[UPDATE: Response from the Alderman's Office] My letter to Alderman Joe Moreno (1st Ward) re: Wicker Park Fest’s Safety & Security, 2012
I went to Wicker Park Fest yesterday and, sadly, it was one of the worst street festival experiences of my life. I went there with my girlfriend to enjoy some food, some drinks, some music, and the wonderful weather.
However, our experience was ruined as the organization of the festival was a complete and utter mess. The first issue: it was hard to discern which stage was which. I understand that the “North” stage was the northernmost stage, and the “South” stage was the southernmost stage, but the overall layout made this slightly confusing, as the stages being on Milwaukee (a diagonal street) and vendors not being made aware of what stage they were positioned near (I asked a vendor at the “Melt” sandwich tent if they knew what stage they were in front of. They said, “North.” This was wrong. A craft vendor provided a different answer, and a beer vendor provided yet another answer.), this resulted in crowds of people pushing to get from one side of the Fest to the other, trying to see the band they wanted, hoping they were at the right stage.
Why the stages were not labeled and maps weren’t readily made available is beyond me.
Around 9:00pm, at the North stage, as the band Cursive was just beginning their set, things started to get dangerous. There were simply too many people in one area. What made this situation even worse and more dangerous was the fact that there was nary a security guard in sight and there was no easy way to exit the festival as (unlike other summer street fests I’ve been to), the sides weren’t blocked off and guarded against people standing there to watch the band. Generally, these areas are reserved for people entering and exiting the festival.
Just 2 songs into Cursive’s (one of my absolute favorite bands, by the way) set, my girlfriend and I decided that the situation was too dangerous to stay in, and we needed to get out. We made our way to the side, only to find that no one was moving. The vast majority of people along the sides were trying to exit, however, they were being blocked from moving forward toward the designated exits.
A girl was screaming for help, saying she was about to pass out; my girlfriend got pushed, luckily caught; and the crowd around us got more and more frustrated, deciding to take the situation into their own hands. “Fuck these people! We don’t know them! Push!” yelled a man behind us as he began moving us forward like an offensive lineman blocking for a running back.
This, sir, is how people get trampled to death.
Why wasn’t there any security present to stop this?
Why were there that many people allowed in at all?
I don’t know if anyone fell, if anyone got trampled, and I certainly hope that all avoided harm, but it could have gotten ugly.
Once we made our way to the exits, a new horror became visible: people were STILL being let in. Things were a chaotic mess inside, but a line of people was still being let in. Finally, we saw someone who appeared to be working security. One man said to him, “no, no, you can’t let anyone else in! It’s too crowded. It’s dangerous!” The security guard said, and I quote, “whatever.” I said, “Come on! Do your job, protect the crowd, someone is going to get hurt!” and he replied, “COME OOOOOOON!” in a voice mocking me.
I don’t need to be treated like that, Alderman. I was scared inside there. I don’t need to be mocked when I try to tell security that there is danger.
I lived in your ward for 3 years. I was a huge supporter of everything you’ve done: from the time you went out of your way to hire private snow plows in the winter for the ward to the ordinance you introduced earlier this year to protect members of the LGBT community from being unfairly searched and to be treated equally regardless of gender identity, to even your recent stance on the Chik-Fil-A in Logan Square. You’ve accomplished so many great things as the 1st ward alderman. But overseeing the safety and security of the 2012 Wicker Park Fest? You failed me on that, and I’m disappointed in you.
I’m sending this letter to your office, to the Bucktown/Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce, to various sponsors of this year’s WPF in hopes that they reconsider future sponsorship, to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Reader.
Attached is a photo demonstrating the crowd at roughly 9:10pm, as people were still being allowed in. Why, if outdoor festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork have capacity limits, does a smaller street festival like this seemingly not?
UPDATE: RESPONSE FROM THE ALDERMAN’S OFFICE
On behalf of the Alderman, please accept our apologies for the unpleasant and dangerous experience that you documented.
Our office doesn’t arrange security for the festival. That it is the responsibility of the chamber of commerce and this year they used a new company to run the festival, including security.
We will be meeting with chamber and Police to debrief on the festival and on the top of the list of matters to be discussed will be security and capacity. These issues will not re-occur next year.
Director of Legislative Affairs & Communications for 1st Ward Alderman, Proco Joe Moreno