The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Riot Fest 2015 – Day 2

RiotFest

Riot Fest is an exhausting weekend. Sticking with what has become a yearly tradition, Day 2 of the festival opened after a full day and night of rain and cool temperatures the day before. Thankfully, Saturday’s weather was gorgeous save for a few threatening clouds, but the rain had left its mark, and it would be felt by dozens before the night was done.

One of the trademarks of Riot Fest is how quickly the earth turns to mud once it rains. Vans shoe after Vans shoe smashes the soft grass into the chunky clay and it tends to become a mess. Everyone at the festival would experience it, but for some, it would become a nightmare.

Let’s jump back though, just a bit, to about midday, when Millencolin blazed away to a large crowd. The band looked eerily relaxed on stage, pacing gently and letting the crowd do the majority of the energetic work for them; we were happy to oblige. It was a quick startup to the day ahead.

The Movielife took the stage early on in their full 2002 glory. Vinnie Caruana paced the stage, screaming as the band blazed through their songs to a large crowd, considering the group has been mostly inactive and haven’t released any material in the last 13 years. Regardless, they carried the torch high for the generation that really launched the pop punk revolution from Drive Thru Records back in the day.

About midday, The Dead Milkmen came up, and basically split the crowd in half. On the one side, there were hardcore fans, singing along to every word, losing their shit and constantly reminding anyone who stood near them that seeing this band live was “something magical that doesn’t happen very often.” The other half couldn’t have given less of a fuck and waited it out or went to see who else was playing.

Midday, several current bands utterly slayed everything in their path. Mayday Parade took the stage by storm, delivering one of the most energetic sets I’ve ever seen, leading the crowd in choruses so strong, some people I brought with me who had never heard of the band before were humming the songs by the end. One of the more memorable moments came when the band played a new song, “One of Them Will Destroy the Other”, allegedly for the first time live. The real surprise though, was when Dan Lambton of Real Friends stormed the stage midway through and sang double vocals with vocalist Derek Sanders.

The Devil Wears Prada are destroyers of all things living and pilot the stage like they were trying to destroy Alderaan. Do you really need to know anything else? It’s an amazing show they put on, and even in peak daylight, their lightshow is perfect.

Alexisonfire recently reunited to a mad swarm of fans. The band danced around the stage to a frenzied crowd, wondering when their next chance would be to see the group live again. Although it didn’t happen at Chicago Riot Fest, a week later, the band would announce their official reunion at Riot Fest Toronto in their native Canada.

That night though, was when the true magic appeared, and for some, pure terror.

Billy Idol headlined his stage to a monstrous crowd. He carried his swagger and demanded the crowd sing along with him. He was truly enigmatic, blasting music across the hills before ending with a massive rendition of “White Wedding” that sent the crowd raging screams as Billy commanded their attention.

Taking Back Sunday helped close off the night with a massive stage show. For being one the smaller stages, they upped the ante from their headlining position the previous year. Even several hundred feet from the stage, fans jumped and sang back. With a massive catalog of older songs and their newer hits, the band blasted the night sky with a huge light show.

Then there was The Academy Is… The instant they stepped on stage, the crowd fell under their spell – the opening lines, “Attention, attention” grabbed the audience completely. Despite the incredible noise the band managed to produce, the crowd sang back almost loud enough to drown them out. Their performance was magnetic, nostalgic and hypnotizing, made all the better with the announcement of the band taking a full tour for the 10th anniversary of Almost Here before ending with one of their most underrated songs, “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands”.

Finally, System of a Down took full reign of the evening. They headlined Day 2 on the biggest stage, and were the unfortunate victims of the day’s muddied frenzy. I only saw the band from the very back of the crowd, as I am not terribly familiar with their music but wanted to see them perform. Several friends jumped headfirst into the gigantic crowd, hoping for a good view and a place to jump. It was catastrophic.

The crowd in front of the stage became too large, too quick, and the mud beneath their feet basically liquefied. Within the first few songs, all hell broke loose as waves of people fell, with more eager fans trampling them further into the mud. The band was forced to stop their set at least twice for minutes at a time to make sure people could get out, but for those in the crowd, it was utter hell. There are dozens of stories about people thinking they were going to die from suffocating in the mud, of people with a bit of space grabbing girls and smaller people and throwing them into the air to crowd surf them to safety.

Although there were officially only a few injuries, several people passed out, and one of my friends emerged with a muddied boot print across his nose and a glassy-eyed, shell shock look on his face as he just mumbled that “he saw a body, face down in the mud, not breathing,” and how the crowd closed in and started jumping before he could get close enough to pull the stranger out of the mud.

It was unfortunate, but a cost of unfortunate weather, and an enormous swarm of loyal fans willing to wade through hell to see their band. At the very least, there are some unique battle stories to be had.

Riot Fest is my favorite festival. So many generations of musicians and fans make it an event that lacks to pompous and annoying crowds that flock to younger shows. This is an event for everyone, and a generous helping of music for whatever genre or era you’re most in love with. With all of the trouble the festival faced this year in Chicago (forced to move venues, sued by a hospital, the mud, so much mud), I fear that we may not see them here again. But Chicago loves this festival, which has quickly become a yearly staple for those who have attended before. I sincerely hope that the festival survives Chicago’s bullshit to reward those loyal enough to come year after year.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and went to Riot Fest with a man dressed like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers. He was recognized almost a dozen times and posed for photos, while I stood awkwardly to the side, hoping for the sweet release of beer to take hold.

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