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Despite Low Attendance, Third Rail Music Festival 'Rocked,' Organizers Say

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | May 27, 2014 1:30pm | Updated on May 27, 2014 3:21pm
 The first annual Third Rail Music Festival brought electronic dance music to River North over the weekend.
Third Rail Music Festival
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RIVER NORTH — The Third Rail Music Festival was billed as Chicago's "most experimental" and "underground" electronic dance music festival. After its sparsely attended Memorial Day weekend premier, attendees took to the festival's Facebook page to say the event may have taken that label a bit too seriously.

"Cant believe my friends and I wasted 150 bucks on tickets for this! We got there and there was maybe 30 people. What a waste! We didnt even go in! Never again!!!" wrote one ticketholder on the event's Facebook page.

Redditors commented on a photo series posted from the May 24 and 25 festival that "This gives me anxiety; like a failed birthday party."

"From the FAQ 'No glow sticks, no light devices, no e-cigs.' I think they lost 90% of the audience right there."

But the fest organizer says that although only "about 500" of the "tens of thousands of party people" promised on the fest's website made it out to the Chicago Tribune Festival Lot near Grand Avenue and Canal Street, he's deeming the two-day festival a success, and plans to change little before reviving the concept next year.

"The festival went very well," said Alex Blackshire, event coordinator at MO events, which produced the festival. "The crowd was small for the first year ... but the layout was perfect, the space design was wonderful, we had VIP tents, cold beer and no incidents, no drug overdoses, no emergency calls, none of that. So it was really good fun."

The first annual Third Rail Music Festival's timing was rough: "we were going up against Movement [Electronic Music] Festival in Detroit, we were also going up against Summer Camp [Music Festival]," both big-ticket three-day events focused on the same genres of electronic club music with strong turnouts from the Chicago area, Blackshire said.

"I think those were the major things that contributed to the turnout."

But location may also have been a factor: the riverfront festival site is surrounded by residential buildings like Riverbank Lofts and Park Place condominiums.

On Saturday, the show shut down at 10 p.m. after "condos starting complaining," according to a post on the event page. "City hit us with multiple noise ordinances ... Plug got pulled."

Still, Blackshire said his event team are optimistic that the festival will be a hit when they reboot it next year. They plan to change little.

"I'm happy as a first-year festival" with this turnout, he said. "We did not lose anything. It was a good first festival. We profited, but not too much over" what we spent.

Next year Blackshire said the location and dates will likely stay the same, but "of course we will add larger names, more headliners...we're still going to stick with the underground feel."

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