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New rules at Riverside’s Festival of Lights meant fewer donations, street performers say

By in Press Enterprise on December 31, 2017

By Ryan Hagen

As he enters the final week of the Festival of Lights, street performer John Shannon usually has most of the money he’ll need to get him through the coming year.

Formerly homeless, the trumpeter now lives in a motor home and performs in downtown Riverside year-round. But he depends on donations from appreciative attendees of the six-week festival for most of the year’s living expenses.

This season, Shannon says he’s made less than half his usual profit.

The cause, he’s certain, is a new rule restricting where street performers can be during the festival’s peak hours, after 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. They used to be allowed on the Main Street mall close to the Mission Inn but are now farther away.

“It’s going to mean I might not get my teeth I was planning to get,” Shannon said. “That’s what I was going to spend my money on, is new teeth.”

For most performers, the Festival of Lights isn’t financially vital — it’s a chance to collect some income while spreading their name and some holiday cheer.

But they agree that the restriction has meant smaller audiences and a less-charming experience.

The Riverside City Council voted this year to limit performers to two locations adjacent to the center of the festivities: the main public library and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. They worried that the large crowds around popular performances choked off access along some paths, potentially blocking emergency vehicles. The event, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, drew an estimated 500,000 people in 2016, including 75,000 for the switch-on ceremony the day after Thanksgiving.

That remains an important consideration, said Councilman Mike Gardner, who represents the downtown area that hosts the festival.

“I think, overall, it’s achieving its goals,” Gardner said. “We may want to take a look at a little bit of amendment […]    

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