13 People You Might Bump Into At Riot Fest
Featured photo via RiotFest.org
Riot Fest might just be the coolest musical gathering on Planet Earth.
Grown from punk rock grassroots, but now incorporating an incredible spectrum of the best of rock (Weezer, Bleachers), alt. (Killing Joke, Gary Numan), metal (Suicidal Tendencies, Bullet For My Valentine), indie (Beck, Father John Misty) and hip-hop (Run The Jewels, Cypress Hill) alongside safety-pinned legends like Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio and Dropkick Murphys, it’s become an unmissable fixture on the international festival calendar.
Yes, there was a touch of enforced uncertainty this year with delays in finalising the line-up only being resolved eight days out and the eleventh hour withdrawal of headliners blink-182, but the standard of line-up that eventually descends on Chicago’s beautiful Douglas Park is testament to how deep those roots still run.
Even better than the smorgasbord of musical talent, is the cross-section of fans the festival draws in. From punk and emo kids to preening indie lovers and black-eyed metallers to ageing alt. aficionados here to catch legendary proto-punks Elvis Costello and Blondie before rock’n’roll progenitor Jerry Lee Lewis gets one of the biggest circle-pits of the weekend, there’s a unique sense of diversity, unity and simple undiluted fun.
Grabbing our sunglasses, brightest Hawaiian shirt and a couple of ice cool Pina Coladas, we dove in to find out what’s got everyone so excited…
THE RIOT FEST VIRGIN
(Omar, Mexico City)
The first time you go to Riot Fest is always a special experience. For Omar, the 2000-mile journey north was more than worth it to pop his cherry.
“I was expecting to see blink-182 this weekend,” he grins, “but I’m not too disappointed that they won’t be playing. This is just such a great gathering of great bands and great people. It’s a happy place. It’s very different from what we get in Mexico, too. A lot of these bands might never even play down there. I’m super-excited to see Taking Back Sunday and Alkaline Trio. Also, it’s my first time in Chicago, which is just a great city to spend time in.”
THE FESTIVAL ADDICT
(Ben, Indianapolis, IN)
American festival season has finally begun to catch up with Europe, with niche outings like Riot mingling in with massive weekenders like Austin City Limits and Coachella, and the States’ beloved touring fests like (the now-mothballed) Warped Tour. Having already hit multiple dates this year, Ben’s FOMO shows no sign of abating when there are line-ups out there as tasty as this.
“Riot Fest is just one of the best things ever,” he laughs, with gleeful immoderation. “I look forward to this every year and more or less plan my whole year around it, with vacation and whatnot. There seem to have been some struggles with getting Riot’s line-up finalised this year, but there will always be hiccups and when they come you’ve got to have some patience with the process. Just look around – whatever problems there were, there’s no evidence of them here now. I’m super-excited about Taking Back Sunday, The Wonder Years and Speedy Ortiz. There’s so much to feel that about: content overload! I can’t wait to come to the UK to see how Download, Slam Dunk and 2000trees measure up.”
THE PARTY ANIMAL
(Jenna, Sacramento, CA)
If you’re looking for a good time, there’s hardly a better place to find it. And it’s heroes like Jenna who provide the lifeblood to Riot’s beating heart. Combining some eye-catching choices of attire (WE WANT THAT WOOOOO-TANG SHIRT!!!) and an utterly infectious attitude, these are the people we want clambering up over our shoulders in the pit.
“It seems like every band that plays Riot Fest is amazing,” she says. “I absolutely love Alkaline Trio and I’m crazy-hyped for Bad Religion and Run The Jewels later. They only finalised the line-up last week, but I knew I was going to be here regardless.”
(Keith, Chicago, IL)
“I’m one of the bar managers for Riot Fest,” explains this workhorse with the firm handshake and warm smile of a man who knows exactly what he’s doing. “I’m from right here in West Humbolt Park. I think what makes Riot Fest stand out is the sense of community and that punk rock crowd. America is a corporate place – corporations tend to run everything – but Riot Fest is independent. It bucks that trend. Personally I love the fact that we have so many great legacy bands – bands that were together when I was in High School – who reunite for these shows. That can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also like the fact that we’ve got a great selection of upcoming acts, too, though. At my age I can get a little stuck in my ways. It’s good to learn about new stuff.”
THE BEST BUDS
(Irene & Berenice, Chicago, IL)
Weekends like Riot Fest are the bedrock on which solid friendships are founded. “This is my first time here,” says Berenice, “…and my second!” adds Irene with an enthusiasm that suggests there are many more visits to come, further down the line.
“It’s basically just a bunch of rock, punk and metal bands playing in this massive park in Chicago across multiple stages – and it’s awesome,” Irene continues, struggling to encapsulate what makes this such a special gathering. “You, uh, just have a great time.”
We doubt we could explain it with any more simple clarity than that…
THE BRIT ABROAD
(Maryam, London, EN)
With its growing global renown, there are no lack of European visitors to the festival. For ex-pats who’ve made the city their home, its also an opportunity to catch-up and show off the place they stay.
