Riot Fest

Why is Riot Fest leaving Chicago and moving to the suburbs? New festival plan, location draws strong reactions

Riot Fest, which has been held in Chicago's Douglass Park since 2015, said it will be leaving the location "solely because of the Chicago Park District" and moving to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois

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Riot Fest, the iconic, circus-themed pop-punk music festival held for the last nine years in Chicago's Douglass Park, will be relocating this year -- to the suburbs. But the new location comes with its own series of challenges.

Organizers made the announcement in a video message posted to social media Tuesday. They called the decision "the culmination of the wildest journey Riot Fest has traveled."

The video -- a scrolling message set in front of an empty leather couch with a framed picture of the word "OZ" hanging above it -- was attributed to festival co-founder Mike Petryshyn. It criticized the park district for their actions in negotiations over the event’s home, saying the part district had "prevented" organizers from giving attendees the experience they deserve.

"It become evident change was needed," the message read in part. "Riot Fest will be leaving Douglass Park. And – allow me to be as clear as the azure sky of the deepest summer – our exodus is solely because of the Chicago Park District. Their lack of care for the community, you and us, ultimately left us no choice.”

The message went on to say at Ald. Monique Scott, who's Ward includes Douglass Park, has been "righteous, caring and passionate."

"She is one of us," the message continued. "The hardest conversation I've had regarding our departure was with her. It was filled with tear and sadness because Riot Fest has real meaning with in the 24th Ward, and vice versa."

The message ended by teasing a new location and event for 2024, called "RiotLand."

The location of Riot Fest's "RiotLand," scheduled for Sept. 20-22, was revealed Wednesday morning -- approximately 11 miles away from Douglass Park, at SeakGeek Stadium in suburban Bridgeview.

"A sneak peek of RiotLand," a social media post from Riot Fest teased on Wednesday. "Now with parking."

The announcement was accompanied by daytime and nighttime cartoon photos of what looked to be a Riot Fest theme park and circus.

The Riot Fest "RiotLand" lineup was also revealed Wednesday, with headliners including Fall Out Boy, Slayer, The Offspring, Beck and Public Enemy. Two and three-day passes are currently on sale.

While organizers touted the move to the new location, not everyone agrees.

SeatGeek Stadium, home to National Women's Soccer League Club Chicago Red Stars, have a game scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Sept. 21 against the San Diego Wave -- the second day of the festival. The team released a statement Wednesday after the Riot Fest announcement, saying that the double-booking of the stadium grounds illustrates the challenges faced by women’s sports teams.

"It is unfair and unfortunate to have our club put in this situation, shining a light on the vast discrepancies in the treatment of women's professional sports versus men's processional sports," Leetzow's message said.

The club says it is exploring its options for the game, but did not elaborate on where they could potentially contest the game.

“We are committed to ensuring our players and fans have a first-rate experience on and off the pitch, and we are working diligently to find a solution that will ensure our Sept. 21 game is a success,” Leetzow said.

History of Riot Fest in Douglass Park

The three-day music festival began in 2005, originally using a combination of venues before it moved to Chicago's Humboldt Park. In 2015, the festival moved to Douglass Park in Lawndale, but in recent years has become the subject of community pushback, including petitions to remove the festival from the park.

In an interview with NBC Chicago Wednesday, Ald. Scott called the decision to move the festival "disheartening," placing blame on the Chicago Park District's permitting process and "paid activists."

"I'm elected," Scott said. "I don't vote on things that will impact my community in a negative way. So I would never abuse my community and have something that I didn't think was ok for my community."

Scott went on to say that if her Ward said, no, Scott would say no. But that wasn't the case.

"The people that are saying no are not my community," Scott said.

Scott also said that the festival was a way to showcase the neighborhood.

"We're one of the forgotten communities," Scott said. "Were a community that has been disinvested in my entire life. For the past 60 plus years. This was a way that brought 50,000 people a day to say hey, look at Lawndale. And it's made a change."

According to Scott, the Park District didn't follow their own permitting process timeline when it came to the event, despite Riot Fest submitting proper materials.

"There's not fight for NASCAR," Scott continued. "There's no fight for the festivals that are in Union Park. It's always when it comes to a disinvested community like Lawndale."

Chicago Park District's statement

In a statement emailed to NBC Chicago overnight, the Chicago Park District said the district had worked "tirelessly to strike a balance between community interests and our Special Events organizers."

"Community voices are critical to our decision-making process, which is why a comprehensive community engagement process is a necessary component in evaluating a permit application," the statement read in part. "Last year, Riot Fest organizers completed this process successfully, received a permit and hosted their event in Douglass Park."

As of Wednesday morning, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners was scheduled to discuss the festival at an a 11:30 a.m. meeting.

The full statement from the Park District can be found below.

The Chicago Park District has learned indirectly that the organizers of Riot Fest have stated they do not intend to go forward with their event in Douglass Park this September. The permit application for the event has not been withdrawn, and in fact it is currently pending provisional approval by the Park District Board of Commissioners. This approval process by the Board is one that was established two years ago for Special Events Permit Review and ensures that organizers engage community to get feedback about impact to community and dialogue about event production adjustments that should be considered to address community concerns. 

The Chicago Park District has worked tirelessly to strike a balance between community interests and our Special Events organizers. Community voices are critical to our decision-making process, which is why a comprehensive community engagement process is a necessary component in evaluating a permit application. Last year, Riot Fest organizers completed this process successfully, received a permit and hosted their event in Douglass Park.

For large-scale events our top priorities are to minimize the impact on the community, protect our park assets and ensure the organizers are planning a safe and well-organized event.  It is imperative that an event organizer work with and understand the community in which they are hosting an event.  Prior to Board approval, we require that they engage local residents, community organizations, elected officials, businesses and the Park Advisory Council to provide detailed information pertaining to the event. 

This year, the Chicago Park District reinforced its commitment to community by announcing the creation of a new initiative to reinvest a portion of event revenue fund directly back to the parks that host special events with 3,000 or more attendees. Parks hosting multi-day events with 3,000 or more guests, will receive a direct re-investment of 10 percent of the permit fees collected from event organizers in addition to any park restoration fees. A key part of the initiative are the engagement opportunities that residents will be invited to attend to provide feedback on the potential capital improvement projects.

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