Make Music, Not Riots — Riot Fest 2021

Make Music, Not Riots — Riot Fest 2021

Many of us just want to live our lives, listen to some fun music, hang out with family and friends, and even take advantage of some free spins on our favorite casino website.  But there are other times when the situation becomes so crazy and so insane that we feel as if we can no longer keep silent.  We feel compelled to speak up, come to hell or high water.

And when we look back at those events 40 or 50 years later, we have the advantage of looking at the events with a sense of wisdom that happens with time, personal growth, and life moving on.  Sometimes it becomes “we remember the good and forget the bad”, other times, the pains of the events were so intense that we can never forget, and other times because the events happened in a different town in a different place in a different time, it becomes words in a textbook.

When I first saw the advertistment for Riot Fest 2021 in Chicago, the first images that came to my mind where the Riots in Chicago (and many other cities) that nearly destroyed those cities in the summer of 2020, many of which have still not recovered.  I was thinking, “Why would anybody celebrate those riots?  Why would you celebrate destroying your community?”  But then I did some quick research and realized that Riot Fest has been going on for 15 years and two names are just a coincidence.

But then I started to think about Woodstock.  500,000 people going to a music concert, and concert organizers took charge of secuirty without the help of the police (defund the police).  The end result was no major incidences. Can Riot Fest learn from Woodstock and show the way to have a great music festival without “having the police”, but at the same time keep everybody safe, happy, and not actually Riot (destroy the city the music festival is being hosted in)?

Woodstocks slogan was “Make love, not war.”

Maybe Riot Fest’s slogan should be “Make music, not riots” …

Music and celebrating events and events like Woodstock

Everybody knows of Woodstock.  The Woodstock Music Festival was the brainchild of four men, all age 27 or younger, looking for an investment opportunity: John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang.  Originally, about 50,000 people were expected. But by August 13, at least that number was already camped out on location and over 100,000 tickets pre-sold.

The Woodstock audience was diverse and a reflection of the rapidly-changing times. Some were hippies who felt alienated by a society steeped in materialism.  Woodstock was an opportunity for people to escape into music and spread a message of unity and peace.

Although the crowd at Woodstock experienced bad weather, muddy conditions and a lack of food, water and adequate sanitation, the overall vibe there was harmonious. Looking back, some people attribute the lack of violence to the large number of psychedelic drugs being used.  Others believe hippies were simply living out their mantra of “making love, not war.”

Security was limited since off-duty police officers were banned. It’s estimated there were no more than a dozen police officers to keep an eye on 500,000 people.  To pick up the slack and help create a safe festival ground, Woodstock Ventures turned to the Hog Farm, a communal pig farm in New Mexico. Its leader, known as Wavy Gravy, threatened to douse people who got out of line with seltzer water or hurl pies at them.  (I think that he is referring to feces pies)

The Hog Farm also set up a children’s playground, a free food kitchen, and a tent to assist people “freaking out” on drugs.

Cleaning up the venue was a mammoth task and required several days, many bulldozers, and tens of thousands of dollars.

“…You’ve proven something to the world…the important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids, and I call you kids because I have children who are older than you are, a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!”

That is what a music festival should be.  Three days of people from different backgrounds getting together, having fun, listening to music, even without police “protecting the crowd”, and still come out the other end without any major injuries.

1978, Nazi, and speech at Marquette Park, Chicago

Although this event was not a music festival, it did include different people from different backgrounds.  There were not 500,000 people, but only about 2,000 with another 2,000 people who were not allowed to enter the event (so the event did not become too crowded).

I am including this event because just as Woodstock had speeches and the Riot Festival of 2021 will have speeches, this event had speeches.

In Woodstock, the political speeches were “make love, not war”.  It became one huge drug-induced orgy.  Not to mention that although there were no police at Woodstock to help keep people under control, there were pig farmers in charge of security who threatened to dose people with pig poop if they got out of line.  Can’t kill people with pig poop, but people really do not want to hang around with you when you start to smell like a bunch of pigs.

But the Chicago police did not access to pig farmers, so they had to use traditional police officers with traditional means of crowd control.  Different people give different accounts about what exactly happened.  But there are some things that we do know.

The Nazis had to go all of the way up to the Supreme Court in order to get permission to speak their hate-filled speech.  There was not cancel culture to silence them.  There was no Facebook or Twitter to ban them.  It was your traditional speaking event that was scheduled to take place in a publicly owned park.  According to the Supreme Court of the time, Freedom of Speech included the right for hate-filled people to speak their hate-filled language.  It was part of living in a free society, and it was something that most Americans were proud of (even when we felt like we wanted to punch the speaker in the face).

At the official event, there were ⅓ of the people there who supported the hate speech that the Nazis were saying.  There were ⅔ that were against what the Nazis were saying.  But that does not even count the additional 2000 people who were prevented from getting even close to the event.

The Nazis screamed their hate-filled words.  The counter-protesters screamed their words.  The end result was that the police had to protect the Nazis from the counter-protesters, and the screaming of the counter-protesters was so loud that most people never heard the hate-filled words on the Nazis.

The takeaway from the event was that it was not due to the censoring of the hate-filled speech that got the situation back under control.  It was by allowing both sides to freely speak their mind that allowed the situation to get back under control.

Having lived in Skokie (Chicago) while these events took place, this history is my history.  I was 8 years old when this event took place, so it became a part of who I am as an adult.  The ACLU in 1977 supported the idea that Freedom of Speech was something that must be protected no matter how much we hate hearing the words and how much that hate-filled speech makes our blood boil.

And as my father said, “They have the right to say what they want to say, and I have the right to ignore them.”  (In the modern-day internet version — “block”).

Riot Fest 2021

I am not sure what I think about this.  Celebrating violence?  Celebrating your city being destroyed?  Why would anybody want to celebrate that?

If the event is done as Woodstock was done, it can demonstrate to the country that even events that have 500,000 people with a mixture of people with different views can still happen without police “protecting the people” and no major injuries.  But will Chicago be willing to give up control to pig farmers?  If the answer is, “Yes”, then as with Woodstock, the event may happen without a hitch.

But if Chicago is not willing to allow the police to protect the people, and they do not have an alternative plan for security (pig farmers or something else), is Riot Fest 2021 going to turn into a repeat of the riots that happened during the summer of 2020?

And what about all of the businesses that were destroyed during the riots of 2020?  Are planning to come to Chicago to enjoy 3 days of music, spend your money, and have a good time. But what about the mess that will be left behind not just with the Riot Fest, but also from the mess of the summer of 2020?  If you have the money, and means, and the desire to celebrate the riots, how about celebrating the communities as a whole and include a couple of extra days either before or after and help the local communities get back on their feet.  Not just the big businesses that have connections to contracts with the people who are running the Riot Fest, but the small businesses who are still trying to even get their doors open.


It is great to see that Chicago is making plans for next fall for big events, schools reopening fully in the fall, and trying to get life to get back to normal.

Companies (and families) who had bigger reserves were able to get through the turmoil of 2020 with just a few bruises.  But others did not make it through as successfully.  Enjoy your music, and enjoy your fun.  But make that little bit of extra effort to visit the small businesses that could really use your tourist dollars.  Or better yet, your time and “do good” energy that you plan to bring to the event.

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