Photos by Katie Hovland
The first day of Riot Fest began somewhat ominously, with cloudy skies and forecasted showers, but after a brief spell of light rain from 1:00 – 2:00 PM, the skies cleared and sunshine remained for the duration of the festival. This was a huge change from the previous two years, where heavy rains and an abundance of mud unfortunately dominated the weekends. This year’s event marked the second time that Riot Fest was held in Douglas Park, and while the grounds proved to be a very adequate space last year, the festival’s organizers did an even better job this time around of maximizing the park’s space. They managed to create an open layout that allowed for easy movement between stages and also minimized excess sound from bleeding into unintended areas. Another positive was the emphasis on local businesses, specifically the beer tents named after establishments like Liar’s Club, Double Door, Cobra Lounge and All Rise Brewing. There were also great local food options, like Reggie’s, Taco In A Bag and others. Despite Riot Fest continuing to grow markedly in size every year, it really doesn’t feel like a giant, corporate-sponsored festival and it definitely hasn’t lost sight of its roots. Loyal attendees return every September to find that the bar has once again been significantly raised and the original spirit of the event still very much intact.
Every year, you can always count on Riot Fest to introduce you to new bands and artists. Maybe you’d heard of them before but never taken the time to give them a listen, or perhaps they’re completely new to you. This year, that band was Diarrhea Planet for me. I’d heard of them previously but never checked them out, perhaps partially because of their rather interesting band name, but now I definitely regret not listening to them sooner. These Nashville boys use four guitars to create a distinctive sound that incorporates everything from arena rock to pop punk. In some ways it’s like Andrew W.K., but less cheesy, and there’s more of an emphasis on musicality, (with a surplus of Eddie Van Halen-inspired guitar solos). Their set was punctuated by several songs from their most recent album, Turn to Gold, including “Bob Dylan’s Grandma,” “Life Pass” and “Ruby Red.” I can’t wait to see these guys the next time they come through Chicago, as their set was truly one of the most fun and entertaining of the entire weekend.
Laura Stevenson and her excellent band played to a sizeable crowd at the Storyheart Stage late Friday afternoon. They sounded tight and focused as they performed their earnest brand of power pop and melodic rock. Highlights included “Torch Song” and “Jellyfish,” both of which appear on her outstanding album Cocksure, which was released last year on Don Giovanni Records. It was apparent throughout the set what a strong connection fans have with Laura and her band, as they audibly sang along with nearly every word, often pointing fingers and pumping fists. It was fairly evident too that those in attendance were witnessing something special and that the next time Laura plays Riot Fest it will hopefully be on one of the main stages, in front of a greater number of equally passionate fans.
Jimmy Eat World delivered arguably the strongest set of the day on Friday and displayed a level of musicianship that many of the other bands simply couldn’t measure up to. Their 15-song performance was packed with numerous hits, including “A Praise Chorus,” “Sweetness” and the title track from Bleed American. They also played “Work” and “Pain” off their acclaimed Futures record and made it look easy while they executed the songs flawlessly. The band then reached back to their beloved album Clarity to play “Blister” and “Lucky Denver Mint,” reminding me of the times when I was fortunate enough to see them at the Fireside Bowl and Metro. Their set drew to a close with their new single “Sure & Certain” before ending on their biggest hit, “The Middle,” sending the crowd into a predictable frenzy. Jimmy Eat World was in top form on Friday and seemed to be having a ton of fun performing songs that spanned nearly their entire career. Fans should definitely be excited about their upcoming album, Integrity Blues, which is scheduled for release this October.
Having never previously seen Swedish hardcore legends Refused before, I was definitely pumped to finally check them out live. Since reuniting in 2012, the band has done extensive touring all over the world and I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d get the opportunity to see them. Needless to say, they did not disappoint. The band performed with relentless energy and singer Dennis Lyxzen bounded around the stage like a man possessed. They of course gave the crowd what they wanted, playing multiple tracks off their landmark album The Shape of Punk to Come. They did “The Deadly Rhythm,” “Refused Are Fuckin’ Dead,” “Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine” and the title track. They also played several songs off their latest record, 2015’s Freedom, including “Elektra,” “Dawkins Christ” and “Thought Is Blood.” The new songs held their own against the older material and sounded even more energized than on recording. Before concluding their set, Lyxzen gave an impassioned speech against sexism, calling on the need for more female musicians to be included on festival bills. His words were fiery and from the heart, and received an enthusiastic applause from the massive crowd. The second his speech ended the band launched into what is by far their most popular song, “New Noise,” and fans swelled forward, shouting along to the words, crowd-surfing and throwing random objects into the air. By all accounts, Refused put on one hell of a show and didn’t disappoint, even for those who’d been waiting many years to see them.
