LIVE REVIEW: Riot Fest Denver (Days 2 & 3)

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I was so proud of myself for waking up the morning after my first night at Riot Fest Denver and cranking out my review of ‘Day 1’ that I believed wholeheartedly I would be able to repeat that act the following two days. “I’ll be the first to press ‘post’ out of every journalist there,” I thought. Turns out, I don’t know my body as well as I thought because the rest of my weekend in Denver required far more sleep than expected. For that, I apologize.

Now that the ringing in my ears has subsided and the festival banners have all been packed away in storage somewhere, I’m finally ready to share some of my experiences over days two and three of Riot Fest Denver 2014. I saw a lot more than I took photos of, but I promise to try and keep my rambling to a minimum. Let’s begin…

I photographed five or six sets on Saturday, but to be honest only four of them turned out to have any images worth sharing. That is due in part to my very much still amateur photography, but also because a few of the bands I snapped expecting to love ended up being the worst new music discoveries I witnessed live all year. Those bands will not be named in this post, but just know that the weekend was not without an underwhelming set or two.

We Came As Romans vocalists Kyle Pavone and Dave Stephens performing at Day 2 of Riot Fest Denver.

We Came As Romans vocalists Kyle Pavone and Dave Stephens performing at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Letdowns aside, the first band to draw big numbers on Day 2 of Riot Fest was none other than Michigan post-hardcore kings We Came As Romans. Their set, which was riddled with promotional singles and fan favorites, filled the empty parking lots surrounding Mile High Stadium with messages of hope and chasing dreams. There were no surprise guests or big news announcements, but the band did give their all and their fans gave the members of WCAR the same energy right back. Everyone was bouncing up and down to the riffs while trying their hardest to hit the notes vocalist Kyle Pavone seems to tackle with ease. It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary for the group, but it seemed to be everything the festival needed in order to shake off the funk of a late Friday night.

Glassjaw frontman Daryl Palumbo performing at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2)

Glassjaw frontman Daryl Palumbo performing at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

A bit later in the day I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I witnessed the one and only Glassjaw perform on the Byers Country Feed Stage. Their set was the most minimalistic performance I saw all weekend, with every member huddled close in the center of a gigantic stage while frontman Daryl Palumbo shared his signature voice with a crowd of thousands. The set was ripe with new material, but as the final tracks of their 45-minute set began to play there were at least three Worship And Tribute cuts included to make fans’ knees weak. I momentarily lost my voice screaming along to “Ape Dos Mil,” and to be honest I would not have cared if it were gone for the rest of the weekend. I needed this set. Maybe even more than Riot Fest did.

Dads' drummer/vocalist John Bradley performing "Shit Twins" at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Dads’ drummer/vocalist John Bradley performing “Shit Twins” at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

As Glassjaw played the final notes of their closer I realized I was running late for my next assignment and hauled ass across the parking lot in order to catch 6131 artists Dads perform on the Revolt Stage. This was the smallest of the three stages, but you would not know it judging from the sizable crowd gathered to watch the creators of American Radass perform. They opened with an acoustic cut of “Shit Twins,” then transitioned into full band cuts of material spanning their entire career. If there was one set that truly brought out the ‘feels’ this weekend – this was it.

Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara performs at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara performs at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

The laid-back feel of Dads’ take on rock allowed me to relax just enough to recover a bit of energy before Taking Back Sunday played. Their set was the exact same show delivered a week prior at Riot Fest Chicago, but not a single person in the crowd seemed to notice, or if they did they certainly did not make a fuss about it. After all, why would you? It’s not every tour that “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)” is the second song in an hour-long set.

