Tag Archives: Riot Fest

Riot Fest 2019: Do You Realize??

Big music festivals might not be the ideal way to experience music you’ve never heard before, but from a quantity perspective it’s hard to beat. I figure I saw 30 bands at Riot Fest this year, and of those, I had previously never listened to 13 of them. And that’s what makes a fest so compelling for music fans: there’s the potential to stumble across your new favorite band on the way to the taco truck.

Of course, the odds of that happening depend a great deal on the fest(s) you attend. Glorious Noise covered Lollapalooza from the time it settled in Chicago in 2005 all the way through 2016, when it expanded to four days and gave up any semblance of quality control. We’ve been going to Riot Fest since then. What makes this fest unique is in a world where everybody listens to everything on shuffle and even the fluffiest of mainstream pop is given critical acclaim, Riot Fest has stuck with its original idea of showcasing punk rock bands.

For fifteen years!

Their definition of punk has expanded its umbrella beyond old school hardcore to make room for some hip-hop, reggae, and jangly indie pop as well as founding fathers of rock and roll like Jerry Lee Lewis and, yes, even the Village People. But the focus has always been consistent and if you still prefer guitar bands, there’s really no other fest that compares. I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about Riot Fest booking Ariana Grande anytime soon. Better find a focus or you’re out of the picture…

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Riot Fest 2019 Lineup

How cool will it be to see both Slayer and the Village People at the same festival? And why not? Don’t be uptight. Have fun, bang your head, and shake your ass.

Riot Fest continues to be the only major music festival that cultivates a unique identity. Why other fests have fully embraced the idea of taking everything popular on Spotify and playing it on shuffle, Riot Fest continues to attempt a bit of discretion and taste.

Punk rock is a big ass tree trunk and Riot Fest seems to take a perverse pleasure in pursuing all the different branches and roots, going as far out on the limbs as they can manage while still staying true to their mission.

What do the Village People have to do with punk rock (or anything, really) in 2019? Well consider, as my homegirl Samorama pointed out, that it’s the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, when Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl encouraged a bunch of fun hating rednecks to destroy all their records that appealed to black folks, women, gay dudes, and other groovy people who like to dance. While punk indeed has its own history of racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s pretty radical for Riot Fest to book the ultimate disco band.

Along with Slayer and the Village People, my personal must-see list this year includes Bikini Kill, the Raconteurs, Flaming Lips, Patti Smith, Rancid, Descendents, B-52s, Anthrax, Bob Mould, Guided by Voices, Nick Lowe, Sincere Engineer, Skating Polly. And of course Andrew W.K. and GWAR are always fun.

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Riot Fest 2018: Whole Lotta Shakin’

I’ve been attending big music festivals in Chicago every summer since 2005, but it’s been many many years since I arrived anywhere near early enough to see the opening wave of bands. There’s always bands I’d kinda like to see who play before 2:30pm but 3-day music festivals are work and you have to make sacrifices for your health and sanity.

Riot Fest scheduled Liz Phair to play at 2:10 on Friday this year. That’s early. Especially for a Friday. And even more so since I no longer live in Chicago. But I love Liz Phair, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen her in concert. In fact, I had tickets to see her in Detroit on Thursday but once the Riot Fest lineup was released, I decided to skip it. But that made it mandatory to arrive in Douglas Park in time.

I didn’t need to worry. Getting in to the park this year was easier than ever before. In fact, we made it inside with plenty of time to see festival opener Speedy Ortiz, who coincidentally is opening up for Liz Phair on her current tour. They were fun and cool. And their 30-minute set flew by.

The best thing about Riot Fest is that it’s got a small enough footprint that you can run around from stage to stage in no time. Five or ten minutes is all you need to get from one to the another. Unfortunately, this also means there’s soundbleed from other bands if you’re not standing directly in front of the stage. But it’s great to be able to skip around and get a sampler platter of everything that’s happening.

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Riot Fest: The Music Fest for Grownups

It’s not easy being a grownup music fan. And the older you get, the harder (and weirder) it becomes. Your peers (i.e., your neighbors and your kids’ friends’ parents) can’t even pretend to understand why you’d choose to stand outside in the dirt for three days and listen to bands nobody’s ever heard of. And it is impossible to justify. I love music fests, and yet even the greatest sets I’ve experienced would’ve been way better in a dark club or theater.

So what’s a middle-aged music fan to do? (Actually, let’s not say “middle-aged.” Let’s say “mid-century modern.”)

Here’s what: go to Riot Fest. They book a lot of bands that prominently feature guitars. That might seem quaint or old-fashioned, but if that’s your thing then Riot Fest is pretty much the only game in town.

Yesterday, they announced the “first wave” of the 2018 lineup. There’s a ton of good stuff. I’m especially excited to see Beck, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liz Phair, Cat Power, Johnny Marr, Superchunk, Speedy Ortiz, Bully, and the Bombpops, but there’s way more that I’m interested in checking out.

One disappointing thing: by my count only 14 of the 82 acts announced so far (17%) are fronted by women. That’s worse than both Lollapalooza (38 of 183; 21%) and Coachella (56 of 166; 33%). Seems like they could do better than that these days when all of the most exciting new guitar music is being made by girls. Maybe next year…

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Riot Fest 2017: No Dicks on the Dancefloor

Riot Fest once again proved itself to be the music fest for grownups. Grownups in black t-shirts.

While all the other big festivals rotate the same dozen headliners, it’s great that Riot Fest has retained its punk rock focus. Maybe not as strictly as during its first several years as a multi-venue festival, but most of the performers still fall somewhere along the punk rock spectrum. And even the ones who don’t play distorted guitars could be said to have a punk rock attitude. Gotta respect that.

Riot Fest sometimes gets accused of cashing in on nostalgia. Sure, a lot of the bands peaked 20 or 30 years ago (or more). But the fact that they’re still around and kicking ass is a testament not only to their survival but to our own. We should all hope we age as gracefully as the most of these artists (Al Jourgensen excepted).

Headliners this year were Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, and a reunited Jawbreaker, playing their first full show in 21 years (other than a couple warm up gigs around San Francisco last month). The headliners get the big font on the poster, but fest diehards know that the undercard is always where the action is.

It was hot and sunny when we got to the park on Friday. You never know what you’re going to get in September in Chicago, but you can usually count on at least some rain. The line to get in was down the block and security was being thorough. I heard one guy complaining that they had opened his cardboard cigarette case the wrong way and wrecked it. A woman behind me was worried she was going to miss X, who she had last seen in 1983 with the Replacements opening up for them! Don’t worry, she made it in with time to spare.

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Riot Fest 2016: I Remember Halloween

I was never a punk. In high school I was a trendy little femme who liked the Smiths and sixties music. Duckie was my fashion icon. The only punk rock I listened to was the Dead Milkmen.

The king of the punks at my school was a senior named Alex who came to class one morning with perfectly spiked hair. Multiple four-inch spikes of Ziggy-red hair held up with egg whites or Elmer’s or some other gravity defying concoction. While he was walking down the hall some big dumb jock took a donut and placed it on one of those epic spikes.

Alex left the donut on his head for the rest of the day.

To me, that epitomizes punk rock. You make a personal statement that goes against the grain, you get hassled for it, but ultimately you subvert that mockery by reclaiming it and making it your own.

I didn’t see any donuts at Riot Fest this year but there was no shortage of that same punk rock attitude.

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