Even the most diehard NOFX fans will admit that their shows can be fairly hit-or-miss. They’ll either spend most of their time joking around and playing songs somewhat sloppily, or their jokes will be kept to a minimum and they’ll be dialed-in, performing the songs with a great degree of accuracy. Thankfully for those in attendance Friday night, they got the latter side of NOFX. The jokes they did tell were pretty damn funny too, like frontman Fat Mike calling guitarist Eric Melvin “the Iggy Pop of NOFX.” Their set-list spanned over 20 songs and included many longtime favorites, like “Stickin’ in My Eye,” “Linoleum” and “Bob.” They also played several political songs from 2003’s The War on Errorism, “Franco Un-American” and “The Idiots Are Taking Over,” which seemed especially topical given the upcoming Presidential election. A pair of new songs was performed from their upcoming album, First Ditch Effort, both of which were well-received, as were two of their more reggae-leaning tracks, “Eat the Meek” and a cover of Rancid’s “Radio.” Their set appropriately concluded with the song “Theme From a NOFX Album” and the first day of Riot Fest drew to a close with a comprehensive, crowd-pleasing performance from one of punk’s most popular acts.
The exclusive Riot Fest Garbage Pail Kids sold-out by 1:00 PM on Friday, which was really disappointing for those hoping to grab a set. I’m not sure if only an extremely limited quantity was produced, or if collectors bought them up in bulk with hopes of selling them on eBay, but either way it was unfortunate that so many were unable to purchase this uniquely cool item.
I indulged in several Wonder Beers from the All Rise Brewing tent, which are of course inspired by Naked Raygun and their song, “Wonder Beer.” Even at $8, this light-bodied pale ale was totally worth it and definitely recommended for any craft beer enthusiast.
Chicago’s long-running melodic punk heroes led the charge on early Saturday afternoon, performing to a large crowd at the Riot Stage. They’ve always been great live band, but are seemingly getting better with time, especially with the recent return of founding drummer Mike Felumlee. They opened with the one-two punch of “Let’s Hear It for Love” and “Gotta Know Right Now,” before segueing into their brand-new song “Simmer Down.” They also played mainstays “Megan” and “Rubella,” as well as “Pure Imagination,” a cover from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory that was dedicated to Gene Wilder. Their set wrapped up with one their oldest and best songs, “Writing a Letter,” and their memorable hit from 1995, “Need You Around.” The Smoking Popes proved that they’ve absolutely still got it and did a phenomenal job of warming up the crowd for what would be a very exciting day two of Riot Fest.
Earlier this year, Motion City Soundtrack regrettably announced that they’d be breaking up. Their slot on Saturday was their second to last show ever, with their last show being the following night at Metro. To say that there was a lot of anticipation for their set on Saturday would be a huge understatement. Fans began gathering hours before their performance to get a prime spot and by the time they graced the stage, one of the largest crowds of the weekend had assembled. The band opened with the title track from their 2000 EP Back to the Beat and their fans exploded with excitement, dancing wildly and shouting every word back at singer/guitarist Justin Pierre. It was followed by “Capital H” and “Her Words Destroyed My Planet,” the latter of which being one of the standout tracks off their 2010 major label debut, My Dinosaur Life. Additional highlights included “It Had to Be You,” “This Is for Real” and “Everything Is Alright.” The band closed with “The Future Freaks Me Out,” from their debut album on Epitaph, and the subsiding feeling in the crowd was one of bittersweet euphoria. MCS has certainly had a great run, but here’s to hoping they reconsider someday and get back together.
