Riot Fest


Thursday 18th September 2014

An unseasonably low temperature and rain dampened the grounds at Chicago’s Humboldt Park on the opening Friday of Riot Fest, but spirits remained high as organizers and fans worked together to make the most of the bad weather.

Now in its tenth year, Riot Fest has called Humboldt Park home since 2012 and utilized the expansive tract of land to set up seven stages as well as carnival amusements, including two Ferris wheels, a haunted house and a miniature golf course.

I entered the festival grounds at 6PM and caught Radkey, a trio of young brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri, as they channeled The Ramones and Bad Brains on one of the fest’s smaller stages. The rain hardened and the temperature dropped considerably during their set, and as night fell the park became increasingly difficult to navigate. Still, I was able to catch snatches of festival perennials Gogol Bordello and Baltimore’s Pianos Become the Teeth before exiting Humboldt to the strains of metal titans Mastodon.

The weather was markedly improved Saturday afternoon, and the sunshine and relative warmth welcomed festivalgoers back to the park. The grounds were muddy as hell, but worth navigating to catch SoCal punks Face to Face, the nattily dressed Afghan Whigs, a fantastic set by Modfather Paul Weller and his crack backing band, Chicago ska group The Crombies, and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan in front of an enormous crowd.

Sunday was a truly beautiful day weather-wise, and I entered Humboldt Park to the strains of Billy Bragg. I made a beeline to the designated press area to interview Chicago’s Archie Powell & the Exports hours before their scheduled 7:30 PM set. We talked about a variety of music and festival-related topics, including playing outdoors (“It messes with your brain,” according to Powell), the importance of structure in pop music when it comes to sing-alongs, the band’s plans to play NYC this fall and the writing of an unsolicited script for Wayne’s World 3 (I believe that they were serious about this). 

After the interview wrapped, I took in a few partial sets on three different stages: Chicago post-punk legends Naked Raygun were shaky at best (a recent change in line-up due to illness certainly didn’t help matters); young punks Cerebral Ballzy were appropriately snotty; San Diego’s Hot Snakes kicked out the jams, and Irish punks Dropkick Murphys tore through the hits “Rose Tattoo” and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”

I closed out my Riot Fest weekend with two galvanizing full sets of music. Patti Smith drew a massive crowd and much good cheer for her early evening performance, playing a selection of classics including “Dancing Barefoot,” “Redondo Beach,” an emotional cover of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” (in memory of her late husband), “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power.” Finally, I made my way to the opposite end of the park to catch a headlining set by Weezer. The seasoned alternative rockers played a smattering of hits, including “Beverly Hills” and “Hash Pipe,” before diving in to their debut album for a chronological run through the ten tracks that first made them famous.

Riot Fest will next set up camp in Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, 19-21 September.

Written by August Forte


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