Believe it or not, this year marks the 10th anniversary for Riot Fest, Chicago’s own punk rock music festival and carnival. While locals can likely recount the event in its early days, only in recent years has the festival become a full-blown, internationally respected gathering. The 2014 lineup was one for the ages, honoring both past and present movers and shakers in the punk scene and far, far beyond.
Saturday was marked by big names that spanned multiple genres: Indie rock (The National, The Flaming Lips, Metric), hip hop (Wu Tang Clan, Die Antwoord), punk (Samhain, Descendants), rock (Taking Back Sunday, The Used, Dashboard Confessional), and much more.
If you had difficulty putting together your personal schedule, you weren’t the only one. The good news is that no matter where you found yourself, it was nearly impossible to feel disappointed.
One of the things that has made Riot Fest so noteworthy of late is its ability to showcase bands that are reuniting at the event, saying goodbye, or paying homage to their past. At this year’s festival, 10 major bands played classic albums from front to back, adding even further motivation to attend (as if you needed it).
Looking at the massive crowd, it’s easy to tell that this method of attraction is working. Riot Fest feels like Warped Tour grown up, drawing in thousands of former punk rock youths now turned adult, feigning for a chance to see their favorite band one last time. It’s hard to remember an event becoming this relevant by celebrating the past.
Personally, my day was awash in nostalgia. My main reason for attendance was to say goodbye to one of my favorite bands – Saosin. The group recently reunited with original lead vocalist Anthony Green after being dormant for over four years. The resulting one-off shows have appeared to come to an end with their Riot Fest appearance.
Even with their set landing in the middle of the afternoon, Saosin still drew a large crowd of devoted fans who appeared both excited and anxious about what appears to be an impending end. Green appropriately addressed the crowd upon taking the stage by stating, “Hi, we’re Saosin from ten years ago” before launching into “Lost Symphonies”.
These sorts of nods to the past abound throughout the day. Dashboard Confessional took the stage on Saturday for only the fourth time in the past four years as Chris Carrabba’s new project, Twin Forks, has taken the lead. Nevertheless, Carrabba looked elated as the band performed fan favorites from Swiss Army Romance and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most with every crowd member singing the words.
If that last sentence sounds familiar, it’s probably because we’ve all lived it before. There’s something about Riot Fest that causes these performances to seemingly live outside of the norm – a time capsule that allows you to emotionally transport back to youthful excitement.
That’s not to say that this isn’t good music in the present. Far from it. In fact, Say Anything sounds at their best during their set when playing tracks from their latest album, Hebrews, even if they still rope you in with classic cuts from …Is a Real Boy. The Used show off ferocious new songs from Imaginary Enemy, but still bring the house down with “A Box Full of Sharp Objects”.
Finishing off the day at the Rock Stage is Taking Back Sunday, drawing one of the festival’s largest crowds of the day. A veteran band with a large following built during their early days, they waste no time in breaking out “Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team)” before moving on to newer songs from Happiness Is and older classics. It’s not a trip down memory lane for the crowd – it’s the experience of a band with a now monstrously strong front-to-back catalogue.
Lead vocalist Adam Lazzara may no longer be a spring chicken, but he flashes glimpses of youthful exuberance, highlighted by his signature mic swinging and capped by his climbing of the stage scaffolding during the band’s final song.
Lazzara isn’t alone in his impassioned performance. Carrabba, Green, Bert McCracken, Max Bemis – they all shared a fire on Saturday, looking and sounding as sharp as ever. Call it an anomaly if you will, but there’s something about the friendly confines of Humboldt Park that seem to bring out the best in the bands we’ve loved for the past decade.
Rock and roll is a young man’s game, but if this year’s Riot Fest proves anything, it’s that punk’s current, and even past, generations aren’t quite ready to hand off the baton just yet. Judging from the crowd response, it won’t be any time soon, either.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.