Oust Riot Fest from Douglass Park? Some neighbors want the music festival to stay

Riot Fest is now over, but the debate over whether it should stay in Douglass Park or find another home remains.

Since 2015, when the three-day music festival was moved to its new Humboldt Park location, many residents and community groups have spoken out against it, saying it restricted access to a public park, obstructed traffic and caused parking problems. Others, like members of the Mount Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, welcome the party and attendees, and say protesters seeking to oust the party are missing the big picture.

“I don’t think they see all of it. I don’t think they see the opportunities it brings to the community,” said Shameka Barnes, administrative assistant at Mt. Bethlehem.

The church, located at 2625 W. Ogden Avenue, about two blocks from the festival gates, has a wide range of food for sale that has become a favorite with many festival-goers since Riot Fest came to Douglass Park.

Vendors set up shop along the streets leading up to Riot Fest.

Bob Chiarito/For the Sun-Times

“I came here before and after [Riot Fest] over the past three years,” Elisa Shumer, a 26-year-old Bridgeport resident, said Sunday shortly after the final set of the night. “It’s way better than the food inside and way cheaper too.”

Graduate student Casey Long, a 30-year-old from Ithaca, New York, agreed with Shumer, saying the church food was perfect.

“It’s been a long day and these tacos are awesome. I’m so glad I spotted this place,” Long said.

Along with Long and Shumer, several dozen people lined up looking at items in Sterno platters, which included tacos; chicken, beef or buffalo chicken nachos; Italian sausage; mostaccioli; fried chicken wings and thighs; and, for dessert, coconut lemonade cups or snowballs. Items ranged from $3 for chicken thighs to $8 for Italian sausage with peppers, fries and water or soft drink, to $15 for three “fully loaded” tacos.

Shameka Barnes (second from right) and other volunteers from Mount Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church prepare the food they will sell Sunday outside Riot Fest in Douglass Park.

Shameka Barnes (second from right) and other volunteers from Mount Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church prepare food to sell outside Riot Fest in Douglass Park on Sunday.

Bob Chiarito/For the Sun-Times

While the church couldn’t provide figures on how many clients it serves each year or how much money it raises from sales, Barnes noted that it’s all done inside. of the church kitchen, which is licensed by the city. She added that “everything is done with love” and that the money raised allows the church to organize picnics for the community, offer programs for residents and members of the church six days a week and organize events such as back-to-school gifts for children in the area.

Barnes also said church members have never had a problem with anyone attending Riot Fest and would hate to see them leave Douglass Park, and not just because of the money they raise.

“We love it. It’s exciting for us. I don’t want to see it go away,” Barnes said. from the UK and Australia. It was great.

She also said the eight to 10 church volunteers who work at the stand also provide a safe space for those who may have had too much to drink inside the festival or need help getting home. because they lost their phone.

“We don’t judge; they’re here to have a good time,” Barnes said. “If someone trips, we catch them and make sure they’re okay. We’ll ask them if they need a ride because some don’t know how to use Uber or they lost their phone or their battery died.

A few blocks from Mount Bethlehem, vendor Raheema Lewis brought a tent, tables, barbecue and other supplies in a U-Haul truck to the park near the northwest corner of Sacramento and Ogden avenues and was selling hot dogs and cheeseburgers. A former restaurant worker, Lewis offered that on a good festival day she could earn up to $2,000 – money she is saving to open her own restaurant.

Barnes said some people in the neighborhood have exaggerated how long the park is closed to the public.

As part of its ongoing and in some cases year-round mission to help make the neighborhood proud of the festival, Riot Fest annually offers free tickets to residents in a four-block area of ​​the festival grounds, a lounge of the Community Employment which employs nearby residents to work in various capacities during the festival and, since 2010, has featured the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as a charitable partner.

As for complaints about some residents’ traffic and parking issues, Barnes had some helpful tips.

“There are so many routes you can take. You have California. You have the West. You have Cermak and Ogden, so there are a lot of different options,” she said. “Some people just like to complain.”