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





DARREN HILL (MANAGER, PAUL WESTERBERG): Honestly, I never thought it would happen.

MIKE PETRYSHYN (FOUNDER, RIOT FEST): I had heard rumors that other big festivals wanted them.

HILL: And every year, I would get the calls.

TOMMY STINSON (BASS, THE REPLACEMENTS): It was literally two years after the band broke up that we started getting the calls. Then it was pretty much once a year, every year, after that. People wanted to know, “When are the Replacements going to get back together?”

HILL: “What would it take to get these guys onstage? Can we make an offer?” But it was never anything that Paul entertained. He never wanted to look back.

STINSON: For us, it really started with Slim.

BEN PERLSTEIN (FORMER MANAGER, TOMMY STINSON): Everything changed when Slim Dunlap [who played guitar in the Replacements] had his stroke. He was in the bathroom and he hit his head on the bathtub, and he hasn’t gotten off of his right-hand side since. That was in 2012.

STINSON: I went with Paul to the hospital to see Slim. I went a couple of times, and I remember Paul got down and got real close to Slim.

PAUL WESTERBERG (VOCALS/GUITAR, THE REPLACEMENTS): One day I am whispering in his ear and we’re all crying and stuff, and I am saying, like, “What do we do?”

HILL: He could barely speak at that point. But he pulled Paul down to his ear and whispered in it, “Go out and play.”

WESTERBERG: It was the kind of thing of, like, “I guess we can.” We can walk out of this room. We can stand up. I don’t know if we’re any good, [but] he can’t get up. He hasn’t swallowed in almost three years. He can’t speak. He can’t move. When he says, “Go play?” That was huge.

“For Paul, it was like, ‘If I am ever going to do this, this is probably the time, before’—and I think he actually said this—‘before another one of us dies.’”—Darren Hill, manager for The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg

HILL: That was an eye-opener for Paul. It was like, “If I am ever going to do this, this is probably the time, before”—and I think he actually said this—“before another one of us dies.”

PERLSTEIN: Eventually, [Tommy and Paul] got together to record Songs For Slim [a covers EP released by the Replacements to raise money for Dunlap’s medical care], and they had fun with it. So, they went back a few months later. While we were at the second session, they were hit up [by Mike].

PETRYSHYN: To me, it just seemed like it would have been a perfect fit for Riot Fest—just sonically, it made a lot of sense. So I put in an offer.

CORRIE CHRISTOPHER MARTIN (PARTNER, RIOT FEST): [Then] we spent seven months trying to get that to happen. It was just a lot of, “It looks good…now we don’t know if it looks good…now no one has heard from Paul.” [Laughs.]

STINSON: You know, Paul and I had to think about it, and talk about it. We had to do that thing where we were like, “Should we do it? Should we not do it? Do you want to do it? I don’t know, do you?”

HILL: That went on for a while.

PETRYSHYN: It went away a lot. I remember everybody kind of gave up on it. This was, like, June, [and] I was like, “It’s not going to happen.”

PERLSTEIN: It was pretty much dead.

HILL: I mean, we were right up to the last minute that we could say yes or no.

PERLSTEIN: But at one point, in all the negotiations, Mike and Sean said they were going to donate some money from that year to Slim’s medical expenses. They said, even if the band passed, they were still going to do it. That meant a lot.

WESTERBERG: It felt kind of good, like we were doing something positive.

PETRYSHYN: So, I remember it was a Friday and I was sitting on my stoop. Darren [calls and] goes, “So, would this offer still be considered alive?” And I am like, “What are you talking about? Yeah, it’s alive.” Then Saturday rolls by. Sunday rolls by. Monday rolls by. Nothing.

HILL: Then, finally, we got everyone to agree.

PETRYSHYN: So, [that Wednesday] I got a text from Ben in the morning, and all it had was a smiley face. Tears started coming down my eyes. I remember texting back, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And he goes, “I’ll let Darren tell you.” Darren called and...my heart just exploded. Then, four hours later, we announced.

HILL: Once that went out, things just lit up. It was wild.

PERLSTEIN: Any time we did anything with the Replacements, we went into it with no expectations and we were blown away. This was no different.

STINSON: It was insane. I definitely heard from people that day who I hadn’t heard from in years. [Laughs.]

