In the days leading up to this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago, I kept checking the weather app on my phone. Friday? Rain. Saturday? Rain. I thought maybe the forecast might change and we’d be able to enjoy the festival on dry ground for once. No such luck.
I arrived at Douglas Park early Friday afternoon wearing the black Chucks I bought last year to replace the black Chucks that were ruined in the mud at Riot Fest 2014. Before this year’s festival could even begin, the ground was already sloppy. The good news was that Douglas Park allowed for a much more sensible layout than Humboldt Park. At least if we were going to get covered in mud, we wouldn’t have to walk as far.
For me, the day truly kicked off when Every Time I Die took the Rebel Stage. Last year’s From Parts Unknown was a return to vicious form for the metalcore vets and their set did not disappoint. It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Keith Buckley when he’s commanding the stage with his roar, but the rest of the band can be just as rowdy. The set ended with Jordan Buckley throwing himself through the stacked amps on stage, Kurt Cobain-style. It only seemed appropriate, especially after the band’s performance of Nirvana’s “Tourette’s”.
Against Me! took the Rise Stage immediately after and raged through an energetic set. That the band can still stand after a year of non-stop touring in support of Transgender Dysphoria Blues is nothing short of miraculous. That Laura Jane Grace can take the stage with such energy and emotion is a thing of beauty. The set ended with “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”, but the night continued later as the band played a secret show at Conchord Music Hall.
Although I’ve been listening to Coheed and Cambria on and off since 2003, I had somehow managed to miss the band in concert until Riot Fest. The performance was just as I had imagined it would be, however, with Claudio Sanchez singing in perfect tune from start to finish. I was delighted to hear the band play my three favorite songs of theirs (“A Favor House Atlantic”, “The Camper Velourium III: Al the Killer” and “Blood Red Summer”) all in succession. Clocking in at exactly an hour, the set felt like it passed in a matter of minutes.
The most surprising part of the weekend for me took place that evening as the sun set at the Rock Stage and Faith No More appeared. While I’m not as familiar with their music as I would like to be, my friend was thrilled to see the return of his favorite band. It was a sight to behold as the entire crowd sang along with the incredible Mike Patton, who showed off his vocal range in every way imaginable. The band easily had the most impressively tight set of the weekend, with every note sounding as if it were being played from the record.
Part of what makes Riot Fest so great is seeing newer bands like Real Friends get a chance at the big stage while legends like Faith No More are able to flex their muscles once more in front of giant crowds. I’ve said in the past that Riot Fest is like Warped Tour for grown-ups, but truly, it’s bigger than that. There’s literally something for almost everyone, and it’s impossible to leave disappointed or unimpressed.
At no point was this more obvious to me than when the night closed with Ice Cube at the Rebel Stage. I briefly caught a glimpse of No Doubt before making my way over to watch Cube rock the mic. After four of his solo tracks, he welcomed N.W.A. partners MC Ren and DJ Yella to the stage as the trio performed tracks from their legendary Straight Outta Compton release. By the time the crew launched into “Fuck tha Police”, the crowd collectively lost their minds. It was almost surreal watching the crowd unite for one of our era’s most important songs.
Yes, there is mud. Always. But in exchange for our wet clothes and soaked shoes, we’re given some of the most amazing reunions and performances we could ask for. Our clothes are muddy, our muscles are sore, and our stomachs ache from the disgusting food and copious amounts of alcohol – but our hearts are invariably full.
Read about day 2 here.
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.