All photos by Emma Bormet (EB Photography).
In my Pitchfork Music Festival recap I briefly talked about my love-hate relationship with festivals. The hordes of obnoxious people, hipsters, and the general over commercialization of something that’s supposed to be natural and organic such as live music, there’s plenty to complain about.
Sure it can be petty and maybe after years of live shows, I’m slowly transitioning into the next phase of growing up where more than 500 people jumping up and down at a show is 400 too many. In the festival edition of the BGM Podcast I even made it a point to skip some of the bigger festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella in favor of local events more beneficial to independent bands and local businesses.
Then there’s Riot Fest. To me it’s always been sort of a happy medium between commercial festival and local business.
Riot Fest began a little over 10 years ago as a weekend music festival spread out among a handful of legendary smaller clubs here in Chicago such as The Metro, Cobra Lounge, and The Double Door. It housed some of the best acts alternative and punk had to offer, as well as reunion shows from established artists formerly on hiatus. After expanding into a single outside location, Riot Fest began to feel just as big as some of the other nationwide festivals, but maintained a certain local appeal that keeps it grounded instead becoming somewhat of a chore to attend.
This year’s lineup not only feels like the most cohesive, but it just might be the most exciting lineup of any festival of the summer thanks to two of it’s three headliners: the always elusive and unpredictable Morrissey and the reunion millions of fans never expected, The Original Misfits!
It would be impossible to do a walkthrough of each band I saw over the weekend, but it might be easier to go by sub-genre.
Since the diverse yet direct lineup has always been part of the charm of Riot Fest.
Where most festivals pride themselves in giving concert goers a variety of genres to choose from, Riot stays focused on rock-based genres. Of course there’s exceptions to the rule, like this year’s inclusion of hip-hop acts such as Nas, and Method Man & Redman, but for the most part it’s all about guitars, live drums, and emotive vocals like a rock show from the fest’s humble beginnings.
On the garage rock front, the first set I caught was from the Nashville based guitar extravaganza, Diarrhea Planet. With power pop melodies, second to none showmanship and overwhelming sense of fun, their set was the perfect way to start the weekend. To anyone who says guitar groups are boring, I will personally buy you a ticket to a local Diarrhea Planet show and you’ll will thank me for setting you straight.
This mentality continued throughout the weekend with other high-energy rock acts young and old such as The Vandals, Tiger Army, Leftover Crack, Hard Girls and one of my favorite sets from Bleached.
Juliette Lewis & The Licks being one of them. Equal parts Joan Jett and David Lee Roth, Lewis seductively belted out rock anthems of mistreating bad boys, and over indulging in the pleasantries of the rock n’ roll lifestyle. Some write her off as a gimmick, but to me she’s rock’s best kept secret.
The same could be said for Andrew WK. Hundreds of concerts goers took turns crowd surfing and stomping along with party anthems like “Party Hard,” “It’s Time To Party,” and every other song about…well, partying. Between songs he reminded us of how important it is to stay positive no matter how hard life can be. Coming from anyone else, this positive message would sound contrived and annoying, but something about seeing so many people behaving in a positive manner, it just felt like he was completely on point.
The big winner on this front was easily The Hives.
While not having commercial relevance in America during the past decade, The Hives have stuck around doing what they do best: making the audience beg for more. After each song such as “Walk Idiot Walk” and “Hate To Say I Told You So”, frontman Pelle Almqvist heckled the audience about not having enough time to play all the songs they wanted. Whether or not the crowd was in on the joke, Almqvist had complete control over them from start to finish.
Of course there was plenty of harder edge acts throughout the 6 stages of the festival, and despite being mostly punk and alternative, those heavier bands proved to be the most explosive aspect of the whole weekend. The grunge-revivalist Citizen to the post-rock fury of Glassjaw, the sets were like being in a fist fight in the dark. Dillinger Escape Plan were definitely one of my highlights, as I just recently got into them by the suggestion of some of my B.G.M. brethren Jon, Phil, and Cody. It’s a shame they are calling it quits soon.
GWAR played one of the most entertaining sets of the festival with special blend of heavy metal and over the top theatrics.
President Obama was decapitated before Presidential hopefuls Clinton and Drumpf fought to the death as the band plowed through a handful of over-the-top anthems. Blood and entrails covered the stage and the audience thanks to the free-for-all presidential battle and DOOM-esque blood cannons. It was gross, obnoxious, and extremely entertaining! It was a nice touch to see various people throughout the day stained with blood acting as a calling card to those who attended the set.
It was also my first time seeing the Deftones perform.
Throughout the past 20 years, I’ve been a casual fan but it was only recently that I truly began to understand just how good this band really is. The layered guitars both aggressive and melodic, thick basslines that rattle every bone in your body, and Chino’s delicate-then-insane vocals all come together so perfectly, I wonder why I didn’t become a die hard sooner.
