Riot Fest 2023 Day One: Sunshine and Sing-Alongs

Riot Fest 2023 kicked off with a day of sunshine and sing-alongs in Douglass Park on Friday. The festival has been delivering nostalgic punk and rock acts since 2005, and Friday’s lineup was no exception with outings from the Foo Fighters, the Breeders, Kim Gordon and Parliament-Funkadelic.

While their apparel was a sea of black, the crowd’s bright spirits mirrored the weather. Festival goers applied sunscreen to the back of strangers’ necks, helped up attendees who tripped in the crowd, and made new friends while watching sets solo. Everyone’s energy was on-point to savor the last splash of Chicago’s summer festival season.

Parliament-Funkadelic
By early afternoon, the Rise Stage was already packed as Parliament-Funkadelic transported Riot Fest to the Mothership. At 82 years old, George Clinton commanded the crowd while wearing a bedazzled red captain’s hat. P-Funk shredded, blew, and shook around the stage in celebration of Clinton’s career. The crowd matched their spirit with big hair, small skirts, and funky vibes, singing along with the closer “Atomic Dog.” “Y’all have been real groovy,” Clinton beamed while waving farewell. 
-Jessica Mlinaric

Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon took the stage looking every bit the alt-rock icon that she is in silver shorts and black sunglasses, a t-shirt, and studded booties. The Sonic Youth alum’s set started with the industrial fuzz and poetic simmering of “Sketch Artist.” Gordon stalked the stage, wrapping herself in the mic cord and crouching on the amp, ready to pounce. The tension built until a few songs in, when the band launched into a cathartic explosion.
-Jessica Mlinaric

Quicksand
One of Riot Fest’s fun hallmarks is having artists play a full album from start to finish. On the Roots Stage, NYC post-hardcore quartet Quicksand made 30 years feel like nothing as they played through their 1993 debut Slip. Launching into “Fazer,” every member of the band was having as much fun as the crowd. They flawlessly played in lockstep, offering an equally joyful and powerful set. “If I had known I’d be here all these years later I’d say that’s crazy,” said frontman Walter Schreifels. “I love it.”
-Jessica Mlinaric

The first set of three for New York hardcore legend Walter Schreifels was with his recently reunited Quicksand. This is a post-hardcore band where elements of emo, hardcore punk, and alternative rock all fuse for a quietly popular but very insular genre. Riot Fest is one of the few festivals where this type of band makes it to the main stage, and Quicksand were given a prime spot on the schedule to perform their 90’s breakthrough album Slip. Sludgy bass riffs dominated the sound, with some guitar noodling and spacey moments flushing out the slightly constricting parameters of their genre. Schreifels’ melodic vocal delivery didn’t always come through in the mix, but hey, it’s a festival. Solid tracks like “Head To Wall” and “Fazer” got the crowd going, but the energy never reached the heights of “Dine Alone.” This is the quintessential Quicksand track, with chunky riffs, and an unmissable grunge palate. The best part about that set was, if you enjoyed it, you’ll have two more chances to see the frontman for the Rival Schools and Gorilla Biscuits sets later in the weekend.
-Patrick Daul

The Breeders
The next 30th anniversary album play came by way of the Breeders. In a glow of late afternoon sun, Kim and Kelley Deal led the band through their 1993 alt-rock classic Last Splash. The set included “even the slow songs that are too weird to play live,” according to Kim. After opening with “New Year,” Kim recognized Mexican Independence Day on Saturday by shouting “Viva Mexico.” Kim crouched for the signature mic check and feedback that kicks off the iconic “Cannonball,” and all were blissfully transported to the ‘90s.
-Jessica Mlinaric

Last Splash is easily one of the best alternative rock albums from the 90s. It’s also the most 90’s album to come out in any decade. The scrappy production, distorted guitars, and inimitable bass lines (especially on “Cannonball”) make up the fully-formed sonic vision of Dayton, Ohio’s Kim and Kelley Deal. The messy, garage-friendly jams are juxtaposed perfectly with the sleek vocals on songs like “Invisible Man” and set opener “New Year,” all of which sounded great as the park began to fill up.

“Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” are absolute earworms, which explains the mythical status of the album. Between the scrappy aesthetics and god-like coolness of Kim Deal, it makes sense how everything came together for the Breeders on this album, and its live presentation was as fun to watch as it was to listen to on borrowed CDs back in the day. This band should have a standing invite to celebrate this record. See you in five years?
-Patrick Daul

Braid
At only 25 years, Braid’s Frame and Canvas was the youngest album play of the day, but the devoted Rebel Stage audience proved that it was equally beloved. The emo quartet incited a circle pit of fans who may not have been born yet when the album debuted in 1998, but screamed every lyric nonetheless. The band matched their energy, with frontman Bob Nanna dropping to the stage floor to deliver part of “Never Will Come For Us” on his back. 
-Jessica Mlinaric

Turnstile
Sandwiched between two nostalgia acts like Breeders and Foo Fighters, this group of twenty-somethings from Baltimore took the stage with limitless energy and effortless cool. They took the stage with a prolonged, synth-washed intro, which the hordes of youngsters knew would result in the blissful “Mystery.” The circle pit was going as soon as the first guitar was strummed. The entire crowd seemed to know every word, which shouldn’t surprise given the immense popularity of the infinitely spinnable Glow On, which is their breakout album from a few years ago. After one song, the set already felt like a triumph.

