Riot Fest attendees walk into Douglas Park last weekend. | Igor Studenkov/Contributor.

Right now, the southern half of Douglas Park in North Lawndale is a mud field after hosting Riot Fest over the wet, rainy weekend. According to a report by DNAinfo Chicago, Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th) said the music fest’s organizers and Chicago Park District officials won’t have hard cleanup cost figures before the week’s end.

But while the punk rock music festival lasted, this reporter walked through the site at 1401 S. Sacramento Dr. to gauge how North Lawndale residents reacted to the fest and to measure the fest’s general ambience.

Riot Fest left its old home in Humboldt Park after a number of residents and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) complained about the damage the fest did to a park in the neighborhood and that the fest restricted locals’ access to the park’s amenities. Riot Fest wound up moving to Douglas Park, because it was of similar size and layout as Humboldt Park, and local aldermen said they had no issue with the festival’s new location.

But local residents and festival goers who spoke to Austin Weekly News were sharply divided over whether or not having the fest in Douglas Park was a good idea, or whether or not it would bring any economic benefits to North Lawndale. For the most part, the festival goers didn’t venture too far beyond Douglas Park.

The southern half of the park was fenced-off completely, with festival entrances located along California and Ogden Avenues. A fleet of trailers, buses and trucks sat in the park’s northern portion.

Jesus Barragan, the owner of Douglas Park Grocery, 2744 W. 18th St., said he took precautions to make his corner store inviting to festival attendees. Barragan said he took over the store, which is less than a block south of the festival grounds, in July. He spent three months renovating the place before its September 11 opening — which coincided with the first day of the festival. To attract, customers, he put up a sign at California Avenue.

All that preparation seems to have worked, he said.

“[Riot Fest] had a good effect on my business,” Barragan said. “I think it’s a good thing to have new things going on at the park. Good for the whole neighborhood.”

A number of local musicians, like rapper Rico Bandana, were at the festival to promote and sell their music.

“I’m from this neighborhood,” said Bandana, whose real name is Eric Calbert. “I was born right at Mt. Sinai Hospital.”

While being interviewed, only one person out of about 30 people, bought a mixtape. Calbert, however, was largely undeterred.

“I don’t live off this [expletive],” he said. “I’m getting what I can. There’s a difference.”

The next day, a rapper named LDOT [he declined to go give his real name] had taken up residence in the very spot Calbert occupied.

“It’s awesome that we can bring a concern to the West Side of Chicago,” said LDOT, who lives in Austin. “You know, we need to do more events like this here.”

“We need to make some money out here,” said a man who introduced himself as Voodoo X [he also declined to give his real name].

“We need some employment out here. A festival ain’t no good if the community can’t make money. The rock festivals make all the money. The Lawndale community, the black people in this community ain’t getting [expletive],” he said.

X noted that all of the truckers he saw hauling equipment and materials onto the site grounds were white (“ain’t no brothers here”) and said that, while he heard the festival was hiring locals, he didn’t see anyone hiring in Douglas Park.

But there was a Riot Fest representative offering employment opportunities at last month’s Westside Music Festival, which also took place in Douglas Park.

Sam Sabwhere was less concerned with jobs than noise.

“For the elderly people who live in the neighborhood, it’s a lot of noise,” he said.

Don Cyrus agreed, adding that the festival should’ve happened on the other side of the park. 

Puddin Woods, who lives in an apartment building near the park, didn’t mind the sound.

“They kept the noise at a decent level and it hasn’t gotten out of control,” she said. “So far, so good. I think it’s a nice concert.”

“It’s a beautiful concert,” said Antonio Berra, who lives on the 1600 block of South California Ave.

“They should come back. The park is good,” he said, noting that his one concern was that festival planners and city officials “keep their word that they’re going to fix up everything” when the festival ended.

For festival attendees from outside the West Side who were interviewed, Riot Fest’s host area was largely invisible behind the stage antics and the noise.

“It’s obviously not a great neighborhood,” said Walter Kiefer, who has been coming to Riot Fest for four years.

Kiefer said, while he would’ve preferred the festival stay in Humboldt Park, he didn’t have anything against Douglas Park.

“The positive side is that it gives us a chance to explore this area of Chicago,” he said.

“It’s awesome, it’s loud, it’s fun,” said Michael M. [he declined to give his last name]. “Everyone at the festival is really supportive. It’s a great community.”

But what about the neighborhood?

“It’s not too bad,” he said. “We’re kind of segregated from it, so I didn’t really see much.” 

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...