As Riot Fest crews set up in Douglass Park, Little Village, Lawndale residents keep pushing for music festival to leave

The three-day music festival starts Friday. Some West Side leaders say it is detrimental to the health of the nearby communities.

A sign held up at a press conference on Tuesday at Douglass Park. A group opposed to big concerts taking over the park each summer held the event to air their concerns.
A sign held up at a press conference on Tuesday at Douglass Park. A group opposed to big concerts taking over the park each summer held the event to air their concerns. Brian Rich / Chicago Sun-Times
A sign held up at a press conference on Tuesday at Douglass Park. A group opposed to big concerts taking over the park each summer held the event to air their concerns.
A sign held up at a press conference on Tuesday at Douglass Park. A group opposed to big concerts taking over the park each summer held the event to air their concerns. Brian Rich / Chicago Sun-Times

As Riot Fest crews set up in Douglass Park, Little Village, Lawndale residents keep pushing for music festival to leave

The three-day music festival starts Friday. Some West Side leaders say it is detrimental to the health of the nearby communities.

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Residents living near Douglass Park in Little Village and Lawndale are bracing for a noisy weekend from Riot Fest — a weekend they expect to be filled with parking headaches.

“Last week, we started to see the trucks entering with so many things,” said Irais Flores, a nearby resident who is also part of a Little Village community center. “It gives you anxiety and stress because you say, let’s see how it goes getting parking.”

She was among a group of community leaders who gathered Tuesday at Douglass Park as part of a last-ditch effort to get Riot Fest, a three-day music festival, to leave their neighborhood park. They plan to present a letter, signed by more than 30 organizations and local leaders, to the Chicago Park District on Wednesday, demanding that Douglass Park no longer be used to host large, for-profit festivals.

As residents spoke about their concerns, crews from Riot Fest placed black mesh fabric along a fence installed for the festival, scheduled to start Friday. A large stage could be seen from California Avenue. Most of the southern part of the park, from California Avenue to Albany Avenue and from Ogden Avenue to 19th Street, was fenced off Tuesday morning.

A playground and a field along Albany Avenue remained outside of the festival’s perimeter Tuesday as a few people jogged in the area and others played soccer.

The push to end large festivals at Douglass Park gained momentum this summer as residents have questioned if a neighborhood park should be used for such large private events. Edith Tovar, who lives in the area, said there are also questions about how the festivals impact the environment.

“We do see this as a form of environmental racism,” Tovar said, pointing out Riot Fest is the third large music festival that has resulted in Douglass Park being fenced off for portions of the summer.

In August, Riot Fest issued a statement following a contentious meeting between a contractor and community members, stating that it wanted to “remain a positive asset to the community.”

“We have been in Douglass Park since 2015, and we consider it our home,” the statement read, adding that the festival was going to take feedback from residents and implement suggestions when possible.

Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa, from the organization Friends of the Parks, said the city should instead find a permanent venue to host the large music festivals. The coronavirus pandemic showed how public parks are important for residents’ physical and mental health, she said.

“These kinds of concerts are actually detrimental to the health of these communities in which they land in,” Rodriguez Ochoa said.

Denise Ferguson, a local resident, described Douglass Park as a “slice of heaven in Lawndale” that is surrounded by health institutions. She said it’s one of the reasons she and others have pushed for years for Riot Fest and other music festivals to leave the park.

“This lack of regard for the health of Black and Latinx people living near the quiet zone corridor is a direct violation of the city of Chicago’s own public health ‘Healthy Chicago’ mandates,” she said, referring to the city’s five-year plan to improve health equity.

The group plans to attend Wednesday’s public hearing for the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners as they continue to push to get rid of Riot Fest. They also plan to host their own festival Saturday, dubbed “The People’s Music Fest,” taking place near Cermak Road and Marshall Boulevard.

“Douglass Park is a valued and important resource to our communities that should not be fenced off for a quarter of the summer for for-profit mega concerns,” Tovar said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.