“Celebrating 15 years of not booking the bands you wanted, in the exact order you wanted, in the location you wanted, for free.” – Riot Fest Instagram
Founded in 2005 in Chicago, Riot Fest is a multi-day music festival specializing in punk, rock, alternative, metal, and hip-hop. Carnival rides, amazing food vendors, sideshow performers, and more add to the atmosphere of this independent music fest. In 2005, Riot Fest booked a multi-venue weekend of punk and rock in Chicago with bands such as Dead Kennedys, The Misfits, and The Bouncing Souls kicking things off. In 2012 Riot Fest expanded to the sunny and spacious Humboldt Park in Chicago. The festival then expanded to Toronto, Canada, and Denver, Colorado. The promoters added carnival rides, Lucha Libre, porta-potties, and much more. Riot Fest went on to last five years in Denver, and four years in Toronto. In 2016, Riot Fest went back to being a Chicago-exclusive event and moved their festival installation to Douglas Park, where it has resided since.
Spread over three days and five stages, Riot Rest 2019 featured bands like Blink-182, Dashboard Confessional, Neck Deep, Jawbreaker, The Flaming Lips, Violent Femmes, Descendents, Rancid, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Rise Against, Bloc Party, Wu-Tang Clan, Andrew WK, Patti Smith, Bikini Kill, The Raconteurs, Ride, Ween, The B-52s, Guided By Voices and The Village People. Fans getting in on early ticket sales could get daily tickets for 39 dollars a day, which is a total bargain considering that you couldn’t see the headliners alone for that price. More than 80,000 festival-goers attended the three-day event that went from noon through to about 10:30 pm both days.
We came, we saw, we moshed, we noshed. In celebration of fifteen years of Riot Fest, here are fifteen things we learned at this year’s edition of the festival:
Check out Mike Bax’s gallery of actions shots from Day 1:
01. A Headlining Band is Free of Both Genre and Time-Slot
– One of the coolest things about Riot Fest is the “No Fucks Given” attitude the organizers exude over their booking and placement of bands. One of the busiest performances of the weekend was at 2:35 pm on Sunday when The Village People performed on the Radicals Stage. The VIP Section filled to capacity and was turning patrons away. Fans were rubber-necking their way to try and get as close as possible thirty minutes before the performance even started. Hell, fans were actually moshing during “Macho Man” and “YMCA.” The photo-pit was equally tough to get into, with three waves of 30 people allowed into the photography pit to photograph a single song per wave.
The same thing happened when The B-52s performed on that very stage two and a half hours later. On Saturday, Rise Against, Manchester Orchestra, Wu-Tang Clan and Andrew W.K. all went on at around the same time, just before Slayer and Bloc Party went off against each other on opposing stages. At Riot Fest, it’s not a contest of popularity or anything like that; you just have a lot of options. The more adventurous fans were walking around, checking out a bit of material from all of the acts performing throughout all three days. This is truly a part of the Riot Fest charm.
02. Slayer Reigns Supreme
– How do you articulate the massive hole there will be in the metal community at the end of this year when Slayer wrap up their legendary career? With this performance marking the final Slayer performance in Chicago, fans turned out in droves for one last mosh as the legacy thrash group tore through some of their finest material. The amount of pyro blasted off as the four members of Slayer laid waste to the Chicago crowd was utterly epic. A truly ultimate ending to the second evening of Riot Fest.
Get acquainted with Riot Fest founder Killer Mike as he answers fifteen questions about the festival:
03. Heavy Metal Takes Over Day 2
– The Riot Stage was a complete celebration of metal on Saturday, featuring The Hu, GWAR, Testament, Anthrax, and Slayer. The Hu boggled minds with their blend of heavy metal and traditional Mongolian throat singing. GWAR (quite literally) bathed Chicago in blood. Testament blew everyone’s minds with some of their classic material, some of which is now almost 40 years old. Anthrax polled their fans in advance of their performance on which songs to perform. They came out on stage in customized Chicago jerseys and teased the audience with a killer snippet of “Cowboys From Hell” by Pantera before dropping an hour-long set of their very best material. And then we got ninety minutes of Slayer to cap off Saturday in a way that only Slayer is capable of. “World Painted Blood” indeed!
