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A Trip to Chicago: Riot Fest 2017



Photos by Ali Nugent

The music industry has been absolutely buzzing about Chicago’s scene for a long time now, with huge names leaping out into the spotlight and taking the city’s culture with them for all to see and hear. If someone is from Chicago, you’ll know before you even ask. I decided I had to experience it for myself. So after a saucy United Airlines employee shut the doors before the normal 10-minute mark, I ended up missing my 8 a.m. flight, thus having to head right to my first event after hopping off the plane. Changing in the airport restroom, I emerged from the terminal with an outfit I deemed punk-festival ready, with plenty strange looks being shot at me from concerned parents. After a dear friend of mine, who thankfully knew the city much better than I due to him being a northerner, got us into the Douglas Park area, I was in awe. I know it sounds like I was wearing a bucket hat with a camera strapped around my neck, but I had truly never seen anything like it. These urban buildings were out of a Quentin Tarantino film and I was nervous to my core. I live in Charlotte and one block of urban Chicago presented more than my own city ever had. Every building could be a set for a music video and every rusted, broken fire escape could be the path a movie criminal takes. Nevertheless, we made it to Riot Fest 2017, the Neverland for punk music. I legitimately believe that I would have never made it to the entrance gates if the constant stream of Mohawks and checkered Vans had not led me there. I have to make sure that you remember I’ve never been to Chicago, so everything I’m about to say may or may not be “normal”. Either way, my Chicago/Riot Fest 2017 was one hell of a ride.

Thirty dollars gets me roughly six beers, or a piece of merch from a favorite, fashionable band of mine. Thirty dollars also happens to be how much we were charged for parking. To place your car in an abandoned city lot, run by a woman wearing a cowboy hat was considerably insane for the amount of people attending Riot Fest. Press check in was smooth, followed by a quite literal “grab-down” from security. That’s right, I said grab. My lady parts were lifted and my personal space was definitely invaded, but I am an understanding human being and will agree to that for the sake of security. I became salty about the first day’s security grab when day two security did nothing of the sort, because they had acquired metal detectors, so day one violations could have been avoided. Festival bloop number one.

So here I enter into the magical gates of this punk carnival and realize just how massive the festival grounds were. After being instructed where the press tent was, I still managed to miss my first interview trying to find it. As usual, any person working the festival seemed just as lost as I was, so eventually I gave in to ensure I didn’t miss something I had been seriously looking forward to: the set of Chicago native heart throbs, Sleep On It. To no surprise, they had a huge turn out and every time they said the word “Chicago”, the crowd lost it, and rightly so. Upon the recent announcement of upcoming full-length Overexposed, the pop-punk group has released two banging singles. If you have the chance to see these dudes live, don’t miss it!


From there, Riot Fest 2017 was a dusty, sweaty blur. Friday consisted of me seeing a good amount of bands I just happened to stumble across while finding some food (which was super easy with the carnival themed junk food stands literally everywhere). A highlight of my Friday included the chance to talk with Ross Jarmen of another long-lived act The Cribs. Recently releasing their new album 24-7 Rock Star Shit, Jarmen spoke casually about the entire thing being crafted and tracked in just 5 damn days while I stood in his literal and figurative shadow of success. Insanity. As I attempted to melt into the grass, A Day To Remember seized the stage right as dusk hit. Although Jeremy McKinnon was a steady half-beat behind on his vocals for the first half of the set, their killer production kept me from leaving the set. Luckily, the rest of the band absolutely murdered it and inspired me to do a few mosh kicks while dancing (a true rarity). Although I didn’t get to see Nine Inch Nail’s set a the end of the night, I heard the entire thing while walking (crawling) back to the car and Trent Reznor sounded incredible.

Thankfully, a friend of mine has an equally adventurous soul so we spent Saturday morning bopping around to a few cool spots. I bought some art, I witnessed urban street art displays, had some strong coffee and explored a Stranger Things themed bar. As we walked into Riot Fest day two, a few acts that I saw and/or heard that impressed me on Saturday were some that came as no surprise. Knuckle Puck played a few new singles that had the crowd trying to delightfully murder each other and Danzig and Bad Brains produced massive slews of people to bear witness to punk legends, kicking up dust in front of the giant devil mascot. One of my favorite sets that I wasn’t expecting to write about came from The Regrettes. Not only are these chicks an ode to female punk as it’s own genre, their crowd involvement (especially when mentioning their hate for Donald Trump) was full of high energy kids. I wrote a review of their latest album Feel Your Feelings, Fool and their live show completed my love for their solid sound, unable to be achieved by most alternative/punk bands. Props.

My badass lady friends and I in front of aforementioned mascot devil

As the carnival of the strange faded into a beautiful, rich sunset, it became time for some sweet nostalgia. I tagged along to see New Found Glory who put on a good show as usual. I had a few Strongbows and enjoyed it, but definitely not as much as I enjoyed Taking Back Sunday. I had an unfulfilled dream of seeing them (even though Adam literally lives 20 minutes from me and I see him often) so I was completely ready and excited for this particular performance. It seemed I was a part of a small crowd who actually listened (and is obsessed with) their latest album Tidal Wave, which brought back a sound from their earlier days. I heard a lot of groaning mixed with “UGH they need to play something from Louder Now!”; unsurprising but annoying for someone who thinks Tidal Wave is amazing. They put on a show that left my heart complete, and also laughing along with Adam’s QOTSA jokes. I felt it was a solid day, but I left the grounds that night with an aching feeling, since I had to fly home Sunday afternoon. This meant missing Cap’n Jazz, Jawbreaker and Paramore, all of which I deem huge gifts to humanity. Honestly? I desperately wished the days could have been switched but I understand keeping the largest acts for last.

Photos by Ali Nugent

Although a few kinks as with any massive festival, Riot Fest 2017 was definitely an adventure for me. I stayed in Logan Square, adventured in Wicker Park (did you know there’s a taco bell that sells alcohol?!), partied to My Chemical Romance at Riot Feast and met up with many industry people that made the entire trip worth it. All in all, it was an exhausting success.


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