Over the past decade, Riot Fest has become one of the most beloved festivals in the world. They have reunited some of punk’s most iconic bands, and, in many ways, set the bar for how genuinely great a music festival can be. But when founder Mike Petryshyn started out in 2005, literally none of this was part of the plan. By his own admission, he was a music industry outsider who had zero experience and even less right to put on a festival in his new hometown of Chicago.

But over the next 12 years, Petryshyn and partners Sean McKeough and Corrie Christopher Martin expanded Riot Fest throughout North America and changed the face of music history. They also suffered some incredible highs and devastating lows (such as the unexpected death of McKeough last year). This week, AP is presenting a three-part special on Riot Fest, told by its inner circle as well as the bands it will forever be associated with. This is their story, in their own words.


Illustrations by CHRIS SHARY





JOE PRINCIPE (BASS, RISE AGAINST): I remember getting a text from Mike—and it just said, “We got him,” and I knew exactly what that meant.


MIKE PETRYSHYN (FOUNDER, RIOT FEST): In my heart, I just thought this was a band we all needed to see live again.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN: But those [sort of reunions] take time.

PETRYSHYN: It was actually one of my first shows as a buyer at Congress [when I met Glenn].

GLENN DANZIG (FRONTMAN, THE MISFITS, SAMHAIN, DANZIG): We had done a show at the Congress two years before [with Danzig]. Then we went back [in 2010], and I thought it was with the same promoter. But it ended up being Michael.

PETRYSHYN: It was a Sunday show and it was getting super-late. It was, like, 2 or 3 in the morning—and he was flying back to LA that night. So I took Glenn to his hotel by Midway. Him and I just started chatting. We hit it off.

DANZIG: When I would come to town [over the years], he was more than just a promoter. He was somebody that I thought knew about the music and really cared about the music—and who cared about doing cool stuff, as opposed to just business.

PETRYSHYN: I think he [could tell] how much I gave a shit—and he knew that, no matter what, there was always an open door at Riot Fest for whatever he was doing.

DANZIG: He had talked to my agent, of course, [about reuniting the Misfits for Riot Fest]. But it wasn’t going to happen. Neither [bassist] Jerry [Only] or I were in the right mindset. Especially me. I had lots of things that I wasn’t happy with.

PETRYSHYN: I knew that there were lawyers involved, and a bunch of people trying to get them to where they needed to be. But when they were having these talks, I wasn’t going to back away from my offer. I wanted to do this.

DANZIG: Jerry and I, over the years, have been battling over a lot of different things legally. But a lot of those issues had been resolved right around 2015. We were in a different place. That’s why considering [playing together] could be an option, rather than before, where it was not an option.

PETRYSHYN: The Misfits were gone for a long time. So, when I got the call and it was like, “This might be the year…” of course I submitted an offer. But it wasn’t until I spoke to Glenn [that I was convinced it would happen]. I heard it in his voice.

JERRY ONLY (BASS, THE MISFITS): I realized that [Glenn wanted to play again] many years ago. It was just a matter of lining everything up where it made sense for both sides. We were at that point in time.

“I just thought, ‘Jerry and I have resolved our issues. If we are ever going to do this, we should be doing it now.’ I don’t want to do it, and I wouldn’t do it, if we were 80. You know, hobbling up on stage. It’s not going to work.”—Glenn Danzig, The Misfits

DANZIG: I just thought, “Jerry and I have resolved a lot of our issues. If we are ever going to do this, we should be doing it now.” I don’t want to do it—and I wouldn’t do it—if we were 80. You know, hobbling up onstage. It’s not going to work. The Misfits is an intense, brutal, in-your-face barrage. It needs to be that if you are going to do it.

FRED ARMISEN (COMEDIAN; SNL, PORTLANDIA): Whenever you see the original members of any band are getting back together, there is always a catch. So [when they announced the Misfits were reuniting at Riot Fest], I was like, “I am going to read this article again. I am going to read the names. I am going to check their website. I am going to check Doyle’s website...” And the further I got, I was like, “I think this is really happening.” So, I got my plane ticket and, you know, hoped for the best.