04. Full Albums Are Amazing
– A signature theme at Riot Fest is an ongoing invitation for bands to perform classic albums in entirety. This year was no exception. Check out some of these epic sets:
– Dashboard Confessional performed The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most
– Blink-182 performed Enema Of The State
– The Flaming Lips performed Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
– Senses Fail performed Let It Enfold You and From the Depths of Dreams on two stages on two separate days
– Glassjaw performed Worship & Tribute
– Bloc Party performed Silent Alarm
– The Selecter performed Too Much Pressure
– Against Me! performed Reinventing Axl Rose and Transgender Dysphoria Blues
– Taking Back Sunday performed Louder Now and “Tell All Your Friends
– Ween performed The Mollusk
Check out Mike Bax’s gallery of actions shots from Day 2:
05. Satisfaction Could Be Found on All Five Stages
– Two of the best performances we caught over the weekend were on the more intimate Rebel stage. Mat Kerekes and The Damned Things both dropped amazing sets on Friday and Saturday. Mat Kerekes’s straight-up rock n’ roll approach easily won over patrons who came to check out the Rebel stage as the band was performing. The Damned Things are an American rock supergroup consisting of Fall Out Boy’s Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley, Anthrax’s Scott Ian, Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, and Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano. Performing material from Ironiclast (2010) and High Crimes (2019), The Damned Things tore up the Rebel stage in the forty minutes they performed. On names alone, the band can be called a supergroup. The Damned Things happen to make damn good music, and that was all too apparent as they performed. Scott Ian quite literally had time to towel off, drink some water, don his Chicago jersey and then walk out on the Riot Stage with Anthrax. Both of these bands topped my list of the best sets of the weekend.
06. Eat It Up!
– This year’s edition saw the return of the Riot Fest Food Garden. More than 50 food vendors were onsite at the fest this year to help satisfy attendees cravings for delicious food. All of the food vendors were segregated together to the left of the Rise Stage. Fans could order food and take it away a-la-carte as they made their way to see their next band. These vendors offered a wide array of choices, including vegetarian and vegan options for the more selective appetites onsite.
To get fans hyped for this year’s edition of the festival, this was a recap video recently posted highlighting key moments that occurred at Riot Fest 2018:
07. VIP at Riot Fest Equals an Unparalleled Deluxe Experience
– For fans willing to spend the extra money for a VIP experience over the weekend, they got treated to an ultimate Riot Fest experience. Fans could buy VIP, Deluxe, or Ultimate tickets for the weekend, depending on how much money they wanted to spend. For fans who bought the Ultimate Riot Fest package, on top of all the goodies included with VIP and Deluxe tickets, fans could kick back in an air-conditioned cabana with an elevated view of the Riot Stage. Gourmet meals and snacks were served all day, along with a stocked fridge and a private bartender.
The weekend breakdown of tickets looked like this:
GA passes include:
✶ Entry into the festival grounds
✶ 90+ performances across 5 stages over 3 days
✶ 14 full album performances over 3 days
✶ Variety of food and drink vendor
VIP passes score you the following:
✶ Unlimited Fest Re-Entry
✶ VIP Gate Access
✶ 5 Beverage Tickets (*3-day VIP only)
✶ Unlimited VIP Area Access
✶ Private Bar
✶ Private Restrooms
✶ Private Locker Rentals (Available for Purchase)
Deluxe passes grant you the following:
✶ Viewing Areas at Main Stages
✶ Complimentary Open Bar
✶ Air-Conditioned Restrooms
✶ Plush, Cozy, Shaded Lounge
✶ Complimentary Gourmet Snacks
✶ Cell Phone Charging Area
✶ Free Wi-Fi
✶ Personal Guest Services
✶ Private Lockers (Available for Purchase)
On top of all VIP and Deluxe amenities, Ultimate passes provide you with the following:
✶ Secured, Air-Conditioned Cabana Exclusive to Ultimate
✶ Holds up to 25 people
✶ Patio with Unobstructed, Elevated View of the Riot Stage
✶ Fully-Stocked, All-Inclusive Private Bar (with Bartender)!