Turnstile is a hardcore band that’s crossed over into the mainstream with sleek production and an expanding sonic palate. They’ve scored collaborations with Blood Orange and BADBADNOTGOOD, so this is a new look for a hardcore band. They’ve played just about every type of festival there is, showing up on hip-hop lineups and even Nu-Metal events. In an increasingly genre-less musical landscape, Turnstile has managed to maintain its cohesive musical vision while appealing to a broad spectrum of fans. One such group of fans that have been devotees since before their breakout smash Glow On, is the Riot Fest faithful. Just a few years ago, this band was playing an early afternoon set in Douglass Park. Now they’re sharing the stage with Dave Grohl.

Turnstile thrashed through their set of familiar favorites “Don’t Play” and “Blackout” to massive responses from the crowd. More tender cuts like “Blue By You” and “Underwater Boi” cut through an otherwise rager of a set. People were talking about the moshpit before it was even happening, and songs like “Real Thing” and “Don’t Play” whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that it somehow exceeded the hype.

Turnstile ended their set with a few of their standard closers. “Holiday” and “T.L.C.” which they’ve been closing shows with for a while now. It’s an exciting and possibly terrifying time for this band. They are due for another record, one which has more expectations built up around it than in previous projects. The Glow On era will be ending soon. Who knows what will come next? One thing is for sure, the Riot Fest crowds don’t move on from things quickly, and with such an incredible display in 2023, they might be minted for the rest of their careers with this festival. Headliner in 2025. You heard it here.

Turnstile ended their set with a few of their standard closers. “Holiday” and “T.L.C.” which they’ve been closing shows with for a while now. It’s an exciting and possibly terrifying time for this band. They are due for another record, one which has more expectations built up around it than in previous projects. The Glow On era will be ending soon. Who knows what will come next? One thing is for sure, the Riot Fest crowds don’t move on from things quickly, and with such an incredible display in 2023, they might be minted for the rest of their careers with this festival. Headliner in 2025. You heard it here.
-Patrick Daul

Foo Fighters
“Without you I don’t think I’d be doing this,” Dave Grohl thanked the massive crowd assembled for the Foo Fighters’ headlining set on Friday. If you’ve seen the band play Chicago before, you’ve heard him tell the story of seeing his first rock concert, Naked Raygun, at the Cubby Bear at 13 years old. “That shit changed my life forever.”
-Jessica Mlinaric

The story never gets old, and neither does the band’s hit parade, charismatic banter, or torch-bearing rock and roll. From the first riff of “All My Life,” the Foo Fighters captivated the crowd through extended takes on tracks like “The Pretender,” sing-alongs “Times Like These” and “My Hero,” and deeper cuts like “Breakout” and “White Limo.” A camera aimed at drummer Josh Freese’s feet showed his patterned socks pounding away at the kick drum during “Best of You,” while guitarist Chris Shiflett, pianist Rami Jaffee, bassist Nate Mendel, and guitarist Pat Smear all had their moment to shine. 
-Jessica Mlinaric

“Auora” was late bandmate Taylor Hawkins’ favorite song, and they promised to play it “every night for the rest of our lives” before asking the crowd to scream for him. Loathe to say goodbye, Grohl departed with one final sing-along during “Everlong.” Here at summer’s end, the crowd wondered if anything could ever be this good again.
-Jessica Mlinaric

Not to be outdone by the vibey supernova that was the Turnstile set, Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters took the stage a few minutes before their scheduled start time to thrash through two hours of lovable arena rock. The legendary frontman literally sprinted on stage to begin the show. Such is the enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from Grohl, but his infectious positivity can’t be ignored. Watching a Foo Fighters show is like watching someone’s dream come true in real-time. Dave Grohl, being the mayor of rock and roll that he is, would probably agree. They wasted no time in getting to the hits. In the first half hour, they played classics like “Learn to Fly,” “My Hero,” and “Times Like These” and even teased Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.

More hits were to come, with “Monkey Wrench” and “Best Of You” enthralling the masses of disparate fanbases that Riot Fest draws with one of rock music’s true spectacles. Foo Fighters aren’t necessarily a shoo-in for what Riot Fest tries to do, but these pros got the job done, and a lot of moms and dads went home happy. Perhaps even some of the impossibly young Turnstile fans went home with a new appreciation for these living legends.
-Patrick Daul

All photos by Jessica Mlinaric

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Third Coast Review Staff

Posts with the Third Coast Review Staff byline are written by a combination of writers, credited by section within the article.