Park, neighboring Saint Anthony Hospital files a lawsuit and motion for a temporary restraining order against the festival, alleging “extreme” noise from bands like Anthrax, Death, Rancid, and Snoop Dogg would be detrimental to patients’ recovery. Riot Fest calls the lawsuit a money-grab, alleging the hospital had previously agreed not to file suit if paid roughly $158,000. A hospital spokeswoman publicly denies the claim, after which Riot Fest makes public emails from Saint Anthony’s attorneys offering to withhold the lawsuit if paid ~$100,000 for extra security and equipment and ~$50,000 in legal fees. On Tuesday, September 8, Riot Fest agrees to restore parking on 18th Street, monitor sound from within the hospital, and erect pedestrian barricades on California Ave. The lawsuit is dropped. Barring any more delays, Riot Fest is now on schedule to launch in Douglas Park on September 11.

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