✶ Gourmet Meals and Snacks Provided Throughout the Day
✶ Personal Concierge Service
✶ Comfortable, Upscale Seating
✶ Private Restrooms with A/C
✶ Private Lockers in Deluxe Area (Available for Purchase)
Check out Mike Bax’s gallery of actions shots from Day 3:
08. Riot Fest Throws a Good Party
– Just ask Andrew W.K.!! Back for his eighth Chicago Riot Fest, Andrew told the crowd, “There’s no better party on the face of the earth than the one we are at right now!” I got wetter (see what I did there?) at Andrew’s performance than I did at GWAR; but it was beer, not blood, that soaked me down. Patrons were spinning around their beer cans like dervishes throughout Andrew’s performance. It should also be said that as much as Andrew loves Riot Fest, Riot Fest must also love Andrew. His performances are always more amped up when he’s playing Riot Fest. I’ve seen him a half dozen times now in assorted locales. I love him most at Riot Fest, where his energetic performance and contagious smile work me over like a musical aphrodisiac. I’m schooled now, two Andrew W.K. Riot Fest experiences, and I’m hoping for many more; they rule!
09. If You Want Blood, You’ve Got GWAR!!!
– Somebody in the photography pit cracked off a line something like, “Well, now we know who the real photographers are.” I chuckled and looked at the photographers, security workers, and the pit crew all zipping their phones into ziplock bags, wrapping cameras up in plastic bags and donning disposable rain gear in anticipation of the oncoming bloodbath. Does that make us real photographers, or just real stupid? It only took GWAR thirty seconds before one of the characters on stage was struck with a rubber blade, and blood began to spray all over the patrons in the crowd and everyone in the photo-pit. A messy alien childbirth took place soon afterward, offering another bloodbath from both the mother and child-spawn before photographers were being hustled out of the pit, most of them utterly drenched in GWAR-blood. And so it continued, until the signature set-ending GWAR cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It” heralded the end of their set, but not before the band completely hosed down the audience in gore.
10. The World’s Best American Band Does It Again
– White Reaper is soooo bloody good. The Kentucky five-piece band performed at 1:40 pm on the Roots Stage and clipped their way through a bevy of their repertoire of two to three-minute songs, cherry-picking material from White Reaper Does It Again, The World’s Best American Band and their upcoming new album You Deserve Love (October 18th, 2019). They may look like kids, but they kick total butt in the rock ‘n roll department, I can assure you of that. Hearing “Make Me Wanna Die” in the blistering sun was just about the best thing ever. How Tony Esposito managed to keep that striped sweater on while he played is beyond me. It was sweltering hot in that sun.
And how about another hype video to get you really jealous if you missed this year’s festival?
11. Riot Fest 2019 Included a Ticket to Ride
– The biggest draw at Riot Fest for me this year was Oxford-based four-piece band Ride. Revered amongst shoegazers as one of the pioneering bands in the genre, the band members strode out upon the Roots Stage following White Reaper’s set and blew everyone’s minds in a completely different fashion than White Reaper. Defunct from 1996-2016, Ride reformed for a year of tour dates and put out a wonderful 2017 album Weather Diaries. After a comical April Fool’s posting earlier this year, Ride announced another new album This Is Not a Safe Place, which saw release in mid-August. Ride’s sublime orchestrations of material that fall somewhere between the categories pop and space-rock went down exceptionally well Sunday afternoon. The new material from This Is Not a Safe Place sounded exceptionally strong amidst their older nuggets. “Leave Them All Behind” was so damn epic, I might have wiped a tear from my eye as it was being played. It could have been the sunscreen I had on getting into my eyes, but I suspect not.
