Riot Fest, 2015

For its inaugural year in Douglas Park, Riot Fest continued to grow and expand, while still retaining its formula of legacy acts mixed with eclectic and emerging artists. Despite the change of location, Riot Fest felt right at home in its new digs, taking advantage of an open layout that made for easy navigation from one stage to another. There was a little rain and a fair amount of mud, but those that weren’t deterred by the elements were treated to a surplus of memorable sets from a genuinely diverse collection of bands. We recapped some of our favorite moments and observations from what was an eventful, action-packed weekend. Written by Jamie Ludwig, (JL) and Bill Denker, (BD). Photos by Katie Hovland.

Album Sets:

Taking a cue from festivals like ATP’s “Don’t Look Back” album series, several iconic artists were invited to play their classic albums in their entirety. Done well, it’s the ultimate way to hear a record and often the only opportunity for a fan to hear certain non-single tracks played live. This year featured sets like Rancid playing And Out Come the Wolves…, Modern Life is War’s Witness, as well as a headlining (though late-starting) performance from Snoop Dogg, playing off his classic Doggystyle LP. The album I was most excited to hear was the Dwarves’ 1990 seminal Blood, Guts, and Pussy, but my own bad timing and transit delays caused me to miss all but the last 10 or so explosive minutes that culminated in a de-jock strapping of the band’s guitarist. Some of the crowd nearest me was visibly bewildered, but really, how else was it supposed to end? Thank you, Dwarves, for keeping punk rock a little less safe for the masses after all these years, (JL).

Getting to see Rancid perform And Out Come the Wolves… in its entirety was definitely a highlight for me. I remember being 15 when that record came out and Epitaph mailing me a postcard of the album cover with the release date on it. I tacked that postcard to the bulletin board in my bedroom and literally counted down the days till its release. I bought it the day it came out and was instantly hooked by the songwriting, production and the fact that it contains 19 tracks in total, none of which are filler. When the band took the stage they quickly launched into “Maxwell Murder” and the crowd swelled forward and erupted with energy. They sounded great and were propelled by the spirited drumming of Branden Steineckert as they charged through “The 11th Hour,” “Roots Radicals,” “Time Bomb” and “Olympia WA.” Their sound was rounded-out nicely by the addition of a guest organ player, whose contributions were especially apparent on songs like “Daly City Train” and “Old Friend.” “Journey to the End of the East Bay” punctuated the entire set, as thousands sang along with each and every word. Twenty years after its release, And Out Come the Wolves… remains one of the most influential punk albums of the ‘90s. Rancid did the record proud that Saturday night, delivering one of best performances of the whole weekend, (BD).


No matter how big Riot Fest has become over the years, it still retains a grassroots, DIY atmosphere that makes it stand out from other large-scale festivals. The vibe onsite feels as if your buddies invited 100+ bands to play their backyard and everyone in the neighborhood showed up for the good times. This year, community was represented in a number of ways throughout the weekend, such as Riot Fest’s collaborations with local companies including All Rise Brewing, a strong representation of local artists on both the main and side stages, (Psalm One, White Mystery and The Lawrence Arms, to name a few) and of course, the Riot Speaks Stage, which they dedicated to furthering dialog in the punk community. This year Riot Speaks’ programming featured a roundtable discussion on the history and culture of Chicago’s punk and pop punk community dubbed, “Basement Screams.” Moderated by The Metro’s Joe Shanahan, the panel featured musicians Joe Principe, Jeff Pezzati, Daryl Wilson and Brendan Kelly, Bloodshot Records’ co-owner Nan Warshaw and former Oz venue owner Dem Hopkins, (JL).

