Reloaded RidgeFest misses mark

Aerialist Laura Ernst performing at RidgeFest on Sunday, July 29.

Bret Michaels performing at RidgeFest on Saturday, July 28

Sunday great, but headlining acts Durbin, Michaels fail to pack park

By Laura Bollin

Despite sunny skies, comfortable temperatures and no rain, attendance at Chicago Ridge’s annual summer festival was down this year.

RidgeFest was held last Thursday through Sunday at Freedom Park, 104th Street and Birmingham Avenue, and featured musical acts including “American Idol” finalist James Durbin on Friday night and Bret Michaels on Saturday night. While the area around the stage was packed for the Michaels show, the rest of the fest grounds were sparsely populated. The poor economy may have factored into the lighter crowds Friday and Saturday nights, according to Chicago Ridge village Clerk Chuck Tokar.

“We could have had better attendance, it was down from last year,” said Tokar, who serves as the village’s RidgeFest Committee chairman. “With the general state of the economy, people don’t have discretionary income available. Consumer spending is down.”

Another factor contributing to the low attendance could be that many communities also hold their own summer festivals, Tokar said. Nearly every area municipality holds some type of event, albeit not the same weekend as RidgeFest. Worth actually rescheduled its annual Worth Days Fest this year – it will be held this weekend – so as not to compete with RidgeFest.

“There are so many communities now having festivals, people stay in their own community rather than travel to another community’s festival,” Tokar said. “It has been much more difficult to draw people to the event.”

Attendance was low Friday for Durbin’s perfromance, and Tokar said the village could have hired a different headlining act. Chicago Ridge Trustee Bruce Quintos said he enjoyed hearing Durbin sing during a sound check.

“Friday I was there early, and got to hear James Durbin’s full sound check, and it was tremendous,” Quintos said. “The guy has a fantastic voice. I was also there on the last night, Sunday, for the fireworks, and there seemed to be quite a few people there.”

RidgeFest has traditionally opened in the early afternoon on Saturday, and last year opened at 1 p.m.; however, did not open until 4 p.m. on Saturday this year. The price of admission at the gate skyrocketed from last year -- when Ted Nugent was the headlining act – from $10 both Friday and Saturday to $20 Friday for the Durbin show and $25 for the Michaels show.

Michaels, the front-man for rock band Poison, performed in front of a larger crowd than Durbin, but RidgeFest drew the most people on Sunday when the village offered free family-friendly activities, Tokar said.

“Sunday was a good day for residents,” he said. “People brought their kids, and had musical and other entertainment acts at the festival.

“One of the things we’ve never had before was a zip line, and people really seemed to enjoy that. They were lined up to go on that zip line ride all day long.”

Along with the free zip line rides were several other free children’s activities and shows on Sunday.

“We had all kinds of other things that were free – clowns, face painters, reptiles and other animals, pony rides and a petting zoo, mountain climbing, jousting – so many different things for the kids,” Tokar said.

Another new activity was a wet and wild water show, where children were sprayed with water.

“Kids were getting wet, the parents were laughing, it was pretty cool,” Tokar said. “We had a girl that did kinetic entertainment – Laura Ernst -- where she was balancing from ropes 20 feet in the air, and was twirling around upside down. Sunday was a big success.”

Ernst, of Des Moines, Iowa, is an aerialist – an acrobat who uses whisps of fabric to perform inversions and other physicallydemanding stunts. She also entertained the crowd by rolling around in a giant hamster ball and juggling flaming clubs.

The RidgeFest committee will have a full report on attendance and financial figures for this year’s festival in about three weeks, Tokar said. After the board reviews the report, the committee will start making plans for next year’s festival.