Bob Mould certainly doesn’t require much of an introduction, as he’s enjoyed a successful career in music for over 35 years now. He began as the singer/guitarist of Husker Du in 1979, then Sugar in the ‘90s and most recently as a solo artist. What’s great about his live shows is that he routinely plays songs that span his entire catalog. He’s also got a fantastic backing band, which consists of bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster. The trio kicked off their set with three Husker Du songs in a row, “Flip Your Wig,” “Hate Paper Doll” and “I Apologize,” and those in attendance responded with roaring applause. From there they commenced with two Sugar tracks, “A Good Idea” and “Changes,” and both received an equally favorable response. Other highpoints included “The Descent” and “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” as well as arguably Sugar’s best song, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” If you haven’t seen Bob Mould live and you enjoy any of his work, do yourself a favor and get to one of his shows as soon as you can. He never disappoints and definitely delivered yet again on Saturday.
In July of this year, the Descendents released their seventh studio album and first in 12 years, Hypercaffium Spazzinate. It’s definitely one of the best records of their long and storied career, so I was beyond excited to hear them play some of the new material. I made my way towards the Rock Stage to check them out with my friend Crawfie, who was responsible for taking me to see the Descendents on my 17th birthday back in 1997. It was great getting to see one of my favorite bands with an old friend and reminiscing about our last time seeing them nearly 20 years ago. (I now feel extremely old after typing that sentence). At any rate, the Descendents played to a rabid crowd that was probably the second biggest of the whole weekend, (only behind The Misfits). Their set covered almost 30 songs, and new tracks like “Victim of Me” and “Shameless Halo” sounded great. They opened with “Everything Sux” and quickly moved on to other hits, like “Hope,” “Silly Girl,” “Clean Sheets,” “Suburban Home” and “Bikeage.” The band was tight and played with intense focus and angst. It was evident that their live show has progressed considerably since they started playing out again in 2010. Their set drew to a close with “Coolidge,” “Thank You” and “Descendents,” and there literally wasn’t anything more that fans could’ve wanted out of their outstanding performance.
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Morrissey fan, nor am I that familiar with his catalog, but I was certainly curious to check out his headlining set Saturday night and see what all the fuss was about. Morrissey of course has a lengthy history of cancelling shows, so the fact that he took the stage roughly 30 minutes late was still a significant success. He played a handful of songs that I recognized, like “Suedehead” and “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” but otherwise stuck primarily to lesser-known tracks. By and large, it was a solid performance without any extraordinary moments. With that said, the pinnacle of his set came when he concluded with “What She Said,” by his previous band The Smiths, and the crowd absolutely lost it. In the end, Morrissey played for a little over an hour and truthfully his voice sounded great. I think the fact that he showed up at all and got through a satisfactory set was enough for his devoted fans.
A special shout-out to Toronto’s Fucked Up is in order for a particularly rowdy and animated set early Saturday afternoon. Singer Damian Abraham repeatedly got in the crowd and engaged fans, seemingly upping the energy level with every song. Their set was ridiculously fun and I can’t wait to see them again the next time they come back to Chicago.
The best meal by far that I had on Saturday came from Taco In A Bag. The Lincoln Square eatery is owned by competitive eating champion Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti and I highly recommend checking out the restaurant if you haven’t already done so. For newcomers, try either the Cuban or the Norberto first.
San Francisco’s favorite street punk veterans, Swingin’ Utters, fittingly got things underway Sunday with lively set that spanned selections from across their sizable discography. One of my favorites was “Windspitting Punk,” the first track from their excellent 1996 album, A Juvenile Product of the Working Class. They also played the title track from their 1998 record, Five Lessons Learned, as well as the leadoff entry from 2011’s Here, Under Protest, “Brand New Lungs.” Singer Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel was exceptionally active throughout their performance, going back and forth with the crowd, and guitarist/singer Darius Koski put on quite the show with his intricate and impressive guitar work. We’ll have an interview with Johnny and Darius posted in the coming weeks that we did immediately following their set, so be sure to check back soon for that.
Hard Girls played to a modest crowd Sunday afternoon at the Rebel Stage that seemingly grew with each song they performed. Their fans were very enthusiastic too, repeatedly shouting out for particular songs and responding with deafening cheers when the band would grant their requests. They opened with “The Quark,” from their 2014 album on Asian Man Records, A Thousand Surfaces. They played a fantastic new song next, “Guadalupe on the Banks of the Styx,” which should give fans plenty of reason to be excited for their upcoming full-length. Another highlight was my personal favorite, “Plan,” as well as the final song they played, “Thenar Space.” If their set on Sunday was any indication, Hard Girls is a band that you’ll likely be hearing a lot about in the near future.
