LIVE REVIEW: What We Learned At Riot Fest-Chicago

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Well, it has been just over a week since members of the UTG staff tackled Riot Fest-Chicago and we have now had time to reflect on what we learned from the craziest weekend in recent punk-rock memory.

We decided to document some of the more fascinating observations (everything from why Public Enemy is the most punk rock thing, maybe ever, to why having no cell phone signal makes the show that much better) and run them down for you. If you went, let us know if you agree or disagree, and if you didn’t make it out we can always hope for it to be just as jam-packed next year. Below we have listed exactly what we learned at Riot Fest-Chicago 2013.


I learned that sometimes the best entertainment at a festival isn’t on a stage and doesn’t have a guitar.

3 days of music is an overload regardless of the strength of schedule. Breaking up the monotony of the guitar solos and drum fills is a vital part of surviving. In my humble experience, a majority of the festivals in existence lack a safe haven for refreshing your drive. Sure, they all have a “press room” to plug in your laptop and steal a free water, but this is only accessible to VIP. Riot Fest has solved this problem for the common concert attendant.

Wanderers can find their way into a number of booths, carnival rides, shows and a display of a butter statue of Uncle Jesse.

Conveniently wedged behind the Roots Stage, the circus tent housing The Hellsapoppin Freak show was a flawless safe house in avoiding the rain and cold. More importantly however was the experience gained once inside. With swords swallowed, fire eaten, human dart board pierces and beds of nails walked on, self-deprecating entertainment was at its best.

Put simply, Riot Fest was the state fair for the punks and misunderstood and everyone on display landed a gold star. – Josh Hammond (@endless_rambles), Review Writer


I learned that Fall Out Boy can do whatever they want in Chicago.

Chicago natives Fall Out Boy delivered an exceptional set in front of their hometown crowd, full of music new and old (the best part is watching the dads sing along to “Sugar, We’re Going Down”). The band showed their hometown pride and supremacy by posing for a picture with the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup in front of the gigantic crowd gathered to watch the band last Friday night.

It goes to show, when you’re in Fall Out Boy and you’re playing in Chicago, anything is possible. – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt) – Music Editor


I learned that Gwar blood does not come out in 3 days.

To much Jesus slaying anticipation, Gwar took the stage Friday night, dousing all those in reach with their infamous concoction of blood. It is as though no matter how many showers they could have taken or how much it could have rained Sunday, the red tinge of Gwar was not coming off of some Riot Fest goers. I was walking out of the gates on Sunday night, after 3 days, 1 of which included 5+ hours of rain, still seeing people with skin tinged in red. Gwar left quite the unique mark last weekend. – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt), Music Editor


I learned that Stars’ lack of punkness is actually quite punk.

As they stood on the Rise Stage in front of a modest crowd, Stars would confess, “We were actually quite intimidated by Riot Fest.” In the end, that wouldn’t matter.

Their quick 30-minute set would remain in the wheelhouse of what made them famous; infectious indie-pop songs that are meant to make you dance. Torquil Campbell brought his full-tilt energy to the stage, which would as always be balanced by Amy Millan’s adorable charm and charismatic vocals. The two stormed through their mid-afternoon set, which would peak at “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.” Seeing Millan pull away from the microphone during the height of the set’s emotional build, Riot Fest would take control, singing the lyrics back to her.

“I’m not sorry I met you. I’m not sorry it’s over. I’m not sorry there’s nothing to say,” the crowd would sing.

Millan smiles, confessing how beautiful the moment was. The mohawks would unanimously agree. – Josh Hammond (@endless_rambles), Review Writer


I learned food vendors will deep fry anything.

I ate deep fried sweet corn. This may not be a new thing to some of you, but for me, it was a whole new way to push my arteries to the limit of heart attack (and not because Daryl Palumbo was in the building-hubba hubba). Footlong corn dogs, fried cheese, fried mushrooms, it was as though the glorious amounts of fried foods were never-ending. There was also an option for those that wanted to skip the heart attack and go straight to the diabetes line with a deep-fried funnel cake topped with ice cream and whipped cream. – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt), Music Editor


I learned that getting to a show early pays off.

Fighting the traffic and public transit for Riot Fest was no joke, but skipping those new hours of sleeping in made for an even better experience. Saturday and Sunday morning had some of the best entertainment of the entire weekend with Kitten, Nativ, and The Dear Hunter all playing before 1 p.m.

