I’m not gonna lie. I was a little apprehensive prior to attending to Riot Fest last weekend. The punk/hard rock festival, which took place at Humboldt Park in Chicago’s West Side, had a lineup filled with familiar names but not necessarily acts that I was dying to see.
The predictable highlight for me would be Rise Against, who closed out Saturday night’s bill. But all of the other bands I expected to see didn’t exactly excite me.
As it turned out, I actually enjoyed myself for the most part and came away with a newfound respect for a couple of acts.
Here are highlights and lowlights from my weekend:
As a fan of the band for the past eight years, and after seeing them in person thrice already, I finally got to see Rise Against play in their hometown. The closest I had come before was seeing them in Detroit about four years ago, but I knew that seeing them just a few miles from where they got their start would be special.
Here’s the opener, “Help Is On the Way”:
It was clear from the onset, as the sides of the stage overflowed with friends and family, that this show would be special for the band members as well. Lead singer Tim McIlrath noted as much several times throughout the set. And the songs also reflected the setting.
In addition to dedicating the second song, “Re-Education Through Labor”, to all of Chicago’s striking teachers, the band played a number of songs from its earlier days. Bypassing their more recent hits that protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the setlist leaned more toward the members’ activist roots.
During the first song of the encore, McIlrath invoked his heritage again by paying tribute to a punk legend, Tony Sly. The former lead singer of No Use For a Name died on July 31, and McIlrath honored him by playing an acoustic version of the NUFAN song, “For Fiona”.
For the next song, they continued to pay homage to their heroes when they brought up a couple of dudes from The Descendents — Bill Stevenson and Milo Aukerman — to sing “Jealous Again”, a Black Flag cover.
On a sidenote, this was also the first show that I went all-out in the circle pits. Usually content to remain on the fringe, I decided to get in there with all of the young’ins and see how close I could get to the stage. By the end of the night, I’d managed to get a few feet away from reaching the security dudes. Pretty memorable accomplishment, if I do say so myself.
Before Rise Against took to the Riot Stage, they were preceded by Dropkick Murphys, a great appetizer to the main course.
While I admittedly didn’t know any of their songs, they did a great job of pumping up the crowd with their patented brand of faux-Irish punk.
Of course, everyone went apeshit when they closed it out with “Shipping Up to Boston” and a cover of AC/DC’s “TNT”.
The second time I saw Rise Against, it was in Detroit as the headliner of a four-act bill. The opener that night was The Gaslight Anthem. They were only on stage for about a half-hour, and I don’t really remember much about the set.
So I was excited to get to see them again at Riot Fest, with a longer set and a couple more albums under their belt.
They lived up to expectations, bouncing around among their three albums, including the biggest hits from their debut.
But the one thing that stood out the most to me was lead singer Brian Fallon’s humorous asides between songs. He mentioned how the previous weekend’s shows at Riot Fest Brooklyn were canceled due to inclement weather. Then he proceeded to describe how a tornado is formed: “When a high-pressure system and a low-pressure system …”
After playing another song, he briefly mentioned tornadoes again, and punctuated his explanation with, “It’s science!”
He almost mentioned how Frank Turner, another act on the bill, would’ve been doomed in a tornado, making fun of his small stature and talking about how the two of them were gonna get messed up on Advil later.
You know how bands, toward the end of their sets, will kick up the intensity a notch and the excitement in the crowd becomes palpable? Well, Gogol Bordello doesn’t differentiate between songs. They perform every one as if it was a closing number.
That opening song was actually one of the tamer performances. And don’t worry if you couldn’t understand any words there. The lead singer, Eugene Hutz, is Ukranian and sings in gibberish. I think I managed to decipher no more than 10 words during the entire set. A few of them were “purple”, “crime” and “alcohol”.
I should note that I will never voluntarily purchase or listen to this band’s music. It’s just not my cup of tea. But in that setting and on that night, it was just a great and incredibly entertaining show.
If they’re at a festival you’re attending, and you don’t have anything else to do at the time, go ahead and check them out.
When I saw that Elvis Costello & The Imposters were in the lineup, I figured that could be a fun little distraction. It turned out to be more of an annoyance than anything.
I thought I knew several of their songs, but it only seemed that way. In actuality, I only know a handful. And, unfortunately for me, the other 45 minutes of his set were filled with music I neither knew nor cared for.
I know that seems harsh, but I just don’t dig their sound that much. Sue me!
Although, they did redeem themselves a bit at the end when they played “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Also, I noticed the guy in front of me tweeting that they were the best act of the festival, by far. So, what do I know?
- An honorable mention goes to Iggy & The Stooges. They closed out the entire festival Sunday night, and I deemed this a positive as I could get a jump on everyone else by leaving early. My friends forced me to stay for a few songs, and that was more than enough. I’m sure Iggy Pop’s antics were groundbreaking and influential 40 years ago. But today, he just seems like a pathetic old man trying to hold on to something that has long since passed him by.
Most chill performances
At a festival full of circle pits and fake blood-covered Gwar fans, it was nice to have a few palate cleansers. The first act we saw upon arriving Sunday was Built To Spill. There was no need to get really close to the stage, so we just hung out on some bleachers, well away from the band, and just chilled out to the tunes.
A little while later, I ventured off by myself and ended up checking out The Jesus and Mary Chain, closer to the stage this time. They were a huge influence on a lot of contemporary bands I like, so I felt it my duty to check them out. I only recognized a few of their songs, but overall I dug their set and really need to give their catalog a proper listen one of these days.
One act that I was particularly looking forward to seeing was Frank Turner. Unfortunately, he went on in the middle of the afternoon Saturday. And during his set, my friends and I were attempting to navigate the Chicago public transit system.
We were delayed by some repairs on the L, then a bus took forever to show up, then it turned out that Humboldt Park was farther west than I realized. And, lastly, we showed up at the wrong end of the park. So, by the time we finally arrived, Turner’s set was long over.
I also wished I could’ve seen The Offspring perform. My first “favorite band” as a teenager, they played the opening night show at Congress Theater on Friday. Alas, my friends and I didn’t get into town until Saturday. I’ve seen them twice, but not in the last eight years or so. Perhaps I’ll get to see them once more before they inevitably dissolve.
Best food and drink
After showing up later than we would’ve preferred, we had some time to kill before any other interesting acts took the stage. So we headed to the food vendors to see what they were hocking. I settled on The Aberdeen Tap‘s Gator Sausage sandwich. It was out of this world. A gator-filled sausage, covered in a Cajun-smoked, bacon etouffee. I made sure to scrape out any of the sauce that had spilled into my container.
And to wash it down, I discovered Wishbone‘s Watermelon Lemonade. It’s a very simple premise — fill a cup full of watermelon slices, then pour in some lemonade. But it was so refreshing that I ended up having three cups during the weekend.
While I was apprehensive going in, I’m glad it attended Riot Fest. Whether I would ever do it again depends solely on the lineup. I don’t know if there are any other bands out there in my wheelhouse — besides Rise Against — that would headline a festival like this.