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Neighbors of DuPage

The revival of the “3-day” DarienFest

Sep 07, 2017 09:57AM ● By Ben Scott

DarienFest is back…as a three day event…the way it was for many years,until last year when the economics forced the Darien Chamber of Commerce, the event organizer, to cut it back to a one day event. It was an unfortunate but necessary outcome.

The change did not go unnoticed. Neighbors Magazines received many comments and social media chatter was alive with discussion about the change. So, the Darien Chamber of Commerce worked hard to bring back the fest to its traditional three day form.

“The chamber will reimburse the City of Darien for police protection based on the net profit,” says Clare Bongiovanni, Chamber Director. “The park district is renting us the park for $6,000.” New to the event this year is a TV tent to view weekend sporting events. There will be a new children’s area with free ongoing activities. There will be a limited supply of 30th Anniversary DarienFest commemorative t-shirts for sale to help support the event. Residents are invited to come early and stay late to be a part of this historic Darien event.

But it was Christopher Lippi’s submission that caught our attention. Christopher has been a citizen of Darien since he six years old. Now, at age 19, he attends the University of Iowa with a double major in History and Teaching. When he is not pursuing his career path, he enjoys drawing cartoons and writing comics and stories. Following is part of an essay that Christopher wrote for a class assignment.

Local food vendors (shown in an earlier, three-day fest) were greatly missed during 2016's shortened single day event. 
Photo: Tim Sullivan 

 …. In 2016 DarienFest was altered greatly. Instead of being a three-day event, it was decreased to a single day. Not only that, but vendors were limited! Familiar restaurants that had booths every year were nowhere to be seen. As if they weren’t invited in the first place! Food had to be cooked prior and brought to the event, so nothing was fresh. It was like eating microwaved leftovers! According to friends and family who went last year, there were only two vendors available to the public. DarienFest had been a three-day event for decades. Its length was meant to be a convenience so people could visit the event on any of the three days it was open. With it being only one day, it runs the risk of being missed by most of the residents. How did this happen?

The reason for the sudden change was due to the city’s decision to no longer assist in the finances of the event. The city told the Chamber of Commerce that they would no longer be paying for police protection, barricades, or any public works to help execute the festival. In other words, the Chamber of Commerce was left to fend for themselves and raise the money necessary to run the festival successfully. Clare Bongiovanni, president, and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke with Chicago Tribune and said a three-day festival would be difficult to manage without the city’s financial help. Finances would be rather scarce due to the costs the city used to manage. With such a lack of funds, a single day for DarienFest was all the Chamber of Commerce could afford. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Ms. Bongiovanni and the rest of the board from trying to find ways to restore DarienFest to its former glory.

“We want to get back to three days. We just have to figure out how to do that financially,” said Clare Bongiovanni, when interviewed by Chicago Tribune.

With the 30th annual DarienFest…, there is a lot of pressure to meet the public’s expectations. After examining the finances, the Chamber of Commerce’s president estimated a little over $100,000 would be needed to fund a three-day event. According to an article from the Chicago Tribune posted last August, those numbers were at about $21,000 and rising. Through generous sponsors, the Chamber has been receiving the necessary funds. At this time, the fest is now ready to resume its three-day duration.

The traditional three-day
DarienFest was more 
like a block party with
everyone invited.
Photo: Tim Sullivan 

DarienFest was an event I was interested in going to because I felt like it brought the community together. It was far more than a festival. It felt more like a city-size block party and everyone was invited. It felt safe, comfortable, and peaceful. Being an event that was started in 1987, it was also like a “throwback”. It had a touch of class to it, whether it was eating classic festival “elephant ears”, or listening to classic rock bands and watching as parents danced to the songs of their youth. That’s the reality of the festival. As a child, DarienFest had everything I could hope for to stay entertained. As an adult, it feels nostalgic through music, food, and rides that give it a classic throwback vibe. It’s not just an entertaining festival. It’s an event that gives everyone memories that are cherished greatly. Neighbors who were interviewed about the shortened DarienFest all shared the same reaction--shock. Older neighbors, such as Mrs. Rodgers, feels it is an event more suited towards the younger crowd and families. Regardless, she was supportive of the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to maintain the festival.

“Yeah, I think festivals like this are something every town needs. They’re pretty important,” said Mrs. Grannan, another neighbor. She even went so far as to say she would donate to fundraising efforts to support the festival. After speaking with several friends, it became clear that kids my age enjoy town festivals and events such as these.

As stated before, many were disappointed with last year’s fest. It barely cast a shadow in comparison to the years before it. Citizens are anxious for the return of a traditional DarienFest, while the Chamber of Commerce is eager to meet the people’s expectations. What’s worst of all is that many of the citizens don’t even know how much effort the Chamber of Commerce has put into maintaining the tradition. After experiencing the one-day event last year, many citizens have concluded that the DarienFest will forever be only one day, but after interviewing several residents, they prefer a three-day event. In fact, if one were to look up DarienFest on the Chamber of Commerce’s page of the City of Darien website, they would notice that it is scheduled to three days again next year. The fact that it is the 30th anniversary of the event has nothing to do with the reasoning for trying to restore its former glory. The fact of the matter is the Chamber of Commerce is doing its best to keep its word. The members are trying to maintain the tradition and keep the event alive.

In 2016, my mother and father went to DarienFest and were shocked to find the event completely different. With only two vendors to choose from, the variety of choices became dull and bleak. The food, rather than being made fresh, was pre-made, and brought to the event to save effort and money. Simultaneously, it took away the appeal of the food. Events such as Darien’s Got Talent were cancelled due to lack of funding and the event was a mere 24 hours long. My parents didn’t know what to think of it. All they knew was it wasn’t DarienFest. And they are just two of many who share this opinion. As you can see in this article, Darienfest used to be an event looked forward to every year, and with some effort and a tad bit of faith, the Chamber of Commerce will be able to bring it back--be able to bring back the nostalgia, bring back the joyous memories, and bring back tradition.

Author Christopher Lippi is a Darien resident and student at the University of Iowa