Riot Fest scratches in its ninth year running and calls Chicago’s Humboldt Park home over the weekend, located Northwest of the city in Chicago’s rich Puerto Rican community. Punk kids and rock & roll enthusiasts alike flock to the festival by plane, train or public transportation, as many are here to experience being thrown back into the eighties, nineties or early millennium-– depending on when you were in middle school last. Whether it was Joan Jett, Bad Religion, Sublime or Fall Out Boy, your mom yelled at your young self to turn it down. Nevertheless, your inner angsty thirteen year old will be satisfied this weekend. Aside from that, by the looks of it so were people’s wardrobes as metal chain wallets, old studded belts and jean vests covered in dated band patches seemed to be pleased to be pulled out from the back of the closet. The Chicago weather took a 180-degree turn as all week, humid and hot temperatures cooled down for the festival. Thankfully, it made the post-Hannah-Montana-Miley-Cyrus-es to put some pants on-– or thick tights for those adamant on not wearing pants. Merch tables buzzed as festival goes swarmed to pick up a hoodie as winds kicked up and the sun went down.
Day one of the carnival-esque music festival kicked off late, as doors did not open until two o’clock and artists weren’t up till four. Traditional carnival rides, fun houses, fair games and interactive booths were scattered amongst the park for festival goes.
Surely, there were some new, up-and-coming artists performing amongst the grounds. Minneapolis native Dessa wowed crowds with her strong, soulful raps and indie hip-hop vibe. Her performance of “Warsaw” from her album Parts of Speech hit hard as she climbed onto the barricade to bust rhymes at fans. The spoken word theme continued on the opposite stage, as poet and spoken word rhythmist Saul Williams captivated the audience on the main stage. He spat words about the issue of knowledge, provoking thought amongst those who stopped to hear his rendition of “Coded Language.” Some stayed to digest his views while others shuffled past and opted for the bright lighted Ferris wheel.
Once the festival was in full swing, Chicago’s very own Smoking Popes took the stage. They were one of the first pop punk bands on the scene in the nineties and showed that after two decades they could still hit “posi-jumps“ and got fans chanting to many songs off their 1995 Born to Quit album. While pop punk fans were rocking out, across the park, Andrew W.K was getting ready to party. Fist pumping and head rocking with long locks, the crowd chanted as Andrew’s entourage partied hard. Andrew and his beautiful wife, Cherie Lily, danced up a storm just before the Chicago sunset, proving the power couple could pack an entertaining punch.
As the sun began to head West, Yellowcard finished tuning guitars and welcomed the sea of fans that started rushing to see the Florida-based band. Frontman Ryan Key greeted the mass of listeners, pleasantly surprised about the numbers who sprinted to catch their set. In a blink of an eye, everyone was back in 2003 singing along to “Miles Apart,” “Way Away” and of course their much anticipated hit 2003 single, “Ocean Avenue,” which ended the set.
Opening up with “True North,” Bad Religion brought back the punk and rock & roll to Riot Fest, head banging and instigating the crowd. Dust devils from the ground below swirled up from the kicked-up dirt of mosh pits to “Infected.” Greg Graffin and crew proved that while grey and weathered, they still kicked so much ass and still had so much punk left in them. With only a forty-five minute set, their time was sweet, but too short for the punk legends. The crowd seemed to agree as they applauded for a good while once the band gave their thanks and exited stage left.
Although Friday was winding down, it wasn’t close to over. Hard beats and florescent lights beam from the main Riot stage. Hands held high in fists block the sky, waiting for the Chicago native rapper, Atmosphere. Hood draped just above his eyes, he appeared and broke into “Shoulda Known,” off If Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold . Atmosphere did a spoken word version of his song “Woman With The Tattooed Hands” and the crowd spoke along to every verse. His fans held their fists high to their rap leader as he asked them to bang their fists: “Put your hands up like it’s 2001!” Boom went the beat and boom went their fists. His set went on for a solid hour and the crowd grew thicker. He couldn’t have said it any better.
Last but not least, one of Chicago’s most successful pop rock bands of the millennium was ready to take stage. At this point, the crowd had tripled in mass and, even a football field away from the stage, it’s still shoulder to shoulder. With hard hitting percussions, the boys appeared, dressed in head to toe black with matching black ski masks. Bassist Pete Wentz ran to the side stage to grab a huge white flag with their new logo. Strangely enough, it looked like a punk rock version of the Fairly Oddparents logo (If interested, you could also pick up a light up wand with the logo from their merch table). By the second song, “I Slept With Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me,” the boys unmasked themselves. Crowd surfing and heavy belting came from the crowd. At one point, Fall Out Boy stopped their set to aid fans who seemed to be getting trampled. They paused for ten minutes as security guards dove in to rescue kids from the crowd, even bringing out a wheelchair for a girl who’s leg was stepped on. Once the crowd obeyed frontman Patrick Stump’s request to take a step back, the band picked up right where they left off. The highlight of the night, however, was stolen by a very special guest that made its appearance during “My Songs Know What You Did in The Dark (Light ‘Em Up).” As the NHL Playoff theme song, the Stanley Cup appropriately made an appearance on stage and all Chicago natives went insane. With just one day down, one can only imagine what other surprises Riot Fest has in store. So far, so good-– thanks for the memories.