Riot Fest Chicago was hands down the best festival I have ever experienced. I watched a guy in a wheelchair crowd surf at NOFX, I saw two guys in Holy White Hounds kiss, and I got to se Frank Iero perform twice. Riot Fest is a whole other breed of festival in itself, but as Fat Mike of NOFX put it, “Chicago Riot Fest kicks Denver’s ass”. This festival is located really close if not technically in the south side of Chicago, a place my friends and family told me I probably shouldn’t go. Not only did I not have single problem over the three days I was there, but I bought way too many street tacos and water for a $1 sold by the neighborhood kids. I finally got to photograph long-term goals of not only Frank Iero, but Underøath, Brand New, Bad Religion, and even Pierce the Veil.
Day 1: So Much Good Stuff So Little Time
On day one I drove from Nashville, TN all the way to Chicago and finally arrived on festival grounds around 4pm. This meant that I missed some key bands I wanted to catch like the many people I saw with what looked like blood soaked shirts. When I asked about the shirts I was informed that GWAR had some kind of cannons of fake blood that was sprayed on the crowd and instantly regretted not leaving much earlier. I started the day with Holy White Hounds, an Iowa band that has been picking up some serious momentum in the last year. For 5pm in the heat of the day they had a really great crowd too. This is definitely a band to catch if you enjoy good T-shirts (the guitarist’s said “Burritos and Beer”) and are up for some surprises such as the lead singer and drummer catching a joking kiss between songs. I then covered two bands that I simply had to because my 16 year old heart needed it. All Time Low sounds just as I remembered when I saw them the first in 2007. Granted they’ve come very far from Virginia Beach’s Club Relevant to now playing main stage at a festival, something they’ve been doing for years now. These guys have been taking the world by storm in the last five years with world-wide tours and top selling albums and have been on their way to becoming a truly unforgettable band of our generation. Next, I caught Pierce the Veil. This is another band I simply couldn’t miss. I had tickets to see them on my 18th birthday and didn’t make it, I was set to see them again at the Nashville Vans Warped Tour in 2015, but the weather prevented it, so almost four years later I finally got to see them and it was well worth the wait. These guys debuted their first album just three years after All Time Low and the two bands have toured together many times. They played songs from Selfish Machines, Collide With The Sky, This is a Wasteland, and their latest album Misadventures. As a photographer the confetti shot from one of their shows has been on my bucket list for a while and I finally got it, you can see it in the full gallery listed below. I chose to forego The Flaming Lips and covered NOFX instead, because I never know when I’ll be in the position to cover them in the future. These guys play like the did twenty years ago, so much energy and amazing interaction with the crowd. Day one an incredible kick off to this festival to say the least.
Day 2: This Festival Just Keeps Getting Better
Early in the day the festival had some up-and-coming bands as well as song big hitters including Microwave, The Vandals, High Waisted, Black Foxxes, and the next to last performance of Motion City Soundtrack. I made it just in time for Fitz & The Tantrums, a group I saw back in 2013 that is exactly as I remember them. Noel Scaggs and Michael Fitzpatrick both have killer voices and voices that play off each other so well. Next, I caught GZA also known as The Genius, previously a part of Wu Tang Clan. Since his separation from the Clan he has has a relatively successful solo career and had an amazing turnout during the heat of a 5:30pm set time. Later in the day two more formed Wu Tang Clan members performed together, Methodman & Redman (above). These guys were a couple of the most truly entertaining and energetic performs I have ever photographed. It was a real challenge to get photos of them standing even remotely still, but this made for a really incredible show, how often do you get to see three members of Wu Tang Clan in the same day? Bucket list, check. I also made it over to catch some of Brand New’s set, another bucket list band. A band famed on sites such as Tumblr and Reddit, Brand New doesn’t tour very often, but when they do I’ve never seen a show not completely sell out. They have some of the most dedicated fans I’ve ever seen, and after seeing them live I can see why. Social Distortion played White Light, White Heat, White Trash in it’s entirety for it’s 10 year anniversary. If that album is your jam, then I’m sure you were incredibly happy with their performance. If not, well I guess you’ll have to catch them another time, although this was another band I couldn’t miss. The second night closed out with famed rapping legend Nas. This was my second time seeing him and I would never know his age if it weren’t for Wikipedia. He has incredible energy and really plays to the crowd that has undoubtedly waited all day for him considering the last two performers were Nas and Morrissey, the crowd was noticeably split. Day two was definitely another one for the books.
Day 3: I’m Genuinely Sad It’s Over
I made it just in time to catch FrnkIero andthe Patience (or the Celebration?) and this was personally a major deal to me. I was one of the MCRMy members and a die hard My Chemical Romance fan since 2006. However, I never got to see them perform, so finally getting to see Frank Iero perform really meant a lot and it was everything I hoped it would be. He also announced they’d be playing an acoustic set later that day, which I didn’t know, so I got to see him perform twice in the same day. There is a whole issue of if it’s really FrankIero andthe Patience or the Celebration and even Music Feed wrote an article speculating that Iero is really trolling all of us. Honestly, I’m unsure of the whole thing and was just really satisfied to make by teenage heart happy with another performer of this festival. I went on to see Juliette Lewis & The Licks, the actress I know from the movie Whip It, and now one of my favorite female performers. This woman is KILLER. Her outfit was fantastic, her makeup was fantastic, and most importantly her performance was flooring. Andrew W.K. did something all photographers will appreciate and allowed photographers to shoot the entire set. While we had to be removed early due to all of the crowd surfers, I’d say that’s a good problem to have, it means people are having a great time at your show. Next, I caught Thursday, one of the best performances of the weekend and among the most underrated bands on the lineup. One of the original post-hardcore bands on the scene since 1997, the lead vocalist Geoff Rickly began with a small speech that the band never did a farewell tour to cash in on their leaving the scene momentarily. I’m not sure if that was a jab at Underøath that played the stage next or if he was simply stating a fact, either way everything he said was a great use of his platform and they performed with all of their heart. Bad Religion played next and it was so crazy to see this lead vocalist in a collared polo giving the middle finger to the crowd with the lyrics, “Just say f%$# you”. These guys are the real deal and the reason “Punks Not Dead” is so relevant today. I closed out the last day covering Undeøath, a band that I have very mixed feelings about, but also a band with truly dedicated fans. Rarely do I see a band come on late where the fans aren’t thoroughly frustrated, but not with these guys. They came out and performed like it was a small room venue, loving what they do and being close to their fans. Sadly, following the first three songs of their set I had to head back to Nashville.
There are festivals that people attend every year no matter what. Festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Ultra sells thousands of tickets before a lineup has even been announced. Riot Fest Chicago is to some people, and should be to more, one of those festivals. This was one of the best events I have ever attended and the first time I have ever wished a festival was longer. Some truly monumental artists played, the weather was absolutely perfect, and I met some really amazing people. The combination of this city, the music, and the people make it something very unique. I’m so sad that I had to leave before getting to see The Misfits, I’m still regretting it honestly. Maybe they’ll play together again in the next thirty years, fingers crossed.
This is my last official festival I’ll be covering this year (as of now), so please check out the full gallery here