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Wicker Park Fest Promoter Complains Of Cheap Attendees: 'People Don't Pay'

By Alisa Hauser | July 29, 2013 12:31pm | Updated on July 29, 2013 12:43pm
 Even with the unseasonably chilly weather, tens of thousands of people flocked to the annual Wicker Park Fest over the weekend.
Wicker Park Fest 2013
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WICKER PARK — Unseasonably chilly weather and beefed-up security led to a calm Wicker Park Fest, though gate donations appeared to be down.

"The problem is people don't pay [the suggested donation]. This fest probably has the lowest percentage of any fest in the city for paying," said Tom Murphy of Big Creek Productions, one of three of companies that books music talent for the annual fest.

"For whatever reason, the people here [in Wicker Park] have just decided they are antidisestablishmentarians," he said. "They don't like the man."

Booking music for Wicker Park Fest since its inception in 2004, Murphy said that when the fest first started "about 70 to 75 percent" of people paid at the gate. 

"It astonishes me that people won't pay $5 to see over $100,000 worth of talent. If you're going to enjoy this product like any other product, you've got to pay for it or else it's going to go away," Murphy said.

"Barricades, port-o-Johns, stages, infrastructure, talent — people think all of this comes out of thin air for free," he added.

Late Sunday, Murphy was unable to confirm the percentage of people who paid at the gate over the weekend.

Adam Burck, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, which hires special event vendor Criterian Productions to run the fest, was unable to be reached Monday to confirm crowd numbers and gate donations.

But Viet Pham, a Criterian worker collecting donations Sunday, estimated that "about a third" of people were paying the $5 suggested donation at the gate.

Manning one of two lines leading into the northern entrance to the fest just south of the Milwaukee, Damen and North intersection, Pham, who was tracking attendance with a clicker counter, said 900 people between 3 and 9 p.m. Saturday paid the donation in his line.

While Robert Gomez from Subterranean, another fest music booker, said late Sunday that beer sales were "up 20 percent," it's likely beer profits could have been higher if many festgoers hadn't brought their own beverages. 

BYOB is officially prohibited under fest rules, but one security worker said open containers were "a big problem."

Crowds were smaller than in recent years, at least during the late afternoon, according to several vendors.

"It was not as crowded during the afternoon, but both nights, when it got to the headliners on the north and south stages around 9 p.m., it was jam-packed, people packed in like sardines, with the security guards making sure people were moving along," said Robert Loerzel, a freelance journalist.

Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, which drew about 4,000 people to its annual block party earlier this month, criticized the music lineup booked at Wicker Park Fest, saying it didn't "represent the diversity of the city."

"It's called Wicker Park Fest, and that could mean so much. They missed a big opportunity to make it cool," Williams said.

With blacks and Hispanics now representing the majority in the city, Williams said "the performers don't reflect that. People look at this fest and say, 'It's not for me.'"

In an email before the fest, Burck confirmed that the fest had spent more money on security this year as well as hiring more workers.

The fest's beneficiary, Burr School, reported strong results at their second annual Kids Fest, which sold tickets for activities rather than requesting an admission fee.

Colleen Dillon, president of Friends of Burr, the school's fundraising arm, said Monday that about 1,000 people attended the Kids Fest, held in the Walgreens' parking lot at Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue. 

"We still had a great turnout. I do not have our totals yet, but I could say we probably profited about $6,000 to $7,000. This money will go towards arts, technology and Burr beautification," Dillon said.

Dillon said $5,000 was raised last year.

While Dillon said Burr School does not receive any portion of the fest's gate donations, the school receives a $5,000 stipend from Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce (the fest's other beneficiary) to cover expenses.