Rob Zombie took the neighboring stage right after to play White Zombie’s Astro Creep 2000 album in it’s entirety. Despite sounding more of a second rate Ministry than I remembered, it was surreal seeing and hearing this album being performed right before my very eyes. I remember buying this album as a kid based on the name alone and wearing it out the entire summer. Say what you want about the quality of his latest output, Zombie knows how to put on a spectacle of a show. Seeing this record performed live was definitely something on my bucket list, and now my life is *almost* complete.
Speaking of which, Riot Fest wouldn’t be complete without it’s healthy dose of the nostalgia.
Throughout all 3 days, I was greeted by bands I grew up listening to much like Rob Zombie. Smoking Popes, Bob Mould, Descendents, Meat Puppets, and Bad Religion performed sets that sounded like playlists of my teenage years. Despite all bands getting older, not a one of them sounded the least bit tired or as if they shouldn’t be there. Even later bands of my youth such as Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, and Motion City Soundtrack (playing their final, major show) delivered shows that had me hoarse from screaming along.
The 3 main headliners were all no stranger to nostalgia. The Flaming Lips for all intents and purposes, put on a colorful, LSD inspired show of confetti, glitter and trippy enlightenment that just seemed like a perfect way to cap off day one. During a David Bowie tribute performance of “Space Oddity” I found myself getting almost emotional. If it werent for Wayne Coyne hilariously rolling around on top of the audience in a clear inflatable ball during the performance, I may have broken down in tears with the sentimentality of the whole thing.
During the second day, there was an overwhelming sense of mystery clouding the festival when people spoke of the scheduled performance of Morrissey .
There were plenty of rumors of his strange demands like having the vendors stop cooking meat past 7pm, security to wear dark blue shirts instead of the usual neon blue, and the near-impossible demand of having every trash can emptied before he took stage. These demands were neither confirmed nor denied but everyone wondered if he’d even take the stage at all. After nearly 40 minutes past his call time, most of the attendees felt the inevitable was happening. Morrissey wasn’t going to show, but before everyone came close to bailing, he burst on the stage with no excuses.
His set was mostly obscure album cuts and b-sides (and only one Smiths song that closed the set) but he performed each song with so much poise and conviction, we nearly forgot how mad at him we were for being late. Between songs he sneered about politics from both America and abroad and even made time to endorse Bernie Sanders, even though it’s too late. It was an interesting show to say the least.
I couldn’t wait for the main event which the reunion of The Misfits.
The entire festival was almost at their wits end waiting for the curtain to drop revealing the lineup we’ve dreamed about for years. When the first notes of “Death Comes Ripping” came from Glenn, Doyle, Jerry (and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo on drums) everyone nearly lost their minds! With so many people rushing the stage, I felt as if I had to focus on the band, just so I wouldn’t have a panic attack thinking about the thousands of people pushing me forward.
Jerry Only held his own with his growling bass and perfect backing vocals. Doyle stayed completely straight faced while ripping through the classic simple riffs, and sometimes punching his guitar like a lunatic, while Danzig performed songs we all thought would never happen! It was obvious his between-song banter was just an excuse to catch his breath, and we also full on understand these guys aren’t young anymore, but it didn’t stop them from giving it their all. Most importantly it didn’t stop us from enjoying every second!
There were times where I wondered who was having more fun, us or them.
Each song has evolved into something more akin to metal than punk, and in a lot of ways could be seen as sort of a metaphor for us fans. We know The Misfits weren’t the greatest musicians or song writers, but there was always something about them we were drawn to. It’s hard to relate to lyrics about being undead, or turning into martians, but it never was about relating to lyrics as much as it was being included in something bigger than ourselves. The Misfits reveled in being outcasts. Their music and attitude have been a celebration of what some deem unacceptable. The fandom is almost like an exclusive club or union with members spread out all across the country. You see someone with a Misfits t-shirt or badge and you already know you are in likeminded company.
That inclusiveness is the same thing I find appealing about Riot Fest in itself.
There’s plenty of musical diversity among the bands on the bill, but at the same there’s nothing too out of the ordinary for me feel out of place or uncomfortable. It’s a festival where I get to see some of my favorite bands like The Hives, or Bleached, bigger acts I don’t get to see very often like Rob Zombie, or Deftones, smaller acts I’ve never really listened to like Microwave or Turnover, as well as miracles like Morrissey and The Misfits. All of these fans aren’t too far from each other in terms of open mindedness. It’s a festival where the biggest problem isn’t metal fans feuding with hip-hop fans, it’s a festival where the biggest problem is deciding on who’s set I’m gonna have to cut short in order to see another I may never get to see again.
It can be argued that Riot Fest is a festival for people who hate what the bigger festivals have become and in that sense, it’s my festival. It’s our festival.
More Riot Fest Photos in the Slideshow Below.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.