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Margarita Fest Had More Problems Than Racist Viral Video, Attendees Say

By  Sam Cholke and Kelly Bauer | August 3, 2016 5:50am 

Margarita Fest Video and Complaints
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SOUTH SHORE — A video of a woman's racist rant at last weekend's Chicago Margarita Festival has gone viral, but it's not the only problem facing the event, which now faces dozens of complaints from ticket buyers. 

The festival, which moved to the South Shore Cultural Center this year, was criticized by attendees last year for long lines and disorganization, problems that festgoers said continued during this year's event. Some attendees said they weren't able to get in despite having tickets; others complained of hours-long waits in line to get a single drink.

Organizers of the fest apparently have not responded to requests for comment from media — including about a dozen attempts by DNAinfo — in the two years since announcing the event, which initially was held at Northerly Island.

And attendees said their attempts to get a refund have been futile.

Gaylon Alcaraz, of Lincoln Park, said she waited in line for nearly an hour before leaving this year because the line wasn't moving. There were just four festival workers at the entry: They had to scan tickets, check IDs and search purses and bags for hundreds of people in line, Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz had paid for tickets ahead of time, but she never got into the festival or heard from organizers. She said she posted to the event's Facebook page more than 10 times asking for a refund or explanation.

On Tuesday, Alcaraz called her bank to dispute the charge and asked it to stop the payment, effectively refunding her, she said.

"I would never go back again," Alcaraz said. "It was just a gorgeous opportunity to open up people to the neighborhood, to come into the South Side ... and then they just kind of blew it."

Another attendee, Amanda Walker, said she and her friends waited in line for more than an hour before they got inside. The drinks were strong, and the food was good once she got inside, Walker said, but overall, she was "disappointed" in the festival. There were only two stations serving drinks, and the event seemed overbooked by 1,000 people, Walker said.

"When I paid for my admission ticket, I imagined there being actual vendors selling the drinks," Walker said. "But instead, the margaritas were served out of giant Gatorade jugs, and you didn't have any idea what you were drinking."

Walker said there were other issues besides the entry line: The two drink stations were split for regular attendees and VIP attendees, but people used them interchangeably. People also had prepurchased tickets for margaritas, beer and wine, but there wasn't a way to distinguish between the tickets, so people who got the cheaper beer tickets were able to get any drink, Walker said.

Other attendees complained on Facebook that they'd bought VIP tickets but had to stand in the same, long entry line as everyone else. VIP access to the event was $65 and included two tasting tickets. Regular entry, which included one tasting ticket, was $15.  

The event was organized by Alex Blackshire’s Maned Owl Events. He’s also organized other city events, including the Chicago Food Truck Festival's 2014 debut in Bridgeport, which was called a “fiasco” by visitors because of the long lines. The fest has grown in size and popularity since then.

The Third Rail Music Festival in River North, which was mocked on Reddit for being sparsely attended, was also organized by Blackshire.

Viral video

While attendees complained about their experience on Facebook, a viral video of a racist encounter at the event has gained national attention. The video — first posted to New York-based Mic.com — shows a white woman screaming racial slurs and spitting on a black man and his wife.

On Sunday, suburban teacher Ernest Crim III posted a video on YouTube showing he and a woman yelling at each other after he picked up a bean bag near the woman and her friends’ bean bag toss game.

“One lady in that group (a white lady) called me and my wife a ‘n-----,’” Crim wrote on Facebook. “Additionally, she proceeded to spit on my wife in an effort to provoke us to assault her.”

Crim was not immediately available to comment, and his Facebook account has since been taken down for “suspicious activity,” according to Crim’s Twitter.

Sam Cholke talks about the various issues that plagued Margarita Fest.

The video does not show how the fight started, but does show the woman saying “You’re a n-----, if you hit me, you’re a n-----.”

She also says to Crim, “You’re acting like a n-----” and knocks his phone out of his hand.

“I was furious, but for some reason I stayed focused on the big pic (making her incriminate herself,” Crim posted on Twitter. “Eventually she got so mad that she spit on my wife. … Security eventually came over (she actually tried to call security on us) and handcuffed her and kicked her out of the venue.”

Police confirmed that a simple battery report had been filed about the fight, but said no one was in custody and detectives continue to investigate.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she went to the festival Sunday and missed the racial confrontation.

“It’s not something we normally see at a South Shore event,” Hairston told DNAinfo. “Quite frankly, I think she should have been arrested."

She said the crowd was much lighter Sunday, with about 1,000 people attending compared to 5,000 on Saturday.

She said the long lines were a staffing issue and she would be meeting with the event organizer before inviting the festival back next year.

“These are logistics that can be worked out," Hairston said.

The festival was trying to improve its image this year after complaints about long lines and servers running out of drinks early during 2015’s festival at Northerly Island.

On its website, organizers promised changes as the festival moved to the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive.

But people who went to the festival this year again complained that it was difficult to get in, with waits up to three hours, and long lines again to get drinks.

“I arrived at 4 p.m. today [Saturday] and was not able to sit down and enjoy any food or drinks until about 7:15 p.m. and the festival was over at 8 p.m.,” Sylvia Davis posted on the event’s Facebook on Saturday. “What was I doing between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.? Standing in line to get in and then to get drinks.”

Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said the event is being reviewed, and officials will be visiting the South Shore Cultural Center to make sure there was no damage to the facility.

Park Supervisor Andrea Adams said there was no apparent damage to the park facilities or grounds, but declined to say more because she said she was not authorized to speak to the press.

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