Chicago bartenders walked off the job last weekend at the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival in Douglass Park after the scene dissolved into “utter chaos” as attendees stormed a bar tent. For some, the incident encapsulates the challenges facing hospitality workers as the industry’s labor shortage continues and large public events resume.
Summer Smash, founded in 2013 by music video director Cole Bennett to highlight local rappers, kicked off Friday, August 20. This year’s three-day event was disorganized throughout, bar staff and ticket holders told Block Club Chicago: Security was sparse, water stations few and far between. On Saturday night, however, the raucous crowd spiraled out of control: video posted to social media shows a large group of attendees tearing down barriers around the bar and lunging at staff who tried to keep them out.
“Nobody stopped the show,” tweets Ellie Pettit, a bartender who worked the festival on Saturday night. “Literally 40 bartenders against 300+ people coming in at once VIOLENTLY.” Pettit also told Block Club that bartenders tried to get out through an emergency exit, but found it was “wired shut.”
i just received this video from someone. is this how you run your festival?? no security?? nobody stopped the show. literally 40 bartenders against 300+ people coming in at once VIOLENTLY. @_ColeBennett_ @LyricaLemonade #SummerSmash https://t.co/DZXNq40FL1 pic.twitter.com/DCe8617i4Z— ellie (@PettitEllie) August 22, 2021
Another bar staff member on Twitter explained why there would be no beer sales on Sunday at the festival: “Yesterday, a group of kids rushed a beer tent (not mine) & stole product & money from the registers. Due to the lack of security, the bar staff does not feel safe working this event & will not be there today.”
The festival’s bars were staffed by independent contractors, including many industry veterans like Liz Melvin. She told reporters that she could see a lack of security from the first day, and ultimately feels she and her team were set up for failure. Other local industry workers have weighed in on social media, many angered by a perceived disregard for the staff’s safety. “Plan on allowing the crowd to storm more bar tents today?” one queries.
Plan on allowing the crowd to storm more bar tents today? pic.twitter.com/A9IHqoIq8w— nala’s mom (@eclextic) August 22, 2021
Hiring security staff, or staff from any profession, has been a challenge on the festival circuit says Louie Mendicino, manager at Cobra Lounge. Part of his job is also to ensure drink tents run smoothly at events like Riot Fest and Ruido Fest. He says it’s about five times as challenging to find labor and equipment compared to past years.
“Really all sorts of labor are quite difficult to come by at this point,” he says.
For instance, most tent companies normally have staff to install the coverings. Not so this year. Instead of relying on one vendor, festivals are resorting to patchwork, calling multiple companies with the hope they can somehow piece together the personnel needed for their event.
Festival organizers have not publicly commented on the recordings or allegations from bar staff, but acknowledged that “barricade infrastructure” had been “compromised” in an “unfortunate incident” in a statement to Block Club. Still, they contend that the three-day festival was a success with more than 90,000 attendees.
Mendicino is hesitant to talk about the event because he didn’t attend, but he did hear accounts from people who were there. There’s some overlap, as he’s worked with them at other events. He’s also reluctant to say Summer Smash has made him and his staff that much more aware of possible festival challenges.
“You could be driving the same car as 50 other people, and you’re confident in that car and you love that car,” he says. “And then one out of 50 people lose their tires at the same time and it’s a bloody mess. Maybe you’re a little bit more concerned about the car now while driving.”
Some have turned to blame Summer Smash’s clientele, described on the younger side with little experience attending shows — they had unrealistic expectations of event staff, like a restaurant guest who doesn’t realize the kitchen is slammed and short staffed. Mendicino hopes future festival goers understand the environment staff is dealing with.
Cobra Lounge recently required proof of vaccinations for patrons. The bar also has a concert venue with customers standing shoulder to shoulder at crowded shows. Just like the greater restaurant industry as a whole, the concert world has been left to figure out COVID-19 mitigations without much guidance from the government.
“I really hope everyone has a little bit of patience,” Mendicino says. “It’s been an extremely difficult year for our industry. We’re certainly going to have our stress points.”
And other news...
— On Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker made it official and announced a statewide indoor mask mandate. The delta variant has led another surge of hospitalizations — there are about 220 a day related to COVID-19 and that’s similar to what Illinois saw in May. The state is following the lead of Chicago and Cook County: diners and bar customers ages 2 and over who are sitting indoors must wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking and regardless of vaccination status.
— Ever chef Curtis Duffy says he’s a metal fan, even fashioning an edible skull served with a caviar course. Duffy got to meet one of his heroes and go where eagles dare. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, Duffy gushed in a caption while taking a selfie with metal and former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig. Danzig’s solo career, of course, is highlighted by the anthem Mother.
— A 19 year old has been charged with attempted murder in connection to a Tuesday afternoon shooting Lincoln Square. The suspect allegedly fled into Garcia’s Mexican restaurant, 4760 N. Lincoln Avenue, where — according to Block Club Chicago — a group of police officers were eating lunch. Police say a shooter was driving a stolen Porsche SUV and shot at another car. The shooting victim was hospitalized and released. The suspect then crashed the SUV into Lincoln Square’s Giddings Plaza and ran into Garcia’s, according to police. The incident set off a commotion among restaurant owners in the neighborhood.
— Fans of Chicago’s venerable Calumet Fisheries should be happy to hear that the city is pay homage to Carlos Rosas with an honorary street sign in front for the famous seafood shack. Rosas has worked at the shack since 1997. He died in July 2021 from COVID-19 complications. Louisa Chu at the Tribune has more details.