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Dillo Day returns to Northwestern University this Saturday, May 21, and the lakefront festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

To prepare, city and university officials hosted a virtual meeting with campus neighbors May 17 to review health and safety concerns surrounding the all-day event, which is expected to draw 12,000 people. Organized by the student group Mayfest Productions, Dillo Day is the largest student-run music festival in the country.

Dave Davis, Executive Director for Neighborhood and Community Relations at Northwestern, and other officials have been preparing and planning for months to ensure everything runs smoothly.

The first issue addressed was the threat of COVID-19 as local cases are surging. Since mid-to-late March, the number of people with confirmed cases has steadily increased across the Midwest, in Evanston and at Northwestern.

Ike Ogbo, Director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department, said that while the most recent variant is extremely contagious, he is reassured because rates of hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths have not spiked similarly. This means the vaccines are working, he said. Still, he recommended people shift to wearing medical-grade masks, especially when they are indoors.

Luke Figora, Vice President of University Operations, told the 80 or so online attendees that the Northwestern community has exceptional rates of vaccination – higher than 98% – and boosters, greater than 95%. Masks will be encouraged but not required as the festival is outdoors.

But university officials said they have been diligent the past two years in reinforcing pandemic safety, offering free testing and requiring masks indoors. Figora said officials have also been communicating regularly with students on and off campus about safety, respecting neighbors and behaving responsibly. Given that environment, university officials are hopeful COVID-19 rates will not spike following Dillo Day.

Back to a live outdoor festival

In 2019, Dillo Day was cut short due to lightning. It was held virtually in 2020 and as a hybrid event in 2021 due to the pandemic.

This year there will be two concert stages, a beer garden, local food trucks, games, student art and other activities at the lakefront area of campus.

All Northwestern undergraduates get one free ticket to the festival. Graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni may purchase a ticket for $15, and a small number of $25 tickets are available to Evanston residents 18 and older. On entry, NU affiliates (students, staff, faculty) will get purple wristbands and non-NU affiliates (undergraduate guests, alumni, Evanston residents) will get yellow wristbands.

Otherwise, the Northwestern lakefront is closed on Saturday during the festival.

Eric Chin, Deputy Chief of Police, Safety & Security Administration at Northwestern, said vehicles will not be allowed in the lakefront area, bags will be checked as people enter and extra security personnel have been hired to help campus police. Ambulances and a command center will be on site to monitor weather reports and any situations that occur. Sound meters will be set up to measure levels in hopes of preventing disturbances for Evanston neighbors.

Interim Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington has assigned 17 officers to cover the areas around neighborhoods near campus this weekend, and Fire Chief Paul Polep said a senior department official will be work at the command center.

Dillo Day 2022 map. Credit: Mayfest Productions

Northwestern student A.J. Rosenthal, Co-director of University Relations for Mayfest Productions, presented a few slides to show the festival layout. Activities will run from 11:30 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. and student volunteers are prepared. “We want a safe Dillo,” Rosenthal said. 

Mona Dugo, Dean of Students, said her team has met with many of the students in off-campus homes to discuss how important it is they be good neighbors. Any groups throwing large parties have been asked to arrange for portable toilets and extra trash receptacles as well as to be sensitive about noise.

Dugo said her staff has also met with the Emergency Department at Evanston Hospital to review weekend plans and discuss staffing. Additionally, Northwestern has paid for extra support by city 311 staff to work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Dugo and at least 15 other administrators will be there this weekend to keep an eye on things.

Tony Kirchmeier, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Off-campus Life, said there will be a water truck at Simpson Street and Maple Avenue to hydrate attendees. The university also has made arrangements for eight additional trash bins this weekend, and will be paying for bulk trash pick up the week before and after graduation.

Kirchmeier said students and staff will be out Sunday morning to pick up any trash not disposed of properly. 

Teyana Taylor peforms at Dillo Day in 2019, the last year the festival was held in person. Credit: Justin Barbin Photography/Mayfest Productions

Those attending the Zoom meeting added their concerns via the chat and later during a comment period, complaining about disorderly conduct, excessive drinking, public urination, littering and loud music into the early morning hours. Several commenters said the partying has already started and students are not waiting for Dillo Day to let loose.

Rosenthal, Dugo and Davis each asked for “grace and patience” from Northwestern’s neighbors. Their hope is that Dillo Day will be a safe, respectful and economically beneficial contribution to both Northwestern and Evanston.  

The next major Northwestern event on the calendar is graduation, June 13. 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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