12. Chicago gets one last look at the B-52s
– Forty years after their amazing 1979 self-titled debut album made its mark upon the world, Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Keith Strickland are wrapping things up for the B-52s. The Athens, Georgia new wave band remains unparalleled in their unique approach to making music along with their eclectic style and stage presentation. The lovely Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson were both sporting their respective bee-hive hairdos, as the band worked their way through songs like “Planet Claire,” “Private Idaho,” “Roam,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “Rock Lobster,” and “Love Shack (with a bonus “Low Rider” snippet by War). Much like the Village People, who performed earlier before them, the Radicals stage was utterly mobbed for The B-52s, and the band didn’t disappoint.
13. Local bands can Riot with the best of them
– Chicago post-punk, no wave, noise Chicago band Ganser played the Radicals stage at 12:25 pm on Sunday. Full disclosure: before this weekend, I hadn’t heard of them. Their publicist sent me a note to ‘keep them on my radar’ for the weekend. For me (and I would hope the same for a bunch of festival attendees) the opportunity to learn a thing or two about bands I know nothing about is one of the main reasons I enjoy attending festivals. It really only took a couple of songs for me to realize that Ganser is a great band. Alicia Gaines and Nadia Garofalo interestingly mix their two vocal styles, that’s the first thing that works well for Ganser. But once Nadia picked up a mic and started moving about the stage singing while Charlie Landsman built some feedback into his mix, Ganser clicked for me. They are a cool four-piece band that is riffing on an old sound in a modern fashion.
The Village People Live – “YMCA Wall Of Death.” Yep, you read that right….
14. I want to Hug The Struts
– It’s true, I do. Luke Spiller, Adam Slack, Jed Elliott, and Gethin Davies are doing everything I love most about rock ‘n roll, and I want to wrap my arms around them and thank them for doing so. With absolute swagger and splendor, The Struts embody all of the best parts of 1970s glam rock and put it forward with their exciting take on modern songwriting. Vocalist Luke Spiller even wears cool clothing designed for him by Zandra Rhodes (who once dressed Freddie Mercury). While one can’t ever truly be compared to Freddy Mercury, Spiller can come pretty close, as he’s proven numerous times over two albums. Adam Slack and Jed Elliott are both killer guitarists, and drummer Gethin Davies is a total beast on the kit. Young and Dangerous indeed, The Struts are just getting started. Their repeated opening slots for bands like Guns N’ Roses, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Foo Fighters is only going to cement the deal.
15. IDKHow Nobody Likes The Opening Band
– At 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday, Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman walked onto the Riot Fest main stage. They performed “Nobody Likes The Opening Band” to a crowd of onlookers who likely didn’t know whether the song was even real or not. It could easily be a humourous statement about taking the main stage three bands before Blink-182 after all. While that track isn’t on their debut five-song EP, the material they performed for the rest of their set can indeed be found on their EP. “Choke,” “Social Climb,” “Bleed Magic,” “Absinthe,” and “Do It All The Time” all went over exceptionally well with the audience. The addition of tracks like “Debra” (Beck cover), “Iggy Pop” (Hot IQs cover), and “Bike Ride” (The Brobecks cover) rounded out a fantastic set by an up-and-coming band making some of the most exciting indie music out there at the moment. Weekes hinted at a full-length release in early 2020, so put that into your calendars and start rubbing those hands together in anticipation.
– This fifteenth edition of Riot Fest illustrated once again that a festival curated around diversified music is both sustainable and popular. Every year, the lineup offers a wide selection of international acts, many performing the festival as their first North American shows. This year, a cool Australian band called Yours Truly played for the first time at Riot Fest, and they totally ruled. They are continuing on with Senses Fail in the U.S. for a bit, and hopefully will come back for more touring in 2020.