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Riot Fest @ Douglas Park (Chicago, IL) on September 14-16, 2018 [Show Review & Photos]

Am I ready to Riot? Well let’s certainly hope so, as I headed to one of the best known and best run Chicago music fests – Riot Fest. This marks the 14th year of this fest in my hometown of Chicago.



Am I ready to Riot? Well let’s certainly hope so, as my hubby and I headed to one of the best known and best run Chicago music fests – Riot Fest. This marks the 14th year of the fest in my hometown of Chicago. I was a bit skeptical with this year’s lineup and the cancelation of Blink 182. Negative social media had caused quite a stir, with people wondering if it was going to be cancelled. But, being the troopers they are, the Riot staff pulled shit together and assured attendees that this year was happening.

Now, this year’s lineup may not have been your favourite or filled with the headliners you’re used to, but having gone all three days, let me tell you the bands busted their asses, especially on Sunday when temperature was well into 90’s. Please tell me where else you can see (at one location) Blondie, Lee Ving, Elvis Costello, and Jerry Lee Lewis, – all groundbreakers in the punk and rock genres.

Upon arrival, I recounted to the hubby, that the vibe felt a little slow to start. The crowd didn’t seem to have the usual punk rock energy, but more of a low-key, folk, indie feel. The crowds were less packed, with much less constant bumping into other humans.
The fest has five stages all within walking distance of each other, and you will be hustling between stages to catch performances. Liz Phair was one of the first to go on Friday. Her voice is one of those crystal clear, pure sounds that carries across crowds like a soft breeze. She put on a killer set starting with “Supernova” and concluding with “Divorce Song”.

Check out John Lally’s gallery of Day 1 of Riot Fest 2018.

I have wanted to catch Pussy Riot, as I missed them last time they did Riot Fest, so I hustled my ass over to them. Like many bands throughout time, Pussy Riot uses their music as a platform to deliver their political message. Don’t like your music preachy or political? Skip them, Clutch, and Suicidal Tendencies, this weekend.

As with most festivals, one needs to make the hard choice of what acts to catch and which to not. Riot Fest runs their performances so close together it is impossible to see all bands. We caught a few numbers of Sum 41 and Flogging Molly, two of our favourites. Here were the punks and rockers, with the energy now shifting towards rambunctiousness. I guess everyone just needed to get off work, shed the corporate BS, and don those spikes. Bands that were highly recommended, and I hope to see in the future, included Matt & Kim and Bleachers.

A slight marital disagreement arose when we had to choose between Dropkick Murphys and Cypress Hill but divorce was avoided when we split the sets and saw both.

Weezer closed out the day giving a nod to the missing Blink 182 by covering their “All The Small Things”. By now I could feel the riotous energy and was hopeful that Day Two would deliver the Riot we all came for.

Peep this Riot Fest 2018 promo video for a sore reminder of what you missed.

Saturday had me sore from head to toe from yesterday’s running between stages. Determined to not punk out, I donned the riot boots again with blister protection and extra socks. Upon arrival, I could already tell today was going to be the day where all the punks and rockers came out. Spikes, studs and fishnets swam before my eyes. Riot management dangled carrots before us with GWAR, Adolescents and Killing Joke. Then toss in the mix Elvis Costello, Gary Numan and the LadyKiller Jerry Lee Lewis, balanced with more mainstream performers such as Beck and Andrew W. K. , and the festival was able to capture multiple crowd streams this year.

There were also many smaller acts that I was not familiar with, but this helped me step outside my box and listen to new performers. Mannequin Pussy is one of them. This group reminded me of the good old days when punk was all balls with no fluff. I had heard of Health from the Atomic Blonde soundtrack, so I was stoked to see them on the bill. However after just 2.5 songs, they developed technical difficulties and called it a day. If you haven’t listened to their cover of “Blue Monday”, I highly suggest it.

With the heat of the day in full effect, the crowd was decent but it really stepped it up when Gary Numan came on. While you may think of him as a one hit wonder with “Cars”, once you see him perform live, your mind will change. His music is electric, sending out a livewire of energy to the audience, creating a wave of movement and excitement. He never stands still, bouncing ‘round the stage like an eight year old on a sugar high. His band is full of talented musicians who keep up with his ass on this incredible high.

One act not to miss if you ever get chance to see her, is Cat Power. Charlyn Marshall is one of those underrated artists who should be garnering more attention than she is. Like those groundbreaking women musicians who paved their own road, Cat Power does her own thing with her sensuous, jazzy style.

Check out John Lally’s gallery of Day 2 of Riot Fest 2018.

We all know that it can be hard to decide which acts to catch, especially with around thirty bands each day. So it was tough to coordinate seeing Wolfmother, The Adolescents and Conflict (a favourite local band of mine). So it was a mad dash to catch a little of all three. Wolfmother was fantastic to see, taking us all back to the 70’s with their dirty riffs and psychedelic melodies. “Joker and Thief” is reminiscent of Deep Purple and Led Zepplin. Pop in the cassette tape and get behind the wheel of your Trans Am to go party! The only thing missing is cowbell.

