As someone who has never been a Riot Fest dweller, this experience really is a diverse one. Upon first entry, there are several directions through which to venture. I was prepared to try all.
Riot Fest is known for its lineups of head-banging rock n’ rollers, Goosebumps monsters and acrobats. This year won’t put that reputation to shame. My first stop at the festival was the Roots Stage, where Ween was setting up to hit the stage. While I waited, I heard Jimmy Eat World’s canonical “The Middle” of 2001 album Bleed American.
Though such ’90s sounds weren’t quite at the top of my list for Riot Fest, I enjoyed being taken back to the third grade and true Music Television while I waited for Ween.
When Ween hit the stage at 7:10, diehard fans had already packed the small section in front of the Roots sound booth. Ween’s hit performances included “Baby Bitch,” an easy singalong, even for those who aren’t diehard. One spectator in particular threw his arms up like wings, and let his hips sway, as he danced around his girlfriend.
What I love so far about Riot Fest is that it really is mostly diehard fans coming to see these particular sets. As I looked around me, I didn’t see flower crowns (no judgment), crop tops or anyone trying to impress. Instead, I saw someone dressed as a raccoon version of Mario. I saw hundreds of people representing their favorite rock n’ roll bands with their t-shirts, or by dressing like them. Riot Fest truly is for the music fan, who isn’t about fashion or lingering for the sake of being one of the lingerers.
That’s where I come in. I meandered between the Roots Stage and Riot Stage to check out the set-up for the upcoming Flaming Lips, whose long lights were already dangling from the Riot Stage ceiling. And who were already sampling their sounds. I’ve never been to a concert where a headliner previewed its music long before officially hitting the stage.
It was friendly.
After I had my fill of Ween, I coasted towards the middle of the festival, to scope out some of the art booths. My favorites were the Mistura line of wooden watches and the Chronic Candy lollipops. I didn’t have any, nevertheless, I appreciated the art. And if you’re feeling altruistic, you can even learn how to become a marrow donor at Riot Fest.
I wanted to stick around more and perhaps buy a watch, but was quite focused on the colorful ferris wheel in the distance, lighting up the entire park. The line was unimaginable for this thing, but I got the point. It’s a beautiful piece of art that brings a little extra magic to this high-octane festival. I sauntered further towards the front of the festival, and found myself near two much smaller stages – Storyheart and Rebel.
I was hooked by a band called 3Teeth. Normally, I can’t sit and listen to heavier genres, but the pounding bass this band showcased was infectious. Bliss was upon me, as I had found something more so my niche than what was transpiring at the larger stages. They sound a bit like Nine Inch Nails, with an ongoing synthetic wave.
It wasn’t an easy segue into The Flaming Lips’ set, but I didn’t mind, as I think almost anyone can fall in love with its dreamy sound and beautiful lighting. The Flaming Lips covered David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” fantastically, as lead vocalist Wayne Coyne rolled into the hands of the audience inside a large, transparent ball.
I’m off for day two, and I can’t wait to have another blissful moment as I realize that I really can jam to the bands that make Riot Fest so special. And maybe I’ll visit the ferris wheel, too.
In between photographing sets, Riot Fest was a whirlwind of diverse genres and big name acts along with up-and-comers. I reviewed some of them while I wasn’t in the photo pit.
Throughout Citizen’s performance, Kerekes’ mouth curls and kisses the microphone, letting out a heavy, unapologetic scream – a sign of past frustration and a desire to move forward. Fans jumped in, throwing fists into the air.
Bad Cop / Bad Cop’s set at Storyheart Stage was fast, fun and cool. Two men, who made sure to stand in the front row, completely lost it. Their torsos were spilling over the barricade, and they couldn’t contain their excitement.
Those loyal fans are just two of many who hold onto Stacey Dee, Jennie Cotterill and Linh Le’s voices and turn up to Myra Gallarza’s beats behind her drumset. Their song “Asshole” is an anthem to all the boss ladies out there.
Fans of Neck Deep are strictly devoted to the five-member band originally from Wrexham, UK, and frontman Ben Barlow is ever grateful for their support.
Barlow, along with his bandmates – Matt West, Sam Bowden, Fil Thorpe-Evans and Dani Washington – are also pretty tight with Chicago pop-punk bands Knuckle Puck and Real Friends, which is what makes their visits to the Windy City so much more appreciated.
Decorating Rise’s Stage with the artwork from Neck Deep’s latest album Life’s Not Out to Get You, the Hopeless Records signees took cues from LNOTGY’s “Gold Steps,” “if you write the story, you’ll find out that we’re all stuck on the same page.”
It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, and if you’ve spent half of the day drinking and dancing at Riot Fest, you’ve surely spent the other part of that day, so far, standing in a long line to fill up your water bottle to rehydrate and carry on. At this point, you’ve also wondered on to get food, laid a blanket on the grass and contemplated on taking a power nap.
And then Glassjaw steps on Rise Stage for their 5:45 set. If you were close to that area, you couldn’t escape the crowd that gathered for them.
In fact, you had to weave through numerous bodies – standing, sitting or sprawled on the grass – if you wanted to make it to the food tents. And if you heard lead singer Daryl Palumbo’s screeching voice, you couldn’t help but come to a sudden halt.
Palumbo isn’t shy about showing off. He’s sexy and he knows it. Often, he would swing his microphone around in a big circle, or he’d drop to his knees and plead into the microphone.
With sweat dripping down their faces, Palumbo and his bandmates were the perfect introduction to fall Friday evening.