Last week, concert promoter React Presents announced plans to move its massive electronic music festival, Spring Awakening, from Soldier Field to Jackson Park. The festival is the latest to plant its roots in a Chicago public park, an increasingly controversial trend in the city's ballooning concert market.
While Spring Awakening is known as one of Chicago's more raucous festivals, its remote location has shielded it from noise and neighbor complaints. But with Soldier Field hosting the Copa America soccer tournament in June, Spring Awakening could occupy Jackson Park for nearly three weeks, from May 30 to June 16 including setup and teardown, according to an application obtained by Chicago. If it rains, the park could be out of commission for longer. Even those residents who don't use Jackson Park could experience noise bleed in neighboring Kenwood, Hyde Park, and Grand Crossing — charges that got Riot Fest removed from Humboldt Park last year.
Although tickets are already for sale, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who presides over the 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 the layout and met with the police, she says, she'll present the festival to her constituents.
Should the application be approved, Spring Awakening would be React's third music festival in a public park this summer, joining North Coast in Union Park and Mamby on the Beach at Oakwood Beach. Accounting for setup and teardown, which took weeks last year, React could corner Chicago parkland for more than a month this summer.
On the other hand, a major music festival could be a financial boon to Jackson Park, a potential site of the Obama Presidential Center. The park is currently hearing proposals for a $10 million visitors center, and an $8 million habitat restoration, funded partially with Park District money, is already underway. Festival revenues could help: Lollapalooza pays the city $1.5 million annually for its lease on Grant Park, in addition to a percentage of total revenues surpassing that amount (13.5% this year). For its right to book concerts at Northerly Island, Live Nation pays City Hall $300,000 annually, a portion of concessions revenue, and $1.25 a ticket, or $37,500 for a sold-out show.
In the end, 5th Ward residents will decide Spring Awakening's fate. In Humboldt Park, damaged parkland wasn't worth the foot traffic that Riot Fest brought. In Uptown, noise and congestion got Wavefront chased away. There have been similar complaints from Douglas Park since Riot Fest moved there, and from Bronzeville since it welcomed Mamby on the Beach last year. After all: Before Chicago was a music city, it was the City in a Garden.