Despite concerns, organizers say Woodstars Festival will go on

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By NICK MORONI

First reported 7/22/2011 4:55 p.m.

A giant four-day concert and carnival flaunting an all-star hip-hop lineup will go on as planned this week, organizers promised, in spite of difficulty securing a venue, a lack of logistical specifics, and uncertainty about whether the acts advertised have actually been booked.

Aimed at raising funds for District 209 schools, Woodstars Summer Carnival and Music Festival is slated to showcase big R&B and hip-hop names like Nelly and Faith Evans.

After trying at least three venues, the festival is scheduled to be held on Proviso East's football field for four days, July 28-31. Though tens of thousands could show up to the event, some plans for its execution remain unclear.

Questions regarding parking, security, safety and organization abound. Event Organizer Keoki Allen spoke briefly last week about the festival's general plan, but later could not be reached to answer specific follow-up questions on logistics.

In that earlier conversation, Allen declined to talk about the festival's problems.

"I'm not really going to get into what went wrong, because right now everything is just going so right," Allen said.

At the Oak Park offices of A'jensee 3.1.2. Co., which is listed as a contact in an informational packet released by Woodstars, no one was available for comment last week. Last Friday, a company representative emailed the Review and promised to get in touch at a later time to answer questions but never did.

On Monday, Jazmin Hall, a company representative, said the show will be held at Proviso East, but when asked about a site plan, information regarding security and medical attendants, and other logistical questions, she replied repeatedly, "I don't have any of that information."

Planning for the event began last year, Allen said. Proviso East was the first venue choice, but then plans shifted toward hosting the event at Proviso West because organizers deemed it a better location. Allen, District 209 school board President Chris Welch and other event organizers attended a Hillside village board meeting on July 6 to request approval for permits to hold Woodstars at West. However, the board denied the request.

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Recently, Maywood officials discussed staging it at Bushwood Golf, a driving range at 30 Madison St., just west of Forest Park.

"We talked about that at the [village] board meeting," said Joe Ponsetto, Maywood's village manager, who said he began talking with promoters "early on."

"There was the possibility that it could [be at Bushwood]," he added, but "that would be a private decision made [by the promoters]."

Hillside Village Manager Russ Wajda said when he heard the organizers' plans to host the event at West, he was taken aback.

"It just seemed like ... it was trying to be rushed in," Wajda said. "You've got all these people coming, where are they going to park? How are they going to get to the village safely? Are we going to have enough personnel to be able to provide security throughout the community and outside the event?"

The organizers informed Hillside officials about the proposal a month before it was scheduled to happen.

"You've got this big event you want to run in July and you're coming to us in June?" Wajda said.

According to the packet organizers presented to the Hillside board, more than 20,000 people are expected to attend the festival. When organizers appeared before the board, just under half of the contracts to secure parking for the festival were still pending. Wajda said there were also security issues though he did not go into detail.

In Maywood, the village manager said he's not worried.

"We don't share those concerns," Ponsetto said. "We will have a nice festival party right here in beautiful Maywood."

Proviso East is located in unincorporated Maywood, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Cook County Sheriff's police. The department will provide security alongside Maywood's police department, but a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff's police complained that the department only received a site plan and began discussing logistics with promoters on Monday. What's more, the department only found it was working the event on Thursday.

"There's certainly a lot of challenges we're going to be facing, because of the situation we've been put in," said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff, in a voice message.

Securing the event will also come at a great cost to Cook County taxpayers, Patterson said.

"It's no stretch to say that taxpayers will easily be on the hook for security costs in the six figures because we're having to call in officers and pay them overtime because we had no idea that this event was going to land in our backyard until Thursday," Patterson said.

Maywood Chief of Police Tim Curry said his department received a site plan "from the inception." Maywood police will only be providing security on the streets while the Sheriff's police will work the concert.

Sheriff's police are working out a number of other logistics with the promoters.

"Parking is going to be all over the place," said Curry, adding that there will be offsite parking with shuttle buses taking folks to the concert. He also noted that the boundaries of the festival are the Cook County Forest Preserves on the east end, 1st Avenue on the west, Washington on the north, and Madison on the south.

"Whatever happens, I'm prepared for it," Curry said.

In a conversation last week, Patterson also pointed out that the event had changed venues four times.

Forest Park Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas said Forest Park will offer added police personnel. He, too, had heard of the event's numerous changes of venue.

While A'jensee 3.1.2. Co. representatives did not answer questions about event logisitics, D209 officials deflected similar queries by directing them to Allen, who is affiliated with the event organizers.

"This is not a Proviso event," Welch, D209 board president, wrote in an email to the Review. And D209 spokeswoman TaQuoya Kennedy said the district has "no involvement" in the event, other than renting out Proviso East.

But records provided by the Village of Hillside show that numerous D209 officials were involved in trying to land the event at West.

Welch spoke at the July 6 meeting before the village board to express D209's support, and he also corresponded with Hillside police. Furthermore, D209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart penned a letter to Hillside Mayor Joseph Tamburino stating that D209 "has endorsed and supports the Woodstars Summer Carnival and Music Festival."

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In addition to logistical issues, promoters have also had difficulty securing artists. A number of the "target artists" that were being sought when promoters were trying to stage the event at West are no longer included in the lineup. Promoters told Hillside's village board that Lil' Wayne, Salt-n-Pepa, Boyz II Men and Tyrese would appear at the event. None of those artists are listed in the current lineup on the event's website, but big names like Nelly, Naughty By Nature, and Twista are listed. However, the event was not listed on the websites of any of the these artists, so it's not clear if they will actually be there.

Hall, however, affirmed that all of the advertised artists will appear.

The event is intended to raise much-needed funds for repair and remodeling at Proviso West, Proviso East and the Proviso Math and Science Academy. The festival's chief sponsors are the Shannon Brown Foundation and the Michael Finley Foundation. Keoki Allen, the event organizer, is a board member of the latter. Forest Park-based Ferrara Pan Candy Co. is co-sponsoring the event, as well.

Finley is an NBA veteran and Brown plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Both are Proviso East alumni.

For now, it seems the show will go on, and the Cook County Sheriff will to try to help.

"It's going to be a fluid situation up until the show," said Patterson.

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