After how ever many months of being inside, the festivities at Riot Fest on Saturday showed that people are ready to have fun again. NYC art punks Les Savy Fav set the tone for the day. Bedecked in body paint and a Chicago red hot tattoo on his back, frontman Tim Harrington tore through a set including “Hold Onto Your Genre” and “Let’s Get Out of Here.” His bizarre brand of performance art was on full display as he snatched a wig from a mannequin head in the audience, rolled around in a tarp in the crowd, and spit water on a fan or two. Les Savy Fav reminded everyone that we’re here to get weird.
“Chicago was our last show and Chicago is our first show back,” Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino greeted the crowd. The late summer light was the perfect setting for the LA band’s sunny indie rock. The set featured songs from their 2020 album Always Tomorrow as well as fan favorites like “Crazy For You” and “Our Deal.” They closed with the queer-inclusive version of their hit “Boyfriend” that they recorded last year to benefit the Trevor Project. Before leaving the stage, Cosentino shouted,,”Take care of each other. Get vaccinated. Women’s rights motherfucker! Abortion is healthcare bitch.”
Gogol Bordello is always a party. The crowd was ready to dance along to their blend of gypsy punk and Eastern European folk music. The many members took turns commanding the stage, and the audience especially loved Sergey Ryabtsev shredding on violin. In the field, fans were seen kicking their legs in an imitation of a Russian folk dance to “Start Wearing Purple.”
“The only thing I’ve ever truly cared about is people getting together and enjoying live music. It’s been my passion since I was this tall and when it went away I was sad,” said Mighty Mighty Bosstone frontman Dicky Barrett. The Boston ska band wiped the blues away getting the crowd skanking over on the Radical Stage.
Chicago rapper Vic Mensa may have been a few minutes late to the stage, but he more than made up for it with a poignant performance. After delivering “16 Shots,” which is inspired by the death of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Mensa threw it back with a performance of his debut “Innanetape.” He commented on materialism in the music industry with “Time is Money” and dedicated “Holy Holy” to his late brother who was murdered. If his performance wasn’t already a crowd pleaser, Mensa ended the set by handing out weed to the crowd and lighting up on stage before diving into the audience to perform “Fistfight!” from his 93PUNK project while crowdsurfing.
Rise Against was a late addition to the lineup, and their feverish fans proved that the hometown band was a welcome addition. Frontman Tim McIlrath dedicated the set to Faith No More’s Mike Patton who cancelled their Riot Fest appearance to take time for his mental health.
In a Riot Fest first, I managed to check out all four headliners. Riot Fest veteran Andrew W.K. held court over on the smaller Rebel Stage, setting the mood with “Everybody Sins.” I heard several people in the crowd say they hadn’t heard the band before and I gleefully watched them discover the party that is Andrew W.K. for the first time.
Over at the Radical Stage, there were crowd surfers a plenty while the Dropkick Murphys unleashed their Celtic punk barrage. “We missed the hell out of you. You’re one of our favorite cities to play,” said the Massachusetts natives. “Let’s take it up a notch shall we?” they asked before plunging into their rendition of “The Bonny.”
Watching Run the Jewels felt like a collective exhale after the last year and a half. The charismatic duo of Killer Mike and El-P deliver powerful social commentary while having a hell of a good time. “We missed our job really badly. We’re really fucking happy to be here,” El-P told the crowd. Everyone got in on the energy, as I saw a punk in a leather jacket, cowboy hat, and tight plaid pants twerking on the lawn to “Blockbuster Night Part 1.” Killer Mike took a moment to shout out the ASL interpreters,” These ladies are badass!” Not even stepping in puke as I navigated the crowd could bring down the good vibes.
I finished my headliner rounds at the Rise Stage just in time to see the always reliable Taking Back Sunday close out the night. In the light of the Ferris wheel, fans joyfully sang along to “Cute Without the E.” “Let’s play this next song because our lives are dope and we do dope shit,” said singer Adam Lazzara as they launched into “Make Damn Sure.” No one disagreed.
All photos by Jessica Mlinaric
Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Or make a one-time donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!