Killing Joke needs no introduction. If you missed this performance, you missed something special. Being a huge metal-head, this was a highlight for me. With vocals that remind one of Lemmy, Coleman’s treacherous growl makes you look behind you for the beast stalking you to rip your heart out.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters took the stage at the same time so it was another mad dash to catch them. Costello is a consummate showman, always delivering a fantastic performance.

If you have not seen The Jesus Lizard live, then trying to explain it to one is nigh impossible. Think of the Energizer bunny on acid and X at same time, then you might have lead singer, David Yow. By now, the fest was on high energy party mode with everyone having a great time.

Jerry Lee Lewis, the ultimate “Wild One”.

Jerry Lee Lewis – what can be said here! The 82 yr old legend gave us an unforgettable, once in a lifetime show. With his finger caressing the pearly whites like familiar lovers, he treated us to some of those songs you know without realizing you do. Ones you hear all the time but now are hearing fresh from the hands that originated them. Something I never thought I’d see – crowd surfing and a circle pit (albeit a pre-organized on Reddit) was a spectacular way to welcome the Killer to Riot Fest!; modern fans enjoying his classics in their own way, letting him know his talent is timeless.

For those naysayers who claim some of these performers should hang it up, does that mean we should put you out to pasture when we feel you no longer have value? This way of thinking is pure bullshit. If an eighty-three year old Jerry Lee Lewis can step onto stage and kill it on the keys, I will be in the audience cheering him on. Music does not have an age limit!

Beck drew Saturday to a close with an incredible set with a surprise performance of “Cars” with Gary Numan. We couldn’t ask for a better close to the day. Now can we survive tomorrow?

Sunday started hot as Hades on a bender with all of us melting in the 96 degrees; the sun was ferocious as fuck, no matter which stage you were on.

Check out John Lally’s gallery of Day 3 of Riot Fest 2018.

Today, children, is Punk history day at Riot Fest. Watch closely, otherwise you may miss the punk rocker in his natural setting. Even the newer bands had the vibe befitting of the legends they were on the bill with.

Our first band of the day, Beach Goons, should have been on the beach back home in San Diego, not here melting on stage (it would have been cooler!). This young band with definite surf undertones (even though none of them surf), is still developing their style but don’t discount them. The Goons are vibrant, fun and dedicated to staying around for the long haul. There are way too many good bands to see this year, so we flipped a coin and sweated over to see SaveFace. These guys hearken back to old skool punk days with heavy, solid guitar riffs and sporadic screaming vocals, but successfully combine it with a modern 2000’s vibe.

Fear. How does one put into words seeing Lee Ving at sixty-eight singing a love song about his woman getting his breakfast? AWESOME? GNARLY? INCREDIBLE? How about, ‘Oh my fucking god!’ Ever the grumpy, go-fuck-yourself punk icon he is, Lee and his fellow Fear members don’t disappoint. No surprise this was the first band of the day many punks came for.

The Californian legends commenting on a numb society with “I Don’t Care About You”.

We continue our history lesson with the The Avengers. There is no other rendition of “Paint It Black” that can make you want to punch a wall. Penelope Houston can still belt it out, and blew us away with the entire set. Much like Wendy O’ Williams and Grace Jones, Penelope grabs you by the cojones and makes you pay attention.

How about one of the first females of punk, Blondie? If you think Blondie is just for middle age, chardonnay drinking women who love “Call Me”, then you don’t know enough about Blondie. Look her up on Wiki, etc. As one of the first ladies of punk, Blondie paved the way for many of today’s modern female punk, indie and rock vocalists. Daring to do her music her way, she refused to bow to the music industry. Ever true to herself, Blondie came out sporting a green wig, Day-Glo trimmed black outfit and white cape emblazoned with “Stop fucking the planet” across the back. There were some technical difficulties in the beginning, but they overcame and knocked it out!

For any band, following the likes of such punk icons would be tough but Alkaline Trio gave a not-to-be-missed performance. This Illinois band was true to their roots and gave us a set of great, Mid-western punk.

Bad Religion with one of their classic anthems, “American Jesus”.

Sticking to our punk roots, Bad Religion closed out the fest for us. While some may say many of these classic bands are aging and should just quit, I disagree. As my grandma used to say, I will rest when I am dead. So should these bands, and until that day, they will show those skeptics how punk should be.

Riot Fest too often gets a bad rap for being nostalgic, but this year they gave the finger to those naysayers by delivering many young and upcoming bands such as: Beach Goons, The Frights and Blood People.

As Woody Allen said: ‘A relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies’. This year, Riot Fest proved it’s a shark and will continue to give us veteran fans what we desire in the way of our favourites, while also attracting newer fans with up and coming new bands – who some of us old foggers will come to like as well. There certainly was blood in the water! Well done Riot Fest! I can’t wait to see what you give us in year 15!