New Digs:

Once I got the hang of the best transit routes, the trek to the city’s southwest side was well worth the time. Though enormous, the festival’s open layout made it much easier to navigate than 2014’s Humboldt Park setup, (though last year’s bad weather definitely had an impact on inter-festival traffic patterns). Likewise, it was nice to find the smaller stages pleasantly tucked in-between the trees, offering concertgoers an intimate feel despite being in a sea of tens of thousands of festival-goers. My only question was whether some were perhaps positioned a little too far off the beaten path? For people who came to the fest without much curiosity about emerging talent or specific genres, (ex. Roots) I’m not sure there was much incentive to stray far from the “Big Four” main stages, (JL).

Much was said about Riot Fest’s move to Douglas Park beforehand, but once the fest got underway those discussions were quickly silenced. The new location proved to be both expansive and easily accessible from the El train, and in almost every way a definite upgrade from the site of last year’s Riot Fest in Humboldt Park. Having the main stages grouped together was certainly convenient, despite the occasional sound bleed. One of the smaller stages though, the Roots Stage on the northern end, sounded great and was a nice escape for those wanting to take a break from the massive crowds. Local touches from All Rise Brewing and Taco In A Bag were welcomed additions, while the fare at Reggie’s, longtime Riot Fest partner, did not disappoint. For its opening year, Douglas Park provided more than the necessary amenities and will hopefully serve as Riot Fest’s home for years to come, (BD).


From the late-1980s through the end of last century, the four-piece of Donita Sparks, Jennifer Finch, Suzi Gardner and Dee Plakas, (a Chicago native) collectively known as L7, was one of the hardest-rocking (and wittiest) bands around. Though they’d been on hiatus for over a decade before reforming last year, their performance on the Rock Stage Sunday evening was so flawless it was easy to forget they’d ever been away. The group barreled through its set of classic tracks like “Shitlist” and “Wargasm,” with riffs and energy to spare while treating the crowd to their athletic showmanship and characteristically “L7” brand of stage banter, (“Blow their fucking heads off, blast off their balls and titties — in a nice way,” quipped Sparks at one point, regarding the volume). When all was said and done, it seemed like too much fun to be over so soon, which is probably the best thing you can say about any performance on the last night of a weekend-long festival, (JL).


Having never seen Lifetime live before, their set was one that I was looking forward to most of all at Riot Fest. They took the stage around 1:00 PM Saturday under sunny skies and in front of a sizable crowd for that early in the day. The band offered little banter before blasting into “Turnpike Gates,” the first song off their fantastic album Jersey’s Best Dancers. Singer Ari Katz sounded spot-on and guitarist Dan Yemin bounced around with reckless abandon as the crowd sang along and pumped their fists in the air. It was followed by “Airport Monday Morning,” one of the catchiest and most memorable tracks off their self-titled record. Other highlights included “Rodeo Clown,” “Francie Nolan,” “Northbound Breakdown” and “25 Cent Giraffes.” Lifetime did an impressive job of equally representing all three of their albums in a relatively brief set that managed to span 13 songs. They definitely left the crowd wanting more, in the best possible way, and with any luck they’ll return to Chicago before long, (BD).


While their Riot Fest performance wasn’t one of the strongest I’ve seen from the legendary metal trio, the sheer fact that they made it to Chicago and through their entire set after nearly a week of cancelled shows due to frontman/bassist Lemmy Kilmister’s ill health, made it memorable in its own right. Starting things off with their familiar tagline/warning, “We are Motorhead. And we play rock ‘n’ roll,” the group played a mix of classic tracks and new material off of its recently-released LP, Bad Magic. During the second half of the set it started to become clear how much Lemmy was struggling with his vocals, but the band held on tight, and following their encore of “Overkill,” the three looked victorious as they took their bow and threw their picks and sticks out to the audience. Here’s one to your health, Lemmy! (JL).


