EXCLUSIVE: 'Unfair' process drove Riot Fest out of Douglass Park, co-founder says

With the move from Chicago to southwest suburban Bridgeview, Michael Petryshyn a.k.a. “Riot Mike” looks forward to “going somewhere where people want you.”

SHARE EXCLUSIVE: 'Unfair' process drove Riot Fest out of Douglass Park, co-founder says
Riot Fest co-founder Michael Petryshyn wears a black T-shirt and black rimmed eyeglasses as he poses on a metal spiral staircase with a blurred yellow brick wall in the background.

Riot Fest co-founder Michael Petryshyn says the cost of staging the event in Bridgeview will be “in the same ballpark” as the price tag in Douglass Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

Riot Fest co-founder Michael “Riot Mike” Petryshyn was sometimes emotional Wednesday as he spoke exclusively to the Chicago Sun-Times about the event’s departure from Chicago.

After nearly 10 years in Douglass Park and another three before that in Humboldt Park, with both locations generating community pushback, Riot Fest is moving to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, its producers said Wednesday. With the big move comes a brand new “RiotLand” concept, with dozens of one-of-a-kind attractions and an immersive “Choose Your Own Adventure” world.

This interview with Petryshyn has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. When did you start looking at SeatGeek Stadium as a venue choice, and what ultimately led to ending the relationship with the Chicago Park District?

A. When I finally made the decision, it was roughly a month ago. However, the seed was planted in April. I had enough. I was tired of [the Park District] moving the goalpost on us [with approvals]. I was tired of being misrepresented. I was tired of seeing a community we have deep roots in not being attended [to]. … It was never an easy relationship. It always felt like the attitude was, “Little old Riot Fest, who cares?” … My heart is always with the fans, with the bands, and believing everybody is welcome at Riot Fest. I am a guy whose music catalog speaks one word — unity. And I saw them preventing that.

This is the toughest decision I’ve ever made in my life. It isn’t just moving a venue, and it would have been, in many ways, much easier to once again go through a process that is unfair and doesn’t make any sense, that is adjudicated by people who’ve never set foot in North Lawndale. … But I feel that it was the right decision. … We are showing a side of ourselves that no one has ever seen, because we weren’t allowed to for so long. … As soon as I stepped onto those fields [at SeatGeek Stadium], I saw everything on the RiotLand map that’s been in my head.

Q. What were the obstacles with the Chicago Park District and the “delays” that 24th Ward Ald. Monique Scott laid out in her letter in support of Riot Fest?

A. [The Park District] started moving the approval calendar on us again. What was supposed to be April, became May … even though we followed every single guideline. But there’s a history to that, this is a repetitive pattern. … I saw it as a series of broken promises. … Imagine even on a small scale, imagine going to a 500-capacity room with a show in four months, and everything is planned, all your marketing, how you’re going to launch, everything is timed and then you find out you have to move it all — and multiply it by a festival. … This is not a first time, and I believe [the process] was used against us.

Q. Was Riot Fest potentially not going to happen this year because of these delays?

A. No, it was never that. In the end, there were two options on the table. One would be a step and repeat of the repetitive pattern where you know a process isn’t fair, that weighs on people and us, because we absorb it all. … The other [option] was going somewhere where people want you, saying, “Here’s a blank canvas, guys.” It reminded me of starting out in the early days of Riot. … Just like how it was when we took it out to Humboldt Park [in 2012], just like how we did it in Congress Theater in 2005, RiotLand is built in the same way. In many ways it’s Riot Fest that has a town surrounded by it, and I’m excited for people to explore it.

Q. Did you look at other sites in the city before settling on Bridgeview?

A. We looked everywhere [that had the] capacity, traffic patterns, everything, and what would make the most sense and would allow us to build something like RiotLand. It just felt right. And it’s great when people see value in you; that’s a new feeling. Like, “Wow we’re actually wanted?” Because we haven’t done anything wrong. We’re good people.

Q. The RiotLand buildout looks massive. Will it end up costing you more?

A. I think in the end it’s roughly the same, or in the same ballpark. It’s interesting, isn’t it?

Q. Even though you’ll be on the fields, SeatGeek Stadium is a venue and not a park. What does the infrastructure offer that you didn’t have for Riot Fest before?

A. No. 1, it has parking. No. 2, it has hotels everywhere, and it’s a couple miles from Midway. And there’s extensive shuttling and transportation that is being figured out, the details of which will be announced soon. [A Riot Fest representative also confirmed that Pace transit is working on extended service during the weekend, a normal process for special events.] … The other large improvement is we are back to five main stages ... five full-sized main stages, which is good since there’s a lot of depth to this year’s lineup.

Q. In your letter you state, “We’re not abandoning the community here [in Douglass Park] … we’re taking them on this journey as well.” How do you intend to incorporate the North Lawndale community going forward?

A. I love Douglass Park. It is so intertwined with our history. … The only difference with what we did last year vs. this year is that there won’t be a festival taking place inside the park. But we are holding job fairs and the other community initiatives, and everything that we promised before this [venue] decision was made, we are keeping it.

Q. What do you see as the future of Riot Fest?

A. I think and hope we’ll attract fans new and those who’ve been with us. And I hope next year and the year after we are talking about Riot Fest and RiotLand again like we are now. I think this idea has legs.

The Latest
The second-year forward knows there’s a youth movement underway. Now that he’s healthy, he’s looking to see what part he’ll play in it.
The Illinois Republican has a lot going on at the convention because he wears a lot of hats. He’s a vice chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee — a House GOP political organization — and a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Intelligence Committee.
If the Cubs were good enough to go to Baltimore and sweep a three-game series against the playoff-bound Orioles, it’s too soon to dismiss them.
The Sun-Times’ annual season-opening test of fans’ optimism/pessimism is a little skewed this year. With Caleb Williams, DJ Moore, Keenan Allen & Co. and a defense on the rise, Bears fans have every right to feel good about this team. What can go wrong?