reporter ridgefest cancelled 2023

Chicago Ridge cancels RidgeFest over safety concerns

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By Dermot Connolly

RidgeFest has been canceled this year—and may never be the same again—mainly due to violent disturbances at recent large gatherings in Tinley Park and elsewhere.

At the last regular Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting on May 16, trustees were moving full-speed ahead with preparations for RidgeFest 2023, approving contracts for the entertainment acts for the annual event held the last weekend in July for more than 30 years. Only the contract for headliner Ted Nugent was scrapped, because trustees said it protected him more than the village if anything went wrong.

But following a mob scene that occurred May 20 in Tinley Park, where hundreds of teens rampaged through a carnival, the board convened a special meeting on May 26 where they canceled all the contracts and RidgeFest itself.

“For me, it was all about safety. I don’t believe it (would have been) a safe event,” said Trustee Ed Kowalski, who attended all the planning meetings.

“We were not where we were in past years,” said Kowalski, asserting that neighboring communities would be focusing on their own events for safety reasons this summer, and Emergency Management Agency staffs are limited, so the village could not depend on mutual aid agreements with other municipalities as they once did.

“Historically, our mall has been hit three times with flash mobs, and then in Chicago there have been flashmobs and even shots fired at North Avenue Beach last week. We are not trending in a positive direction,” he said, explaining that the melee in Tinley Park was not the only reason behind the cancellation.

“I think we will have to scale it down (in the future) and make in more of a local event, rather than a regional one,” he said, predicting that no big-name acts will be booked if RidgeFest resumes.

Mayor Chuck Tokar didn’t like to see the cancellation of the event he has helped organize since its inception, more than 30 years ago. “But the trustees wanted to put a stop to it for safety reasons and I would rather err on the side of people not getting hurt,” he said.

Kowalski also said the lack of charges or fines in the Tinley Park event, with most of those caught returned to their parents, was not a deterrent.

“Until the state and county straighten this out, this will be a problem. You can’t have 400 or 500 people rampaging through an event. Moving forward in the future, I want to see them prosecuted. We see it every day in Chicago and this is a product of that,” said the trustee.

“There definitely were safety concerns,” said Trustee Jack Lind, a former Public Works director and lifelong Chicago Ridge resident, who been closely involved in setting up and running the fest since the beginning, before it moved to its present location at Freedom Park. “The trustees had the residents in mind with the cancellation Most of us grew up with RidgeFest and you have to make a decision.”

“Security was the definitely impetus but there were many things,” said Lind, referring to the decision to call it off.

“It is entirely a volunteer-run event, and it was a lot of work—and volunteers are harder to find. The people who live near the park put up with a lot for the two weeks it takes to set up and run. I give them a lot of credit,” said Lind.

Tokar said the downside of not having RidgeFest is that all the local non-profits who split the profits from the fest among themselves will now not get the annual check. These include Jon’s Way youth club, Chicago Ridge Athletic Association, the Boy Scouts and others.

Lind pointed out that members of those organizations also work at RidgeFest.

“I don’t want to see any of them get hurt. The last thing I want to see 400 people trampling through the park. I don’t want the young volunteer workers, families in the carnival, or the people in the bingo tent  exposed to that if a mob gets into the park,” said Lind.

“We’re saving a lot by not holding RidgeFest this year. I would like to see the non-profits benefit from that,” said Kowalski.

“I would definitely like to see them taken care of. Moving forward, I want to propose that some of that money be allocated to them, perhaps as grants,” said the trustee, who plans to bring the idea up at a board meeting.

Lind predicted that any future RidgeFest will be much smaller and geared toward village residents, perhaps with only local bands and no big carnival.

The mayor and trustees said that village attorneys are working on ensuring that the village will not be held accountable for any of the canceled contracts.

Tokar said that because he had not signed or sent back any of the contracts, village attorneys believe the village cannot be held liable for canceling them. “Hopefully, we do not have to resort to litigation.”

RidgeFest is not the only casualty of the Tinley Park incident.

Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Evergreen Park has cancelled its annual fundraising carnival, which was set for June 15-18.

“After hearing from parishioners and consulting with the Evergreen Park Police Department, the Carnival Committee met. In the interest of safety, the difficult decision has been made to cancel the Carnival this year,” said Father Jim Hyland, parish pastor, in a message to parishioners.

“We do not want the summer to go by without any kind of parish event. We are looking into an alternative to the carnival. Details about that event will be forthcoming as soon as plans are formalized,” he said.

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