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Riot Fest 2021: Friday in Review

Riot Fest Friday attendees experienced an epic display of scorching sun, dramatic lightning, and rain shower to close the night. Entering the gates around 1 p.m. I noticed that the crowds were already larger than the previous night’s preview party.
– Jessica Mlinaric

Well, Friday was a long day. As I get older, my aspirations to “shoulder up” in high energy, passionate crowds are waning. The first full day of Riot Fest 2021 brought beautiful blue skies, a warm sun, and an eager lineup waiting to perform to full potential, if not more, for fans from all over.

  1. Vaccine proof. Check.
  2. ID. Check.
  3. Virtual ticket, free from a dear friend. Check.
  4. No paper schedules or maps this year. Bummer.

Those first steps walking into the Douglas Park confines for Riot Fest give those tingling goosebumps – filled with anticipation for live music and the friends you may run into. That’s the theme for this overview today, the idea of music’s most beautiful gift, bringing unit among humans. We’re all here for similar reasons, one way or another.

Traditionally, after snagging a drinking wristband, I go over to find the classic Goose Island Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale.

“Sorry, we’re sold out of sucks. The closest option is the IPA.”

“Sold out? It’s 2:15…I’ll go with the IPA and water.” You know the drill, hydrate! The temperature high was predicted for 86 degrees, so you better believe I’m drinking plenty of water today.

Heading over the Radical Stage, parking under a tree to get situated, a woman with a giant blow-up banana with a smiley face walks by. What an excellent marker to have others find you in the sea of rock heads. Looking over by the Riot stage, Meg Meyers is hitting some earnest big vocals during her set. The guitar solos sound tight as well. Later on, I was informed by a fan that she restarted two songs halfway into each. She was cut off in the middle of their final song because of those restarts. Ouch.

Upgrade to VIP tickets. Quality choice as the bathrooms were spotless, with actual running water and soap. No complaints there. An excellent way to reset between shows, too.
– Michael Kocourek

“I never missed someone so much as I missed you guys today. Thank you for being here,” Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds thanked the crowd under a blaring sun. The Swedish band got the day started with their edgy, energetic electro-pop. Ivarsson jumped down from the stage to greet the crowd during “Painted By Numbers,” accepting a Swedish flag which she draped around her shoulders. Back onstage, she rolled on the ground and shoved the microphone into her leather hot pants during “Tony the Beat.” Despite the band’s spirited set, the sun zapped me and I headed for the shade afterwards.

“It feels so good to dance again,” exclaimed Anthony Green as Circa Survive tore through their afternoon set. He proceeded to put the mic in his mouth. Is that the same one Maja Ivarsson had down her pants? This cannot be COVID safe. As I exited the photo pit, people in the crowd alerted security of several people who passed out in the heat.
– Jessica Mlinaric

Circa Survive – Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Circa Survive begins their set at 2:50 at the Roots stage. Lead singer, Anthony Green, walks out and says, “Let’s fucking dance!” Meanwhile, I have a Riot Fest pro laying out on a purple inflatable lazy chair next to me. Quality choice right there, my friend; well done. We’re hanging in the back, and the circle pit is going in the front. I only know this as the media crew captures them on the big side monitors so you can see the crowd getting fully into it, starting the weekend right, PIT TIME.

Mid-set, Green shares,” guys, I’m out of shape. Give me a second. I haven’t been using my Peloton much lately.” No judgment passed; he could’ve gone without the announcement. It was spicy in the sun. Going for a walk to get some shade, I head over to Pure Noise’s tent and cannot resist the urge of a shirt purchase with a free CD. It just has my name all over it. Shirt: The Story So Far and CD: Four Year Strong. These groups played back to back in 2017 at Riot Fest, so there’s the only meaningful purchase of the day for you.

I run into another avid music friend from high school, we spend the next several hours of the festival together. Him, me, his girlfriend, and father, again music brings us all together.
– Michael Kocourek

Kississippi – Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Heading for a food break, I paused to groove to the funky ska sounds of Fishbone. I made my way to the shadier Rebel stage and caught Kississippi. I wasn’t familiar with the Philly indie prop project, and their dreamy sound was a solid festival discovery.
– Jessica Mlinaric

Stopping by the Rise Stage, Anti-Flag has a banging, and I mean, banging show going. From a pure first impression, they have the most energy to crowd reaction from anyone else that day. Witnessing shows like that are great; it’s basically a mid-day headliner. They went into a bit of a political talk to the crowd, killing time, and lost some momentum there. Sipping on more water, back to the Radical stage, Living Colour is about to start its set. Unknowingly, they wrote “Cult of Personality,” a favorite to sing in Guitar Hero. Remember those days, pretending to be a rock star in a video game? I do. How embarrassing as a music fan, not realizing a band’s name and then knowing a big hit of theirs – lump me with most other “music fans” at this point!

