Some weekend fests impress in the headliner department, but miss the mark with their undercard acts. Others bag plenty of exciting up and comers, but buckle under the pressure of trying to schedule headliners with universal appeal. Riot Fest excels in both departments, and this year’s crop of top-billed acts in Chicago spanned an impressive spread of genres without ever feeling like pandering.
For the ska and pop fans, No Doubt closed out night one with a hit-filled, sing-along ready show chock-full of modern classics, while Ice Cube and friends relived the glory days of N.W.A. and Motörhead rallied to bring the rock after a recent string of cancelations.
In one of the worst scheduling conflicts of the weekend, System Of A Down performed a turbocharged Saturday set while Taking Back Sunday made their triumphant return to the main stage. Meanwhile, proto-punk legend Iggy Pop, one of the weekend’s oldest, most influential performers, catapulted back to Riot Fest sans Stooges to deliver a ferocious blast of his biggest hits, in a way no other performer can match. Seriously, Iggy Pop could technically be my grandfather, and I think he has more energy than I do.
Sunday really showed off Riot Fest’s diversity, showcasing festival closers Modest Mouse for the indie kids, The Prodigy for fans of classic electronica and alternative dance music, and Damien Marley for the, uh, stoners? With constant music coming from every corner, it was hard not to find something to like at any given moment, and especially on the festival's biggest stages.
THE RETURN OF SOME SCENE PIONEERS
Moreso than any similar event, Riot Fest has the pull needed to coax bands out of retirement, The Academy Is… being this year’s biggest festival-specific comeback. Plenty of other recently-reunited or largely less active bands lined the bill as well though, and getting to see them all in one place felt like punk rock Christmas.
There were seminal, influential, older acts like Drive Like Jehu and L7 (back after a 14 year breakup).
Integral parts of the northeast scene off the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, like Long Island’s The Movielife, out for their first string of shows since 2011.
Boston’s American Nightmare, who’ve reclaimed their old moniker after spending a decade as Give Up The Ghost.
Lifetime, whose reunion has been ongoing for a decade, but who are long overdue for another album.
And even somewhat newer, but just as fiercely missed, artists like Thrice picked back up without skipping a beat.
The top billed act at this weekend’s Riot Fest Toronto, Alexisonfire put their busy schedules on hold to reconvene for a festival lap this summer. Chicago’s Riot Fest marked their first show in the U.S. in years.
THE PUNK ELDER STATESMEN
Though not exclusively a punk fest, punk is still what Riot Fest does best, and the amount of influential, classic talent (read: the reason this crowd skews older than similar outings like Warped Tour or Skate And Surf) is kind of unbelievable.
The Dead Milkmen
Weirder, niche acts like The Dead Milkmen and Dwarves might normally play to small club crowds, but at Riot Fest, they're main stage performers.
Echo & The Bunnymen
From the other side of the pond, '70s and '80s punk legends like Billy Idol, Steve Ignorant (Crass), goth punks The Damned, and post-punk pioneers Echo & the Bunnymen provided a real life lesson in musical history.
And, of course, Iggy Pop, Tommy Stinson (the Replacements, Guns N' Roses), and home town heroes 88 Fingers Louie helped make Riot Fest the most authentically punk experience of the year.
AND THE FRESH BLOOD TOO
Just because Riot Fest is rich with the old, doesn't mean there's no room for the new. Plenty of AP faves made the cut, and a respectable mix of bands like Real Friends, Superheaven, Beach Slang, Knuckle Puck, Foxing, FIDLAR, Chon, Have Mercy, and more, absolutely delighting with earlier sets and on smaller stages, were a glimpse into the sure-to-be-leagacy-lineup of fests to come. Seriously, sign me up for the position of curmudgeonly old critic at Riot Fest 2035.