Rock Around the Block Feedback: Time to Pull the Plug?

By Jason Kreke | Friday, July 27, 2012

Support waning for Rock Around the Block. Credit: Patty Wetli

Event organizers of the recent Rock Around the Block held a meeting Tuesday night to gather feedback on the festival from business leaders and members of the community, and the results were less than pleasant. Miscommunication, no clear identity and a general lack of community involvement created a festival that many felt failed to reflect the neighborhood or provide much benefit to the area.

“We were down 50 percent,” Luke Karl, general manager of Dinkel’s Bakery (3329 N. Lincoln Ave.), said of business during the two-day fest. “It was about as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

After a one-year hiatus, West Lakeview Neighbors resurrected RATB in 2012 and partnered with Star Events, which produced the fest and was blamed by some for taking a cookie-cutter approach that used generic musical acts and vendors. For many in attendance at the meeting, it was the lack of community focus and communication that ultimately fell short for the event.

“We took a big hit,” said Guy Nickson of Wishbone (3300 N. Lincoln). “The music is like that at a state fair. I would be for the festival if it promoted the neighborhood. What does this have to do with the neighborhood?”

This sentiment was shared across the board at the meeting. The problems with this year’s fest boiled down to one issue: lack of planning. With businesses only being notified of the event 10 days prior to its launch and the general lack of community involvement, the festival for many didn’t live up to the expectations that it would attract more people to the neighborhood’s shops and restaurants.

“There were communication issues,” said Will DeMille, president of West Lakeview Neighbors. “People are frustrated with the format. With the time we had, we knew it wouldn’t be feasible to get a lot of other companies [to run the festival]. We only had two options, and Star was one of them.”

At the meeting, Star Events, which manages about 20 festivals including Taste of Randolph and Summer on Southport, absorbed the bulk of the criticism. Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber cut its ties with Star Events two years ago because requests to make RATB more local were ignored.

“The ball got dropped,” she said. “Every year we heard that it was going to change, but it doesn’t. It comes into the neighborhood, impacts the neighborhood and leaves. Is it time to put down Rock Around the Block? It hasn’t been good in a long time.” Unless there are changes, she said, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce is going to send a letter opposing any future Rock Around the Block festivals.

Summer festivals have become big business in Chicago. The same week as month as Rock Around the Block saw Roscoe Village’s Burger Fest, Lincoln Square’s Square Roots Fest, the Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival, the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival and Taste of River North. With so much competition, there is more of an emphasis on creating something unique.

“We need to think why we are having these festivals and why we are closing these streets,” Nickson said. “What can we do to be original? The bloom is off the street festivals. I am not excited by Rock Around the Block. I would be for the festival if it promoted the neighborhood.”

Regardless of the format, the businesses leaders on hand emphasized that the festival needs to highlight businesses in the community as well as other neighborhood groups. Several ideas were tossed around such as bringing in local church and schools to provide entertainment.

Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), agreed that there needs to be more community control over the event. “The alderman put pressure on the event wanting it to change. If people say it’s not worth it, then we won’t have it.”

The challenge for any event is to balance short-term pain in lost business for long-term gain of exposure to the neighborhood, as well as providing an entertaining experience for residents. DeMille acknowledged that people are frustrated with the format and planning.

“We should have taken care of the details a lot sooner,” he said. “We didn’t have enough input pre-event and we need more real planning. Everyone is saying we want a festival, but here’s the type of festival we want.”

For her part, Michelle Krage of Star Events admitted there were difficulties with the festival, but called for more community involvement in the planning stage. “There were shortfalls,” she said. “We put together successful festivals such as Taste of Randolph where the community works together within a budget. I hope my team can extend an olive branch.”


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