BRENDAN KELLY (VOCALS/BASS, THE LAWRENCE ARMS): That year [leading up to Riot Fest], you could visibly see the Misfits getting bigger. You would see them everywhere. You would see all these Crimson Ghost T-shirts... and I am talking about at, like, Walmart.

DANZIG: It was something that people had been waiting to see for a long time.

TIM MCILRATH (VOCALS/GUITAR, RISE AGAINST): So, when you saw those first notes being played?

DANZIG: People went out of their minds.

KELLY: I remember [in Chicago] we were standing there, and all of a sudden people started just pouring over the barricades. It was like people escaping a war.

DANZIG: I am onstage and I can see everything, and in the pit there is a bunch of security guys—and they’re all singing along.

ONLY: The most gratifying part of the entire project was the look on everybody’s face when it happened. Everybody was ecstatic.

KELLY: Everybody was going insane.

FAT MIKE (FRONTMAN, NOFX): I was backstage for a little while before [they played] and I was talking to Jerry. I have known Jerry for a while. I was like, “Jerry, hey, what’s up man? Can I get onstage?” And he was like, “Hey Mike, good to see you! Nope.” [Laughs.]

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN: It was bananas how many people wanted [to get onstage during their set]. Everyone wanted to be up there.

FAT MIKE: I got onstage anyway. Then [Scott] Sturgeon and Bradley [Logan] from [ crust-punk band] Leftöver Crack snuck under the stage. We pulled them up.

ARMISEN: For me, it was exactly what I dreamed of. It was everything I wanted and more. My eyes were so fixated on them. I was like, “I am really watching them together… There is good in the world.”

ONLY: The reaction from our fans exceeded my expectations. So many people have said it was the best show they have ever seen, and I’m glad we could bring that experience to them. That’s the reason we got back together.

ARMISEN: I have no idea [if they’ll keep going]. But I try not to look at the world with, you know, “Give me more…” For me, it’s more, like, gratitude. It’s like, “You guys got it together, saw that people love you, you sounded great and I appreciate the moment.”

PETRYSHYN: It was great to see that they announced an LA show [later this year] that sold out in seconds. Obviously, there is great demand. Hopefully this will spur on more Misfits shows.

You know, if a band doesn’t want to, they don’t have to tour the world. They can pick their markets. Have fun with it. Being in that band could be a lot of fun. [And] if they are ever feeling up for it, I know that me and million other people would be up for buying new music. I think there would be a lot of people like me.

DANZIG: I have some shows I have to do [this fall] with Danzig. We’ll see after that.

“They said it would never happen... and they were wrong. I think we proved that nothing is out of the realm of possibility. You’ll just have to wait and see.”—Jerry Only on the future of The Misfits

ONLY: They said it would never happen... [and] they were wrong. I think we proved that nothing is out of the realm of possibility. You’ll just have to wait and see.


ERIN RAYMER (SEAN’S LONGTIME GIRLFRIEND): A lot of people, when they get cancer, it completely changes their life. But Sean just wanted to act like it never happened.

JAKE CRONIN (FRIEND, FORMER MANAGER, COBRA LOUNGE): People [at his job on the trading room] floor didn’t even know what happened. He went back down on the floor and the guys didn’t know. They just thought he took a four-month vacation.

RAYMER: He just dove right back into work.

CRONIN: It would frustrate me, at times. The last two years, to watch him work was actually horrible because I knew what it was doing to him. I was scared.

ERIN RAYMER: He would literally work all day, every day.

CRONIN: [He had a dozen businesses going] at the time, and he tried to personally be with each one.

PRINCIPE: He would talk to me so nonchalantly [about everything he had going on]. He was like, “You know, I own that city block that Cobra Lounge is on... ” And I was like, “You own the city block? Like the entire block?”

CRONIN: He was burning the candle at both ends.