Thice – Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Thrice plays a very curated set, a very polished band. They didn’t have much to say to the audience but did knowledge the 500+ days since they last played in a live setting. The audience gathers as “The Artist in The Ambulance” begins, and we’re all singing like we’re Dustin Kensrue up there on stage. The song ends, and people disappear like flies. They heard their song and are ready to move onward.
– Michael Kocourek

Thrice celebrated the release day of their latest album horizons/east on the Roots stage. Their first live show in several hundred days included material from the new LP and crowd favorites like “Artist and the Ambulance.”

I wanted to soak in the good vibes of being at a festival again, and Sublime with Rome was the right place to find them. They got the crowd jumping opening with “Smoke Two Joints” and “Wrong Way.” “We took a year off and realized how truly amazing it is to all be together,” reflected frontman Rome Ramirez. “That’s all I’m gonna say on that stupid ass virus.”
– Jessica Mlinaric

Coheed and Cambria – Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

As Coheed and Cambria‘s light show illuminated the night sky it was joined by dramatic streaks of lightning above the Roots Stage. As rain fell on the rapt audience, the prog rockers opened with “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3.” Claudio Sanchez’s virtuosic guitar completed the striking scene.
– Jessica Mlinaric

There are two main priorities left in the day, one being Motion City Soundtrack and the other Lupe Fiasco performing The Cool. Both delivered as anyone could hope. MCS had a backdrop on stage with a synthesizer and slogan “You Know Who the F*&$ We Are.” Pure musical satire right there. The sound for MCS may be the best of the day, with many sitting on their towels and blankets and many more standing, double-fisting drinks in the rock bliss. Stepping away, the evening closes in on us, with a stormy sky showing lighting. A storm approaches. Are we about to get poured on for the rest of the evening? Is Riot Fest about to close up shop for the day? Strikes of lighting pop around the outlying Chicagoland area. The music never stopped.

Dirty Heads please the crowd enjoying the rain to its fullest extent. Fans are hungry, slamming pizza, nachos, pierogis, hot dogs, tacos, and more under trees. They muster every ounce of cover they can from the rain.

Enter The Cool. Lupe Fiasco walks on stage in a black White Sox jersey. He gives homage to his hometown, and I yell to the top of my lungs, “Hell yes, go Sox!” Staying near the trees, I sit at a point where the stage is in unchallenged view. I’m accompanied by a life-longl friend, 22 years, who has missed Fiasco every time he’s tried to see him. That narrative changed. Mind you, the drink tent was right behind us, so it was easy to access to have some nightcaps. Call this day a success, headed to Pilsen after the show for a late-night meal at Pilsen Yards. If you haven’t been there yet, consider changing that. MIC DROP.
– Michael Kocourek

The Smashing Pumpkins – Photo by Jessica Mlinaric

The Smashing Pumpkins delivered a flawless, heartfelt set to their hometown crowd. Original members guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin were on hand with bassist Jeff Schroeder filling in for D’Arcy Wretzky. Dressed in an embellished cloak and rocking face paint, Billy Corgan opened with “The Color of Love” before diving into classics “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Today.” “I’m kind of an art fuck,” Corgan told Iha asking whether he should play a weird song no one knows or a classic before performing a gorgeous acoustic version of “Tonight Tonight.” Meg Meyers joined the Pumpkins onstage for “Eye” while Corgan guided his daughter around the stage. Nitro veteran Michael Angelo Batio brought his blistering guitarwork to the stage as the Pumpkins closed the night with “United States.” It was everything you wanted to hear in the city by the lake.
– Jessica Mlinaric

All Photos by Jessica Mlinaric


Are you caught up with Riot Fest coverage? You should check out how the Preview Party went here, then look forward to how Saturday at Riot Fest went here, and complete the coverage with Sunday’s recap here!

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