Me First took over the Rise Stage at 6:30 PM on Sunday and quickly got to work, belting out their comical interpretations of hit songs from yesteryear and today. They opened with “Summertime” and played “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” next, which drew a huge response from the crowd. Other noteworthy covers included “Jolene,” “Country Roads” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” They ended their 14-song set with “Over the Rainbow,” “Rocket Man” and “End of the Road,” with fans wanting more, but showing appreciation with a lengthy round of applause. Their set was a perfect way to cap off an afternoon of great performances and gear up for the evening’s headlining sets.
Ontario’s The Dirty Nil provided one of the most rousing sets of the whole festival, even though they played late on Sunday at one of the more secluded side stages. This power trio plays loud and dynamic rock ‘n’ roll that’s equally influenced by both classic rock and hardcore. There’s even a bit of a Replacements vibe in there too. In short, these guys sound great on recording, but their live show is at a whole different level. Their set was comprised mainly of songs from their terrific debut full-length, Higher Power. Some standouts were the incendiary opener “No Weaknesses” and the somewhat somber “Friends in the Sky.” These guys have tours of Europe and Australia scheduled in the near future, so expect big things out of them. We also spoke with the band early Sunday afternoon and will have that interview posted shortly.
What’s left to say about the original Misfits reuniting that hasn’t already been said? Simply put, many thought this was something that would never happen, as the founding members hadn’t graced the stage together since 1983. Once it was announced that the seminal group would be reuniting at this year’s Riot Fest, it seemed as though anticipation was steadily building since the initial proclamation was made. By the time The Misfits took the stage around 9:00 PM on Sunday, it had certainly reached a boiling point. The band walked out to thunderous applause, on a stage that was adorned with two giant, inflatable pumpkins and flanked by large video screens that displayed their logo. The opened with “Death Comes Ripping” and the estimated crowd of nearly 40,000 lost their collective minds. Soon after they played the following three songs consecutively: “I Turned Into a Martian,” “Where Eagles Dare” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” For these songs in particular, it seemed like the crowd’s voice overpowered that of singer Glenn Danzig’s, and their unrestrained enthusiasm definitely created a special moment. New drummer Dave Lombardo, (formerly of Slayer) was an excellent addition, as he anchored the songs and provided distinctive fills that helped to keep things on track. Their 90-minute set encompassed over 25 songs and included all the hits. They played “Teenagers From Mars,” “Astro Zombies,” “Skulls,” “Last Caress” and many more. Their encore included “Night of the Living Dead,” “She” and was finally brought to a close with “Attitude.” In summation, The Misfits’ set was both campy and cool, and absolutely gave fans everything they could’ve wanted out of this reunion. Now that Danzig and bassist Jerry Only have patched things up after over 30 years of conflict, hopefully they’ll continue on and take the reformed band on the road.
Dee Snider provided one of the more head-scratching sets on Sunday, with an ill-advised cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” and reworked, ballad version of Twisted Sister’s biggest hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” He closed with another Twisted Sister anthem, “I Wanna Rock,” which was pretty good, but overall what I thought had the potential to be a really fun set was in actuality pretty subpar.
Chevy Metal is the ‘70s rock cover band of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. Watching him play drums for a few songs was totally worth it as he’s phenomenal behind the kit. He was joined by his Foo Fighters bandmade Chris Shiflett on guitar, who performed some remarkable solos as well. They did covers of Van Halen, The Kinks, Queen and others, and were a definite bright spot on Sunday afternoon.
Chicago’s 2016 edition of Riot Fest will definitely be remembered as one of the best. I’m not sure that it was better than 2013, but that’s just a matter of personal preference with the bands that played that year. In terms of what’s in store for 2017, maybe Riot Fest will be able to persuade Jawbreaker to finally reunite. Or if we’re really reaching, maybe even Operation Ivy. Perhaps next year is the year that Green Day finally plays Riot Fest, who knows? No matter what the lineup consists of, I’m sure that Riot Fest will continue to do everything they can to top previous years and maintain their status as one of the leading and most enjoyable music festivals in the world.