Photos by Nick Karp
If you’ve ever come home from a summer music festival with a ridiculous sunburn and wondered why the hell they hold these things in the middle of July, Riot Fest is your answer.
By the time the festival opened its gates for a three-day weekend in Chicago yesterday, it was already grey, rainy, and the temperature was somewhere below 50 degrees. That’s an estimate since Humboldt Park is a cell phone service dead zone and no one dared to pull up the weather app for fear of instantly draining their precious, precious battery. But suffice it to say, the temperature hovered somewhere between ass-cold and balls-cold.
And because there was a steady stream of rain—not heavy rain but that sort of annoying misty rain that makes you have to wipe off your glasses every five seconds—there was also whole lot of mud. Everywhere. EVERY FUCKING WHERE. All in all, it was a bummer of a way to kick off a weekend where everything is centered around the idea of FUN—there are rides, a haunted house, and ferris wheels. All went unused because of the rain. People didn’t even move faster than a poncho-clad zombie’s pace—taking short, very careful steps—to keep the mud damage to their shoes to a minimum. (There were A LOT of ruined pairs of Vans.) Plus, no one wants to be that person who runs through a mud slick, slips, and eats shit in front of 30,000 people.
“Hopeful optimism” would be the best phrase to describe Riot Fest’s first day. A shitty way to start it off, but hey, rumor has it, it’s supposed to be pretty nice on Saturday and Sunday. Oh, yeah, and some music happened…
GWAR and Slayer both played yesterday—two metal bands soldiering on without their respective recently fallen members. GWAR had an early set and kicked off the festival by unsheathing a giant sword and decapitating a man dressed as the President and noted local community organizer, Barack Obama. Many wondered how GWAR would replace a frontman who donned a fake, gigantic jizz-spouting cock. Simple: with a frontman who dons a fake, gigantic blood-spouting udder. Change is one of the hardest things to accept after death. Part of me was excited to see everyone covered in blood. But part of me teared up, missing all that jizz.
Obama, before death by decapitation. (Your Republican aunt Donna would've loved it.)
Yeah, but I still miss Oderus. [sniffle]
Gwar fans. Totally worth it.
Slayer, reigning in blood in the rain.
Somos, Title Fight, and the Hotelier brought some new blood into festival’s lineup although I can’t imagine it was any fun for them to play in the middle of a dreary day. Have you ever played guitar in the cold? For starters, it’s hard to feel what you’re doing so most times you sound like shit, plus your fingers start bleeding easily. It’s the worst.
Failure and NOFX played consecutively on two stages that face each other. As Failure’s last notes rang out, Fat Mike’s mic turned on, he looked out at Failure’s stage in the distance, and didn’t waste a second: “Shut up, just shut up, you’re a failure to everyone here.” After NOFX’s first song, Mike jumped back into it: “That one song was better than every Failure album combined.” He then went on to play 90 more songs about farts.
Gogol Bordello in the fucking rain.
One of the themes of this weekend is Bands Playing Their Classic Album. Batting first and trying to hit a nostalgia homer was the Offspring playing Smash straight through. Say what you will about the band’s “Fly for a White Guy / Bumping in My Truck” self-parody career over the last 15 or so years, but Smash sounded pretty unfuckwithable. I also heard that a few brave fans jumped the barricade and punched some security guards in the face. I didn’t see it though since by that time, I was huddled under a tent where I had sliced an Of Mice & Men fan open to stay warm for the evening.*
The day also brought one of the more adventures endeavors the Fest has organized in its decade of existence: a panel with the members of Pussy Riot (pictured below).
Pussy Riot, disarmingly charming and smart.
Hosted by Henry Rollins (because of course) and joined by Greg Graffin (of Bad Religion), Tim McIlrath (of Rise Against), activist Marcelle Karp, and Riot Fest organizer Mike Petryshyn, the 75-minute discussion meandered all over the place, with Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina sometimes speaking in English, and sometimes through a translator. While the panel’s audience may have been a fraction of the size as that of NOFX, who was playing on the other side of the park, there was something unbelievably inspiring about a female-heavy audience standing in the rain, raising their fists, and cheering along to messages of pro-feminism and anti-dictatorship. Bands with mohawks getting paid five figures to sing about decades-old political issues? No. This thing happening, right on the stage of this panel, this was punk rock. Oh and there was also a guy there dressed as a pirate.
Towards the end of the festival, I skipped out on seeing the day's headliner and world’s most overrated band, Rise Against, to head out of the park for an offsite show. A very nice bearded local man named Mike Petruccelli, who knew who I was but didn’t hold it against me, gingerly gave me a guided tour of Chicago (hey, that’s the name of the Lawrence Arms record!). We took a bus to a venue called The Beat Kitchen where Beach Slang was playing a non-official Riot Fest after show. If you follow me on Instagram or the Twitters (sorry by the way), you know my love for the Slang runs deep. One of the best fucking bands around today, for sure. Kurt Loder agrees.
Here is a photo I took of Beach Slang ruling.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some rinsing out of my sneakers to do in this hotel bathroom’s sink.
* JK JK no Of Mice & Men fans were harmed in the writing of this festival recap, except for their ears which had to listen to Of Mice & Men.