There was no fighting off the fangirl in the blink-182 tee to get close to some of the best bands of the weekend (and no lines for food!) – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt), Music Editor


I learned that Radkey is more than just a local band.

Being from Kansas City myself, I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a bit bias when it comes to Radkey. My pride in the band has as much to do with my connection to my home as it does their talent.

However, don’t confuse my area code with the level of their talent. Radkey is as legit as they come, regardless of their prom king ages. This theory was set in stone the moment I walked away from a critically acclaimed Glassjaw set to find an extremely respectable crowd camped out for the teen sensations. With a full on pit brewing and an energetic crowd elbow deep in angst, it became clear that the band had not only become a national act, but succeed in securing a buzz band status. Of course, this reputation is deserved. Their quick set was easily one of the ten best of the weekend as their classic punk sound captured the hearts of Riot Fest loyalists. Their quick-paced songs are matched in speed only by talent and effort.

These kids are not fucking around. – Josh Hammond (@endless_rambles), Review Writer


I learned that Bad Books is best watched in the rain.

Bad Books brought rock and roll to the punk rock festival. Hands down the most inspiring act I saw all weekend, Kevin Devine and Andy Hull were great, even in the pouring rain. It was as though there was no better setting to watch these masters display their craft to the masses. II has been on repeat since returning from Chicago and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Thank you for stealing the show and giving all those punk rock kids a taste of rock and roll, Bad Books. – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt), Music Editor


I learned that when I disconnect from 3G, I reconnect with music.

It is a no-brainer to say that Riot Fest is in ownership of the best Twitter on the festival circuit. Clever and sarcastic, the social’s narrator jabs at the drab and idiotic internet requests that come dribbling in.

However, should you want to speak with this mystery man or woman during the festival weekend, then you had better have an iron-clad plan. As the masses poured into Humboldt Park, phones committed to a “damn the man” attitude, providing 30-second windows of service between 30-minute bursts of searching.

Chaos would ensue.

Those traveling in groups would be forced to come up with plans to survive in unison. For example, instead of texting, “I’m at Joan Jett. She’s hot as fuck, even at 55. Meet me at the butter head. I’ll be wearing a banana suit,” festival goers were force to plan ahead.

“Meet me at this light pole after the set,” or, “let’s meet at the Riot Stage soundboard,” became a staple in conversation.

However, with technology epically flawed, I found myself remembering what it was like to enjoy music in a pre-cell phone world. There was no one to tweet, Facebook, text, call or email. So, I spent the whole of the fest connecting with the band.

It was actually a rather beautiful thing. I could actually get behind this becoming a regular thing (I say as I type this review from my phone.)

Baby steps. – Josh Hammond, (@endless_rambles), Review Writer


I learned that no matter how much hairspray you use, the mohawk will tumble over in the rain.

In a festival full of counter culture, the most interesting thing I witnessed all weekend was a gentlemen who decided to defend pop-punk by putting a see-through trash bag over his foot-tall mohawk in the pouring rain. Needless to say, he fought the rain and the rain won. It was a good effort though. By the end of Reggie and The Full Effect, his mohawk was clearly painting the side of his face orange. The rain did not prove to slow down the momentum of Riot Fest-Chicago, because between electric sets from Bayside, Bad Books and Brand New, it proved to be the best the day of the weekend. – Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt), Music Editor


I learned that Public Enemy is punk as fuck.

Who knew that Public Enemy would be Riot Fest’s #1 with a bullet coming out of the most trend setting punk fest in the nation. However, there is no questioning they were. With an unmatched energy and a DJ that blew my fucking mind with his “Smells Like Teen Spirit” solo, Public Enemy’s set was not only brilliant, but life changing.

Rocs fists in unison, Flavor Flav pushed the crowd to scream “Fuck Racism” and preached love through the whole of the group’s full-tilt set. Chuck D focused on replacing prison funding with educational improvement. Political as fuck, their set reminded me in many ways of seeing Rage Against The Machine early in my career.

The whole of their set pushed the boundaries of the festival and hopefully opened the minds of those in attendance. Every person there is better for having experienced it. –Josh Hammond (@endless_rambles), Review Writer

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  • Gary Sinkeldam

    any idea how many people saw the Replacements Sunday night? Seemed like about 100,000