What drives tens of thousands of multi-color-haired, Blink-182-shirt-wearing, Brand New-tattooed punks from all over the country (and even continent) to one city over one weekend?
Let me give you a clue from the festival’s official website:
“We may not be the prettiest festival, but we’ll totally sleep with you on the first date.”
That’s right, Riot Fest. And no, it wasn’t pretty. But it wasn’t all ugly either. Here are a few of the best and worst things about Riot Fest from my experience.
Rancid. Blink-182. Brand New. Taking Back Sunday. Blondie. It was a lineup like I’ve never seen before, a lineup spectacular enough for me and three friends to make the 14-hour drive from Florida to Chicago. Over the course of three days, Riot Fest brought in over 70 old-school, new-school and legendary bands. If you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing and look at it now.
The Food Trucks
Anyone who has ever attended a festival knows the food options at a venue are generally limited to pizza and cheese fries, but Riot Fest brought a wide range of options to their punk rock fans. Along with the good old venue food, a whole strip of food trucks lined the sidewalks. Burritos, buffalo chicken sandwiches, the possibilities were endless (well, as endless as they could be at a music festival).
Almost every concert I’ve been to has had meathead security guys hired by the venue who just want to one-up each other on throwing the most crowd surfers on the ground. Riot Fest was different, not surprisingly. The security guards held down Humboldt Park as 100,000 Riot Festers moshed, crowd surfed, pushed and shoved. Personally, I preferred security gently placing me on the concrete after crowd surfing and then being asked “Are you okay? Did you lose anything?” So props to the killer security, especially the one guard singing along to Pennywise.
The Brand New Tattoos
You can tell a lot about a band from the tattoos they inspire. Brand New was one of the bigger bands playing on Sunday, and throughout the weekend fans were scattered about the park with permanent Deja Entendu astronauts on their thighs, arms, sides, etc. Seeing people invest that much meaning into a band, especially when they’re all at one show, makes me all sorts of fuzzy inside; but maybe I’m just partial to band tattoos.
By the time Taking Back Sunday took the stage, I was in full-on Riot Fest mode, determined to do the hardest rocking I could possibly do. So I embraced the sloppy, “Cute-Without-the-‘E’-is-my-favorite-song” fans and crowd surfed for the first time in my eight-year concert-attending career. I floated atop the bed of beer-soaked, dirty hands. Knowing the crowd was big – I mean enormous – enough and that the fans looked out for each other made me feel a part of a Riot Fest family.
Rain in Chicago is cold, and I’m not just saying that because I’m from Florida. Clouds and steady rain came out and stuck around all day on Sunday. When we weren’t watching any bands play, we found refuge underneath the carnival games’ overhang; of course, the attendees weren’t exactly thrilled to have us blocking the booth from the handful of people who were going to actually pay to play a game. The majority of bands I did want to see that day played the Roots Stage, also known as the stage set up on a baseball field. That infield clay turned into a standing lake of red mud, and no one’s legs were safe.
The best part of Riot Fest is being surrounded by people who love music just about as much as you do. The worst part of Riot Fest is being surrounded by people who love music just as much as you do. Almost everyone wants to get to the front for the headliner, and only a few will make it. On Saturday, the crowd significantly grew by the time Blink-182 came out, and suddenly the occasional pushing from the back turned into a full-fledged sea of people rocking back and forth. Fans stumbled out the back of the crowd, and unconscious ones were lugged out of the pit on their friends’ backs by the second song. Eventually security had the show stopped until Mark Hoppus demanded “everyone take two big steps back.”
Port-O-Potties are always expected at festivals, but sometimes you’ll get lucky and the venue will have an actual bathroom as well. Unfortunately in this case, Riot Fest let you choose between a Port-O-Potty by the Rise Stage or by the Rock Stage. Three days and 100,000 people later, taking a bathroom break became a pretty gruesome task.