In the last decade or so music fests have begun popping up like wildfires with new ones on the way each time the season rolls around. While many of them are good for the most part a lot of them tend to share the same bands making them more or less interchangeable. Not so with Riot Fest, a three-day event that recently rolled through Chicago.
The three day festival takes a very different and unique approach to the festival circuit; they look back instead of forwards. Each year Riot Fest ups the ante by bringing together some of the most legendary names in rock history, both iconic and obscure. This year’s lineup in Chicago was no different and just as epic. With acts like Danzig’s 25th anniversary show, Blondie, Peter Hook, Joan Jett, Sublime and more it was a music lovers dream.
Naturally with a lineup like that scheduling can be difficult so hardcore fans found themselves torn between acts like Rancid and Public Enemy playing at the same time on Saturday. Even when you win in a scenario like that, you lose. As with any fest, there were winners and losers.
Outside of the relatively new bands like Hostage Calm and The Silks pretty much every act at the festival already has a large, loyal following some of which span decades. That means that bands that should be playing larger audiences end up doing the smaller, earlier gigs. This works both for and against the festival.
On the one hand, bands like Against Me! and Suicidal Tendencies have earned the right to open big at the festival. The irony is that playing to smaller crowds actually allows the bands to get back to their roots and put on better shows. This is especially true in the punk/metal genre, which make up 75 percent of the festival’s lineup. Two of the best acts of the weekend, X and Public Enemy, rocked out hard because they were positioned to play to such a small audience. Not so with heavy hitter Blondie who, despite being a headliner early in the second day, put on a rather dull show to a very large audience.
As if seeing bands like The Smoking Popes, Bad Religion and Gwar all in the same day wasn’t a surreal enough experience the festival cranked things up a notch by turning the entire event into a circus, literally. Hundreds of punk rock clowns, acrobats and dancers set up shop throughout the park entertaining the masses while some of the best music in the world played in the background. Clowns aren’t your thing? No problem, there is also a ring set up for Mexican masked wrestling with fights taking place every couple of hours.
For many, going to Riot Fest was like taking a tour of their subconscious. This is festival’s seventh year and, despite growing in popularity, remains true to its mission of bringing iconic (and mostly subversive) bands back to the people for reasonable prices.
Riot Fest is playing Chicago, Denver, and Toronto. For lineup and tickets, visit RiotFest.org