PETRYSHYN: I kind of have rules when we announce stuff. I don’t look at ticket counts. I don’t look at press. And I don’t look at social media. So, in that moment, I went to CNN—and I saw it on there: “The Replacements reunite for Riot Fest.” I was just like, “Oh, this is kind of big...” [Laughs.]

ERIN RAYMER (SEAN MCKEOUGH’S LONGTIME GIRLFRIEND): [That same year] Sean kept getting hoarse. He thought it was just from screaming every day [on the trading room floor]. But it wasn’t going away.

JAKE CRONIN (FRIEND, FORMER MANAGER, COBRA LOUNGE): So, he was like, “I am going to go on a trip. I need to relax; I am yelling too much [at work].”

RAYMER: We went to Necker Island, which is the island where [famed billionaire] Richard Branson lives. He decided to rent the entire island.

CRONIN: That’s Sean. Of course, he is hanging out with Richard Branson. What the fuck?! [Laughs.]

RAYMER: Him and Richard became actual friends. They got along. They would sit and play chess. So Richard [noticed that he was hoarse] and said, “You need to go to the doctor.” Sean was so stubborn. I kept telling him that. But Richard Branson says it and he’s like, “Yeah, maybe I should…” [Laughs.]

CRONIN: He went to three different doctors and [the last one he saw] was like, “You’ve got stage four cancer. This is going to be tough.”

RAYMER: They did a biopsy and found out he had cancer on his vocal cord—and it was pretty aggressive. After that happened, he never got his voice back fully.

ERIC SPICER (DRUMMER, NAKED RAYGUN): For most people that would be like, “Okay, that’s it. I am going to lie down for a while.” But for Sean it was just a bump in the road.

RAYMER: It was one of those things where he was just like, “It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll just get through it.” He never thought too much about it.

PETRYSHYN: I remember when he told me. I was in Toronto at Riot Fest, and he wasn’t there. So, he called me. I remember just falling out of my chair.

RAYMER: [That year] the doctor told me, “Do not let Sean go to Riot Fest. He needs to heal. This is a big deal.” He had just had surgery on Tuesday and Friday was when Riot Fest started [in Chicago].

PETRYSHYN: When he didn’t come to the first day in Chicago, because he was dealing with the side effects of chemo and radiation, it felt really weird.

RAYMER: That Friday, he was at home and he started getting all these text messages. I knew it was killing him. I was just like, “Uh-oh, here we go…”

PETRYSHYN: The doctors told him not to. But he went on Saturday and Sunday. [The three of us] were able to get the Replacements. There is no way he wanted to miss that.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN: It was musical history.

PERLSTEIN: I remember there was a 10 p.m. curfew the night they played [in Chicago]. Usually they’ll cut you off [because you can get fined if you go over]. But Mike didn’t give a fuck. He was like, “Keep going.” It was a beautiful thing.

STINSON: Once we were done [with those Riot Fest shows] we knew that we could do it. We knew that we could keep playing.

PERLSTEIN: The plan was always, “We’ll do these shows and see how it goes.” Then it went well. So then the Coachella offer comes in, and it’s good. Then it’s The Tonight Show and a hometown stadium show, and it’s like, “All right, let’s go…”

HILL: But [all of that may not have happened] had we debuted at, like, Coachella—which, you know, we had a lousy experience at the following year. [Laughs.]

“Other festivals sell out before they even announce who is playing. The people aren’t necessarily there for your music. They’re there to take molly or whatever. But Riot Fest is different. We knew we would be playing to our people.”—Tommy Stinson, the Replacements

STINSON: I’ll tell you right now, it wouldn’t have. And here is why: Those other festivals sell out before they even announce who is playing. The people aren’t necessarily there for your music; they’re there to take molly or whatever. But Riot Fest is different. We knew we would be playing to our people.

PETRYSHYN: We always take a yearly trip a couple months after Riot Fest. So that January [after the Replacements reunion] we were all in Mexico together, and Sean found out then. The results came back. He was in the clear.

CRONIN: He just quietly went in, did his chemo and radiation, and then he went back out. It was crazy.

PETRYSHYN: He beat it.

RAYMER: And then he was right back at it.