RAYMER: I remember Sean, years ago, told me, “I don’t think I am going to live to be very old,” and I said, “Sean, don’t even say that.” He was like, “That’s just how I feel. I have always had this feeling… ”

CRONIN: He always had a sense that it all could all be gone tomorrow.

RAYMER: He would always use this RV for Riot Fest that was his dad’s. So [last winter] he was like, “I’ve got to get the RV back to [my dad in] Arkansas. I don’t want the pipes to freeze.”

He got to Arkansas on a Saturday. He seemed fine. Then he called me on Sunday and was like, “I have a really bad headache that won’t go away.” I was like, “Just drink a lot of water, you’re probably dehydrated. You need some rest.” That was at 9 at night, and he was like, “I’ll call you in the morning.”

That morning I woke up and sent him a text. He didn’t answer. I tried calling. He didn’t answer. That is when his step-mom called.

CRONIN: He was just…he was out.

RAYMER: They thought originally that he had just had a couple of mild strokes. So I am thinking, “Okay, I am going to have to go down and drive him back. He is going to have to have physical therapy. But it’s Sean. He’s invincible.”

CRONIN: I thought that we would have to walk him around and he would have a cane for a minute. It was bad. But I thought for sure that he was going to [be all right].

RAYMER: When I got to the ICU, it was weird. He looked over at me. He was somewhat conscious. He was kind of shaking, wanting to get out of bed. But he couldn’t talk.

I wanted to stay with him [that night], but the nurse was like, “We don’t let anyone stay in ICU.” So I was like, “You’re right. I’ll let him get some rest. I’ll be back in the morning.” We had rooms in the hospital and at 6 a.m., they called. They said, “You guys need to come up and make a decision about emergency surgery… ” And my heart just sank.

PETRYSHYN: I remember they were performing some operation that was going to make him better. It was like, “He’ll get through this. I know he will get better.” And, obviously, he didn’t get better.

RAYMER: [That morning] as we headed up, his dad had a [non-fatal] heart attack [in the elevator]. So him and his step-mom ended up going to the emergency room. I had to go up by myself. That’s when I found out…and that was…ughh.

PRINCIPE: My sister called me that morning and said, “Sean passed away.” It didn’t even register.

PETRYSHYN: It was just a daze.

ERIC SPICER (DRUMMER, NAKED RAYGUN): I was totally shocked.

PETRYSHYN: I mean, you’re talking about a guy who beat cancer.

SPICER: It just seemed so unfair.

“There are some people that that shouldn’t happen to. It doesn’t make any sense—Sean was one of those guys.”—Joe Principe, Rise Against on the loss of Sean McKeough

PRINCIPE: There are some people that that shouldn’t happen to. It doesn’t make any sense—Sean was one of those guys.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN: He was so young, and he was so intensely full of life.

CRONIN: He was just the most giving person.

JEFF PEZZATI (VOCALS, NAKED RAYGUN): [A few years ago], a friend of his passed away from cancer. I remember, before he passed, he said to the guy, “What do you want? You’re going to die. What can I do for you?” And he said, “I want a Tesla.” [Pauses.] So the next day he bought him a Tesla.

RAYMER: And Elon Musk signed the visor. That was something Sean did for him.

PEZZATI: So to lose a guy like that? It was just a huge bummer.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN: It was crushing.

PETRYSHYN: [After he passed], I knew I had to write something. It was weird. I knew I had to put out a statement [to the press about his death]. But I don’t even remember writing the words. I remember just closing my door and crying.

“I was telling someone the other day, I feel like when Sean passed away he watched the movie of his life, and he was probably like, ‘Play that shit again.’”—Erin Raymer, longtime girlfriend of Sean McKeough

RAYMER: I read a lot of books after Sean passed away. I became obsessed with knowing, “Is there something beyond this life?” One of the books I read said, “When we die, we kind of have this life review, and it’s like watching a movie of your life.”

I was telling someone the other day, “You know, I feel like when Sean passed away he watched the movie of his life, and he was probably like, ‘Play that shit again.’” [Laughs.] We should all live our lives like that. You should just live life the best that you can. That is exactly what Sean did.