“I love living in Chicago, even if it can get a little bit lonely sometimes – and people keep mistaking me for an Australian because my accent is so East London,” explains Maryam, who’s on photo duty before she goes back to her day-job on Monday morning. “There are always a bunch of other Brits here for Riot Fest, which is great. It’s one of my favourite festivals – like, I really love it – because it’s so friendly and the line-up is super varied. Seriously, where else could I get to photograph Incubus, Cypress Hill and Dillinger Four all in the one place.”
THE WEEKEND WARRIOR
(Holly, Austin, TX)
“How has my Riot Fest been?” Holly regards us with the mix of delirium and self-disgust familiar to anyone who approaches festivals as an excuser to really go for it. “Urgh. My body feels pretty broken and I think I got kicked out of a bar last night, but other than that it’s been as great a time as always. I’ve got to hang with some friends I don’t get to see that often, the weather has been just about perfect and all the big bands have delivered on the big stage. It’s the same thing every year where we end up saying we shouldn’t go as hard next time – but who are we kidding…”
THE TOKEN METALHEAD
(Jonny, Newcastle, EN)
Over the years, metal has found a happy home at Riot Fest. Slayer and System Of A Down have previously headlined. This year’s selection – from Welsh behemoths Bullet For My Valentine to Californian crossover kings Suicidal Tendencies (whose stage-invasion is a festival highlight) – is good enough to bring in a few bruisers.
“Riot Fest is basically the perfect festival,” Jonny stresses while nursing what appear to be a couple of cracked ribs from earlier in the day. “Suicidal have been the big band for me – they even played their whole debut album. I also thought that Sum 41’s set was pretty killer, though the fact that their second set over at the Concord Music Hall was done before midnight didn’t seem very punk rock. What could make Riot even better? MORE SLAAAAAAAAAAAYYYEURGHHH!”
(Dodger, Chicago, IL)
Meet Dodger, the Riot Fest office pupper who is an incredibly welcome fixture for the duration of the fest. Favourite bands this weekend: Street Dogs, GWAR and Taking Bark Sunday. Guiltiest pleasures: Cat Power and Pussy Riot. Indeed, his presence is emblematic of the whole festival’s positive attitude towards man’s best friend, with the festival designating an adoptable puppy of the week in association with Chicago Animal Care & Control year-round and even running this year’s mammoth Puppify A Punk Album contest. Dodger’s thoughts? “BARK! BARKBARKBARK! GROWL! YIPYIPYIP! *LICKS BEER OUT OF OUR BEARD THEN TAKES A NAP UNDER THE TABLE.*” Heroic stuff.
(Isaac, Milwaukee, WI)
We come across this behemoth in the Bad Religion pit at the festival’s close. “I ain’t got time to talk – I’m here to mosh,” he grins before dragging us into the cataclysmic final circle-pit. Like some kind of punk off-cut from the cast of Predator, this is a man without time for messing around. Equipped with rock-solid elbows and an even harder-set mohawk, he’s an alpha-mosher. And he follows the golden rule: “IF SOMEONE FALLS DOWN, YOU PICK THEM THE FUCK UP!”
THE STEALTH PUNK
(Denisse, Chicago, IL)
Riot Fest is about living your best life. For Denisse, that’s all about unlocking the inner punk. “I loved Alkaline Trio and Bad Religion so much,” the Chicago native tells us. “It’s just been so great to be out here amongst everything. I laughed, I cried, I moshed and I’m already looking forward to getting to do it all again next year…”
THE MUSICAL ADVENTURER
(Lidya, Mexico City)
If you’re a fan of all things weird and wonderful there aren’t many better places to expose yourself to some new sounds. It’s a truth self-evident for some travellers who embrace the chance to catch bands they might never otherwise see. “This is my third time at Riot Fest,” Lydia enthuses. “I was at 2014 and 2015 with some family I have in Chicago and I’m back again now with my friends. It’s my favourite festival. I just love that opportunity to get to see a bunch of bands that I’ve never seen before. This time, I’m looking for ward to The Front Bottoms, Bleachers and Blondie! It is disappointing that blink-182 had to pull out, but getting to see Alkaline Trio makes up for it!”
(Andrew, Ann Arbor, MI)
“When it’s time to party, we will party hard. Party hard! PARTY HARD!!!”
Running into our old friend Andrew has become something of a Riot Fest tradition at this point. It’s hardly surprising given that – alongside Virginian monster-metallers GWAR – he’s regarded as festival royalty and plays basically every year. His headline set on the Rebel Stage is a thing of chaotic beauty on Saturday night, but its the off-white knight’s indomitable positivity and party-at-all-costs attitude that makes him the perfect fit as a sort of de-facto figurehead to one of the most downright fun festivals in the world. Cheers to that!
Words: Sam Law