Michelada vendors at Miche Fest 2023. Photo by Hillary Flores.

When original founder Fernando Nieto launched Michelada Fest, also known as Miche Fest, he did it with one mission in mind: to build large-scale special events for an underserved community in the South Side of Chicago.

The festival aims to celebrate Latinx culture with local food stands and a plethora of micheladas, traditionally made from beer, lime, tomato juice and spices. This year the festival included michelada vendors such as Micky Chelada Mix, Big Mich, Pinches Miches, Mixhe Hot Mix, and more. 

But, with the celebration also came some divisive emotions from residents and attendees expressing concerns of accessibility to the event, ticket-pricing, and parking.   

The fifth anniversary of the Mexican festival organized by Tribú Presents and giant music promoter Viva Tu Musica brought back the “sazón” of cumbia, rock en español, banda, merengue, reggaeton, and more from its line-up of award-winning artists such as Prince Royce, Natti Natasha, Gerardo Ortiz, R.K.M. y Ken-Y, Elvis Crespo, Noriel, and more. 

Jasmin Castañeda, long-time Pilsen resident and attendee, said the concept of the festival is something that she loves. She is not in favor of the lack of accessibility.

“I love the festival. I love the idea. I’m not a fan[…]parking wise, just because you know, a lot of people do come from outside and it does manage to affect parking,” Castañeda said. 

She mentioned that she is not opposed to the idea of hosting a massive event in her neighborhood, but says that the festival can cause further issues if attendees don’t respect the neighborhood and residential areas in the future.

In years prior, local businesses and community organizations received free tickets as a way to attract the immediate community. This year, Castañeda expressed that she was unable to obtain a free ticket to the event, despite being a Pilsen resident during a mass give-away from organizers announced via social media. She paid full-price for a general admission ticket. 

Marilyn Ortega, a Belmont Cragin resident, said the prices took her by surprise. 

“When I originally bought the tickets, I thought I came with the idea that they would be more affordable, just because we bought such expensive tickets[…]But no, they’re really expensive,” Ortega says. 

Organizers said they expected to receive over 7,500 attendees the first day of the two-day festival. 

In 2021, after the pandemic, the festival returned with in-person attendance–the general admission weekend ticket, without fees, increased more than 135 percent in cost since 2021.  

Previously, general admission tickets were priced at $20 for Friday and $50 for Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, minors under 17 could attend for free on Friday, while children under 12 could accompany a paying adult for free. 

This year, a one-day general admission ticket was $119 with a $20.99 service fee, while a one-day VIP ticket was $169 with a $32.29 service fee. A weekend VIP ticket was $299 with a $47.16 service fee. 

Ortega expressed her hope that organizers would be able to make tickets more affordable in the coming years. Her partner, Michael Rojas agreed. “Just like thinking about all the friends I grew up with that are from Pilsen[…]It’d be nice that if you’re from the community, maybe be able to [obtain] a different price,” Rojas said. 

Rojas, a Stickney resident, says that his motivation to attend the event came from the knowledge of supporting local businesses and contributing to a good cultural cause. In this case, some of the local vendors who were unable to participate inside the festival were situated outside, surrounding Harrison Park.

“I think the one thing though, even though it’s expensive, I feel like you get to try so many different types of Micheladas that you wouldn’t necessarily try in your everyday life. I think that’s pretty sweet,” Rojas says. “[…]and it’s local, so you’re supporting people in the community.” 

Nieto and co-founder Miguel Torres said that these concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. They both expressed that they cultivated open dialogue with the community, working directly with Alderman Byron Sigcho- Lopez. 

The organizers said that they established a direct hotline, located at the footer of their website, to which residents can call to state their complaints. 

South Side Weekly contacted the office of Sigcho-Lopez for a response regarding community meetings about the issuance of Special Events permits by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) in Chicago parks. The team has also reached out to Harrison Park Supervisor, Tony Gonzales.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez’s office emphasized that the festival organizers complied with community requests.

“Miche Fest organizers presented at three Harrison Park Advisory Council meetings, where the public was allowed to provide feedback and comment prior to the festival,” the statement says. “Our office attended the PAC meeting on April 18th where it was shared in detail the process DCASE and the Chicago Park District has in place for Special Events Permits. 

“Along with this, Miche fest organizers shared their commitment to contract over twenty local food vendors and merchants, hire over thirty at-risk youth in partnership with violence interrupters, donated to the Pilsen Athletic Leagues Baseball teams, and committed to host annual community clean-ups.”

Despite multiple attempts, the Weekly has yet to receive a response from Harrison Park’s supervisor, Tony Gonzales, regarding how much money was made from hosting festivals like Miche Fest.

Festival organizer and co-founder Miguel Torres stated that the purpose in bringing this event into the Pilsen neighborhood is so members can enjoy it locally, rather than “leaving the neighborhood and enjoying those experiences elsewhere.” 

Torres says that there’s importance behind neighborhood reinvestment, not only in an entertainment space, but also on an economic level. 

Nieto, echoed this sentiment saying that he took pride in this major production. 

“To be quite honest, we hear everybody with open hearts and open minds,” Nieto said. “[…]because at the end of the day, you know, it’s not just my neighborhood, it’s not just theirs, it’s our space and we’re sharing it collectively.”

Nieto said that what makes the team of organizers special is that they are all from the South Side of Chicago. 

“We’re born and raised here,” Nieto said. “We’re not a huge production company, rolling into the city to throw a big event. We’re from here and this event is very much by Latinos for Latinos.”

As Miche Fest continues to grow, Pilsen resident Jasmin Castañeda hopes that next year they can involve the community further, especially since this is her home and the home of many others. 

“I wish they would think of us more and the people that do live here because it does affect us,” she says. “But, […]I love the fun [of] it. I love the artists that come out. I love everything else outside of that.”

Hillary Flores is a freelance writer. She previously wrote for the Weekly about antique shop El Anticuario.

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