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Riot Fest Spent $180,000 Beautifying Douglas Park. Is That Really So Bad?

In the grand scheme of festival carnage, Riot Fest is no worse than its peers.

Matthew Chureny dances to Echo and the Bunnymen during Riot Fest 2015.   Photo: Brian Nguyen/Chicago Tribune

In what will come as a surprise to precisely no one who got their shoe stuck in the mud at Riot Fest, the festival announced last week that it racked up about $90,000 in damages to Douglas Park earlier this month. That’s on top of the estimated $90,000 organizers spent before the festival to ensure a speedy cleanup, and all told, checks in at $2,000 shy of last year’s estimated price tag in Humboldt Park (repairs ended up costing $150,000 when they wrapped in November).

Given Riot Fest’s history, the number doesn’t look…great. In total, it’s $30,000 more than what got them chased out of Humboldt Park last year, and even if you slash the $90,000 they spent on damage prevention, it’s nearly double the festival’s 2013 price tag.

But in the grand scheme of festival carnage, $90,000 isn’t so bad. $180,000 isn’t either.

Before we go too much further, it’s important to note the qualifiers when comparing festivals. We’re talking about different parks (Grant, Douglas, Humboldt, and Union), different attendees, and more. As Riot Fest spokeswoman Chris Mather said when contacted about cleanup fees, “[The] footprint is different every year, and the work done has differed substantially from year to year.”

Still, you can put that cleanup price tag in some sort of context. Spread across the 135,000 people who attended Riot Fest this year (45,000 a day, according to Mather), the festival is spending $.66 a head on repairs ($1.33 if you count prevention). That’s more than tiny Pitchfork spends in Union Park ($6,500 in damages this year at 12 cents a head and $2,690 last year at a nickel a head), but it’s less than any Lollapalooza in recent memory. The 300,000-person mega-fest racked up $236,000 in damages to Grant Park this year and $266,000 last year, eclipsing Riot Fest 2015 in both total and per-person repairs. Riot Fest 2014 was pricier per-person than the two most recent Lollas, but still a slick $50,000 cheaper in total than either of them. And they all pale compared to Lollapalooza 2011, which caused a fluky $1 million in damages to Grant Park.

If you account for damage per person (and, effectively, per total revenue), Riot Fest 2015 falls in the middle of the pack—pricier than Pitchfork and cheaper than Lolla:

Festival Attendance Repair Costs Costs per Head
Lollapalooza 2011* 270,000 $1,000,000 $3.07
Riot Fest 2013 100,000 $54,300 $0.54
Pitchfork 2014 55,000 $2,960 $0.05
Lollapalooza 2014* 300,000 $266,000 $0.89
Riot Fest 2014* 160,000 $150,000 $0.94
Mumford and Sons at Cricket Hill in 2015 30,000 $15,675 $0.48
Pitchfork 2015* 55,500 $6,500 $0.12
Lollapalooza 2015 300,000 $236,000 $0.79
Riot Fest 2015* 135,000 $90,000 $0.66
* denotes significant rain

 

Arrange them by total damages and Riot Fest 2014 drops below the Lollas, but this year’s event remains the median.

Even more notable: For all the blame it takes, rain might not be the killing blow in festival damage. Sure, storms plagued the three priciest festivals noted here, but they also hit the fifth and second to least expensive ones. The latter, Pitchfork 2015, saw arguably the worst storm of them all, and evacuated roughly 15,000 fans from Union Park on the festival’s second day in July. (Lollapalooza was also evacuated this year, but storms didn’t hit Grant Park until after the festival had ended.) Rain, of course, doesn’t make for a tidy festival. But if organizers mean to preserve their homes, an attendance cap might do wonders more than a drought.

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