All things considered, Riot Fest is one of the best music festivals in North America. The few cities to host it bring in the biggest names in rock, along with the festive atmosphere that only brightly lit carnival rides can muster. It’s an incredible journey that traverses decades of influence, drawing bands just as famous now as they were twenty years ago, much less bands currently on fire. And the first day of it was arguably quite miserable. There’s a saying that it’s not punk rock without mud, and Riot Fest was muddy as shit.
Prior to the gates even opening, the rain had fallen for hours to varying degrees. Paired with a cold wind and the rapidly falling temperatures of a Midwest autumn, the evening became the coldest night in months. By the end of the night I was decked out in two shirts, two hoodies and a last minute purchased rain poncho that offered no protection from the weather.
Due to unforeseen circumstance, I was unable to arrive until later in the evening, able to see just a couple of acts and get a feel for the grounds. I am obviously not aware of what led to the planning of the festival and what led it to be held on the other half of Humboldt Park this year, but it was a poor substitute for last year’s layout.
A year ago, the stages were further apart but the grounds were an open sandbox that allowed attendees to find their own path to any part of the park. It allowed for people to see the differing stages from multiple views without the bands stepping on each others sound while the merch tables and beer stands were to the sides and out of the way. The only things to possibly get in the way were the carnival rides facing the main stages.
While this part of Humboldt was definitely bigger, the layout was way more haphazard. Instead of an open layout, there was a clear arcing path alongside the outside of the given area, as a majority of the inner part was a large pond. The main stages were closer together so that it was easier to camp out and enjoy an area for large portions of the day, but maneuvering was considerably difficult.
The main entrance was alone at one end, away from everything and requiring a several minute walk just to see the first stage. Food carts lined the arched outer area, which meant that they were all together for convenience, but directly in the way of the main lanes of foot traffic. In order to avoid this, you were forced to walk through the crowds of the bands playing. Anyone hurrying to see a headliner would find themselves stuck in needless gridlocks of people for minutes at a time due to the few congested pathways.
The stages so close together made it simple if you were planning to stand in one place all day, but making your way to a stage could be problematic, as the areas for the bands was smaller because oftentimes half of the given area was taken up by people waiting for the next band thirty minutes away. This wasn’t necessarily the case all the time, but I found it an issue while trying to jump between acts.
The night wasn’t without its merits though: Rise Against were pretty sweet. As one of the headliners, they took over one of the stages at the far end of the festival. The weather did little to stifle the energy of the bands that evening but being in their hometown of Chicago, Rise Against laughed it off on stage. Their set toured throughout their discography, spending the largest amount of time with songs from The Sufferer and the Witness before inviting Fat Mike from NOFX onstage to play a couple of Ramones songs. They were sadly all I managed to spy with my little eye.
While opening night felt miserable, the energy rewarded anyone willing to brave the storm and lay the foundation for the next two days. The mud would dry and the rain gave way to warm sun and cool breezes, a vast contrast to the brutal sun of Warped Tour. The grounds proved trickier to manage than in years past but ultimately not much of a trial for the persistent. Riot Fest brought autumn to the Midwest in epic fashion.
by Kyle Schultz