written by Grace Kolpack, photos by Sam Reed
From an insane hellish freakshow to absolutely killer performances (insert GWAR joke here), Riot Fest is easily one of the best alternative festivals in the Midwest. Held in Chicago, Illinois at spacious Douglas Park, Riot Fest has served as a bastion for artists and fans alike. Earlier this year, it was unknown whether the festival’s time had come to an end due to a slew of perils stemming from a lack of single day tickets, as well as set times and the full schedule still not being announced until just days before the event was set to happen. Alas, thankfully those rumors were stomped out and Riot rocked on.
The first day’s lineup was one for the books and set the tone for the remainder of the weekend, with passionate performances by the likes of Weezer, Young The Giant, The Fever 333, Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers, The Front Bottoms and more; the festival was booming with unrestrained joy. Costumes, incredible hairstyles, and outfits as colorful as a summer garden roamed the field, swaying and singing along to the irresistible beats that echoed throughout Douglas Park. Although Blink-182 had to cancel their headlining spot at Riot as well as their upcoming shows due to Travis Barker’s health, several bands played the same Blink song in honor of the beloved band’s cancellation. Riot Fest definitely had its hardships leading up to the event, nonetheless, the festivities rang on.
On top of some astounding musical performances, Riot Fest is also home to a carnival – yes, an actual carnival with various rides and carnies. Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow, nestled behind the ‘Riot Fest’ sign and just a step away from Rebel Stage, is not a show for the faint of heart. This traveling freak show is filled with some of the world’s deadliest stunts in live entertainment, and let me tell you- it was jaw-droppingly incredible. Spectators gathered in the big top tent to witness crazy stunts like fire breathing, sword swallowing, escape artistry, and a real-live half-man who walks on his bare hands over broken glass. These performances are done using the human anatomy and physics so there is no real pain or blood – in an example: a man called ‘The Lizard Man’ turned a large corkscrew through his nose and out his mouth without any harm. It’s debatable which is more entertaining at this show, watching these death-defying stunts or watching the crowd’s reactions to said stunts, because both were as eye-catching as the other. Riot Fest is the perfect home for human oddities and curiosities alike, and with so many different options to keep you entertained all weekend there was never even a semblance of a dull moment.
Day two seemed to have drawn the largest crowd of the weekend with acts from Beck, Andrew W.K., GWAR, Twin Peaks, and others. Between sets, fans could be seen grabbing a beer, shopping the various merchandise tents, grabbing free Pedialyte to stay hydrated in the high heat or sprinting to other stages as to not miss a set. It was rumored that GWAR was not only bringing the fake blood as they always do, but also had plans to shower the crowd in guts- thankfully for the photographers’ sake, they only sprayed their expected blood. Riot Fest is the perfect combination of strange and fun as you can find pretty wild happenings such as people hula hooping, the famous Riot pig roaming the fields in search of good grass and many pets, or the Riot dog named Roger who hangs out in the press tent basking in the attention for three whole days as he does each year.
Day three was yet another day jam-packed with legendary acts like Run The Jewels, Blondie, Alkaline Trio, Underoath, The Wonder Years, and Calpurnia. Mom Jeans. was the first act to hit the stage on the final day of Riot and they were still being talked about that evening. Having the opportunity to play Riot Stage, the very same that Beck and Weezer had played the nights before, the expectations for their set was high and they found a way to exceed those and bring even more amazing energy, setting the tone for the rest of the final day at Riot.
SWMRS took to the Riot Stage midday, blowing everyone away. With the singing of their electric guitar filing the air, catchy riffs lifted our spirits and made the festival attendees want to move, jump, and sing until their lungs gave out. The band radiated Californian, rockstar energy and played hands down one of the best sets on the Riot bill.
Exciting acts like Bullet For My Valentine, Kevin Devine, Super Whatevr, and Save Face were set to line the remainder of the Riot Fest card, ending with Run The Jewels. Incubus were among one of the last acts of the night and they drew one of the largest crowds of the entire weekend, and especially at Rise Stage. Their visuals were astounding and they brought just the right amount of energy to send festival attendees off to Run The Jewels with nothing but smiles and excitement.
Overall Riot Fest was truly a celebration of life, surrounded by feel good music and a community of the kindest people. The sound of music rushed in and around every person within the festivals’ boundaries all weekend like the waves filling holes in beach sand. Some would react to the beat, others would continue in chatter but always the sound spoke to them in some manner. For most attendees, Riot and the music it provides could never be something superfluous. There is a togetherness about music that feels warm and safe, and Riot Fest warranted the perfect setting of inclusion, a celebration of diversity, our similarities, and an allowance to relax.