Riot Fest returned to Chicago, Friday to Sunday, September 11th to 13th. Now moved to Douglas Park, right off the California stop on the Pink Line, this meant for no uncomfortable bus ride from downtown as in prior years. A change of location can spell trouble for a festival, but everything was tight – including the stages, which were relatively close together, meaning no huge hikes to catch the next act.
Before the gates opened at Riot Fest 2015, the rain came down. It thankfully stopped by the time the music started, but it did make for some muddy grounds throughout the festival (it rained Saturday morning as well). Not as muddy as they could have been, but hardly clean and dry.
Opening up the festival musically was The Coathangers on the Riot Stage, the female punk trio’s screams waking up the early arrivals. Meanwhile on the Roots Stage was Mustard Plug – Riot Fest is, if nothing else, where you can see a ska band that you like in high school. Their sound hasn’t changed a great deal in the twenty years since debut Big Daddy Multitude, but they still did their tribute to mentor/serial killer, “Mr. Smiley”.
A slightly curious aspect of the Riot Fest schedule was that three afro-punk bands played back-to-back-to-back. First was band of brothers Death on the Rock Stage, a revived seventies proto-punk/metal act from Detroit, with Bobby and Dannis paying tribute to late brother David, who knew that the band would come back around. “Life is about more than flesh & bone & sticks & stones.”
Right after them on the next-door Riot Stage was Fishbone. Clad in jumpsuits, they were a great mix of genres, with just the right amount of agit. But the special moment came when the photographers all filed out to leave the pit after the standard first three songs, and singer Angelo Moore was surprised, demanding that they stick around. That was for a cover of Sublime’s “Date Rape”, a group influenced by Fishbone who have gotten more attention than Fishbone (and more than they really deserved), but of course Fishbone pulled it off, along with their own pieces like the appropriate “Everyday Sunshine”.
While punk group The Bronx put on their mariachi outfits as Mariachi El Bronx on the Roots Stage, Living Colour came to the Rock Stage. Singer Corey Glover was as active as Moore (though Moore had his trademark cane), close to the crowd & in the pit from the start. He called out Anthrax bassist Joey Belladona, who was watching from the side of the stage, “Fuck [Anthrax bassist] Frankie Bello…” Glover & guitarist Vernon Reid tied their shoes on stage, but it was bassist Doug Wimbish who exposed his armpit to Glover during a song, fell over, and then played while seated.
On the smaller Revolt Stage, Skinny Lister Irished it up, very Dropkick Murphys/Flogging Molly. God bless Against Me!’s transgender hearts, though it was absolutely packed in the pit for them at the Rise Stage, as singer Laura Jane Grace is the second-most famous transgender person out there (and transgender is so ‘in’ right now…).
The actual Flogging Molly followed the decently fun (if not inspired) Mest on the Riot Stage, with the prog-metal of Coheed & Cambria between them on the Rock Stage. Molly singer Dave King announced, “As Monty Python said, ‘And now for something completely different…’” They weren’t the only Celtic punk act at Riot Fest, but were still a nice change of punk flavor.
A real stand out on Day One of Riot Fest was Rock Stage’s Faith No More. Their revival has been something to behold, with new album Sol Invictus (QRO review) and a stellar live show (QRO live review). The festival set was similar to the live show, but that’s a good thing. They opened with Sol Invictus’ “Motherfucker”, as its anthem of “Get the motherfucker on the phone!” really only works at the start of a set (the hand signal for a phone would be a great alternative to the devil horns hand signal for FNM, if the phone sign wasn’t also the surfer sign…). And they still killed it with old classics like “Be Aggressive” and “Epic”.
Riot Fest did have some seriously unfortunate conflicts as headliners came on. For Day One, it was No Doubt on the Riot Stage vs. Motörhead on the Rebel Stage vs. Ice Cube on the Roots Stage. The popular choice was clearly No Doubt, with a huge crowd swarmed well beforehand (and an over-capacity photo pit); young women absolutely love showwoman Gwen Stefani (who’s “Just a Girl” – but not a “Hollaback Girl”…). Ice Cube was doing an ‘N.W.A. Remix’ to go along with the biopic, and was an interesting artist to have at the punk Riot Fest. But there’s a special place in every rocker’s heart for Motörhead, especially now as singer/bassist and living legend Lemmy has been canceling shows due to illness (including during a show in Austin – QRO photos), but he was in full power in Chicago. While the conflicting stage times meant that one had to choose, they also did show Riot Fest stretching, with three big artists of differing styles, all at once.