It had been about 15 years since I last saw Sweden’s Millencolin when they played the Metro in support of their classic record Pennybridge Pioneers. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to check them out, especially after the release of their outstanding new album earlier this year, True Brew. They opened with the first song from that release, “Egocentric Man,” and the crowd response was exceptionally positive to the new material. Their next five songs were comprised of tracks from their first three records, all of which built to a rendition of “Bullion,” the first song off their debut album. As soon as the opening riff rang out, their fans pretty much lost their collective minds and didn’t stop moving for the duration of the performance. They closed with two additional songs from Pennybridge Pioneers, “Penguins & Polarbears” and “Fox,” both of which seemed to garner the largest response from what was one of the afternoon’s biggest audiences. Millencolin’s set was over far too soon and as the band left the stage they promised they’d be back in Chicago shortly. Here’s to hoping they make good on their word, (BD).

Drive Like Jehu:

Drive Like Jehu guitarist John Reis is one of the only (if not the only?) musician to have played Riot Fest three years running in three different, but equally beloved bands. 2013 brought the reunion of his rock ‘n’ roll big band, Rocket From the Crypt, and in 2014 he was back with the high-energy post-punk combo Hot Snakes, (alongside Jehu frontman Rick Froberg). Each new edition of this “Riot Fest trilogy” has been among the best of its respective festival season and Saturday’s performance from Drive Like Jehu was no exception. Taking to the Rock Stage just before the sun went down over the Ferris wheel, the band expertly plowed through its discordant, experimental hardcore and pretty much blew everyone else away, (JL).

The Lawrence Arms:

The Lawrence Arms walked onstage and immediately received a warm hometown reception from the crowd. Over the years, this trio of musicians has become quite adept at performing live, and that makes sense as they’ve been at it for 16 years now. The band was in top form throughout their set, opening with “Great Lakes/Great Escapes” from their 2006 album Oh! Calcutta! It was followed by two b-sides before they played fan favorite “The Slowest Drink…” from their infamously-titled 7”, Buttsweat and Tears. It wasn’t until almost midway through that they got to a song off their latest record, Metropole, but after an outstanding rendition of “Beautiful Things,” it was well worth the wait. “Like a Record Player” and “100 Resolutions” both elicited huge responses before they wrapped things up with a soaring version of “Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God.” Those that were unfortunate enough to miss the Lawrence Arms at Riot Fest will soon have another chance, as they recently announced three consecutive shows at Double Door in early December, (BD).

Babes in Toyland:

Babes in Toyland were by far the heaviest and rawest band on a day where Iggy Pop was the headliner. The trio had reformed earlier this year following a nearly two-decade hiatus, and for many at Riot Fest, their Saturday afternoon set was one of the most anticipated of the weekend. We’ll bring you the full scoop in our interview with Babes in Toyland, which will appear on Jaded In Chicago soon, (JL).


At a festival where the majority of artists on the bill have roots in some type of outsider musical tradition or other, be it punk, or hip hop, or roots, San Diego’s self-proclaimed “Cholo goth” duo Prayers managed to stand out as both the weirdest kids on the playground and also the edgiest. Clad in black, the band came across almost as if it had been magically transported out of a grimy basement noise show into Douglas Park, as frontman Rafael Reyes assailed the audience with his unique half-cry/half-yell vocal style and cryptic lyrics, (ex. “I’m not afraid of dying and my worst fear is living”) over Dave Parley’s dark, minimalist beats. The set closed out Prayers’ national tour in support of their recently released album, Young Gods, but if they were road-weary from their travels, it certainly didn’t show, (JL).

Spanning three full days and over 130 acts, this year’s Riot Fest was all-encompassing if nothing else. The continued diversification of the lineup has amounted to a winning formula that’s simply made this festival more interesting than a lot of its competitors. There was a stronger (and welcomed) hip-hop presence than ever before, while legendary artists like Merle Haggard and Iggy Pop provided can’t-miss sets. Those who got there early each day were treated to an assortment of up-and-coming bands, and plenty of Riot Fest veterans like 88 Fingers Louie, Alkaline Trio and Less Than Jake delivered noteworthy performances. Not much is certain in terms of what to expect next year, but rest assured that the Riot Fest crew will offer a varied lineup and will continue to develop their new home in Douglas Park.