Riot Fest will turn 15 this year, just a few months after my solar clock hit 40. Chicago’s premiere punk festival has come a long way since its beginnings as a small two-day punk show that packed as many bands as they could into the Congress Theater. I’ve checked off more boxes on my “bands I need to see before I die” list thanks to Riot Fest over the years, and seen quite a few friends hit big stages to play with them.
The thing Riot Fest mastered over the years was making cranky old motherfuckers like me happy as well as the kids we rail about these days, or the kids we’re raising. I was 25 when I walked into the Congress to see some friends play alongside punk rock legends. I’m now 40 and pretty stoked I’m going to do that again, albeit for three days with several times as many bands in Douglas Park.
This year’s lineup is, by far, the most expansive and, dare I say, best we’ve probably ever seen in the history of Riot Fest. There are too many bands that are “must-see,” but here’s a quick run-down of what I’m most excited about.
Riot Grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill have always been on my list of “bands I need to see before I die but won’t because they’ll never get back together.” I was still in my metal phase when they formed in 1990, and though I was regularly hitting shows at the Fireside by the time they split up, I somehow missed any chance I ever had to see them. Their set is almost guaranteed to be the highlight of the fest.
Avail is one of those bands that brought out the best in a lot of ’90s hardcore fans. The last three or four times I saw them—more than 12 years ago—were big sloppy scream-along celebrations of one of ’90s hardcore’s most iconic bands, and all the friends we made along the way. Earlier this year Richmond’s finest announced a handful of reunion shows to celebrate 21 years of their epic Over The James. All of those shows sold out nearly instantly, which was a terrible bummer, so I’m brimming with joy I’ll be able to see Tim, Beau Beau, and friends play one of the most amazing hardcore albums the ’90s gave us.
I thought I saw Slayer’s final Chicago show last May when they played in Tinley Park, so right off the bat getting a second final show ever here is a bonus. Moreover, though seeing them at the amphitheater in Tinley was a rainy, sweaty, expensive good time, there was something special about Slayer’s last magnificent and muddy set in 2014, which might’ve been the closest we’ve seen an actual riot break out at Riot Fest. The bonus on top of this bonus is they’re bringing along fellow metal legends Anthrax and Testament, who are sure to wear a lot of us old folks out.
Against Me are Riot Fest regulars and always put on a fantastic show. This year they’ll be playing their 2002 classic Reinventing Axl Rose and 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I don’t think I’ve heard Against Me! play “Baby I’m an Anarchist” since the Fireside days, and these are their two finest albums, so their set promises to be another one of the best of the fest.
I can’t think of a better soundtrack to the rising tide of fascism during late stage capitalism than Pittsburgh punks Anti-Flag, who’ve been cranking out political anthems since the ’90s. I’m not sure anyone thought America would be where it’s at during the days of Die For The Government, but 2017’s American Fall was a perfect album for the era of Trump. Here’s hoping we hear a little from both and everything in between.
I have an H20-inspired tattoo and one of my old bands covered “Family Tree,” so needless to say this one is gonna be a blast for me. If you like ’90s sing-along positive hardcore, you should definitely pile on in front of whatever stage they’re on.
If you missed these punk legends last time they headlined Riot Fest, now’s your chance to make that up. Don’t miss it.
This year’s fest is filled with plenty of other Riot Fest standards and alums, from the Descendents to Pennywise, Rise Against, Rancid, Cocksparrer, Less Than Jake, and of course, GWAR. Between all of these and other incredible headliners like the Violent Femmes, B-52s, Patti Smith, and Bloc Party, Riot Fest’s 15th birthday is going to be the best party yet.
Three-day passes are available now! The general admission tier is $130, so you owe it to yourself to go see this phenomenal festival!