Taking Back Sunday's John Nolan performing "Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)" at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Taking Back Sunday’s John Nolan performing “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)” at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

I looked down at my camera as I was walking from TBS to photograph Descendents in action, but realized my camera’s battery was nearing the end of its life. Being the genius that I am, it took me the entirety of my walk from the main stage back to my rental car to realize I had left all the extra batteries back at my hotel. I kicked myself a few times for making such a silly mistake, then eventually headed back inside to enjoy the rest of the night. City And Colour brought out the Urban Outfitters crowd, but they did not stick around for very long once Dallas left the stage and Bring Me The Horizon began. A Day To Remember later closed the night. I haven’t attended the ‘Parks and Devastation’ tour, but I’m told their set was the exact same as it is on that run.

Exhausted, I eventually retired to my hotel room for the night.

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In The Whale perform at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Something incredible happened on the final day of Riot Fest Denver. I woke wondering if I had already seen the best sets the festival had to offer, but quickly realized I had overlooked a group who later delivered the most thrilling performance of the weekend. In The Whale, a group based in Colorado who have spent the better part of 2014 on tour, ripped Riot Fest a new one while performing an early afternoon set on the Revolt Stage. It was loud, fun, and irreverent as can be, with a crowd that swelled from a few dozen to well over two hundred in the span of three songs. You could tell the local love for the group was strong, but as they played on it became clear people from all over the planet would soon be tuned in to their sound. I was a fan before they began. I walked away a supporter for life.

Menzingers' Greg Barnett Performs "I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore" at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Menzingers’ Greg Barnett Performs “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

I followed In The Whale by catching a few minutes of The Menzingers‘ afternoon performance. We had a bit of a falling out with the band earlier this year after one of UTG’s critics panned the group’s latest release, but nestled in the anonymity of the photo pit none of those bad vibes were anywhere to be found. The band opened with “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” which I sang along to as if it were the last time I would ever hear it. The rest of their set, or at least what I saw, was fantastic.

3OH!3 vocalist Sean Foreman performing at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

3OH!3 vocalist Sean Foreman performing at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

The big set of Riot Fest’s final day, at least in terms of crowd size, came from none other than Colorado natives 3OH!3. It has been a while since the duo commanded headlines the way they did when their debut album dropped, but once they hit the stage in Denver you could have convinced anyone they were currently sitting pretty at the top of Billboard. People L-O-V-E this group, and even though it’s entirely possible to argue that the quality of their albums has dipped in recent years, those in attendance that afternoon gave the pair everything they had left to share. There was dancing, sing-a-longs, jokes, and yes – a lot more dancing. Did I mention one member now has a ‘mountain man’ type beard?

Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hall performing "Shake It Out" at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hall performing “Shake It Out” at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2).

As the sun began to set on the final day of Riot Fest I realized there were only two bands left on my assignment sheet. The first, Manchester Orchestra, performed immediately following 3OH!3. Now, I am not sure how many people have ever gone from listening to “Touchin On My” to Manchester’s “Shake It Out,” but it is a jarring experience to say the least. The mood in the Manchester Orchestra crowd was best described as excitedly melancholy. People wanted to see the band perform, but every song they shouted out as a request were amongst the most depressing in the band’s catalog. The experience of being there as the band delivers on those requests was something akin to large group therapy, which was only made better by the fact it began to gently rain as the members of Manchester Orchestra took the stage.

Dropkick Murphys' vocalist Al Barr performs "The Boys Are Back" at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2)

Dropkick Murphys’ vocalist Al Barr performs “The Boys Are Back” at Riot Fest Denver (Day 2)

It may seem cliche for me to reveal that this Boston boy had waited all weekend to see Dropkick Murphys, but to not put that on front street would make me a liar. I know people joke about New Englanders and their love of DKM, but in my case it is absolutely true. My whole family loves DKM, and after spending a weekend over a thousand miles from the beautiful city I call home there was something welcoming about seeing Dropkick’s Fenway-themed banner raised onto the Riot Fest stage. The set was great. DKM have perfected how to blend deep cuts with fan favorites to hold an audience’s attention. From “The Boys Are Back” until the final notes of “Shipping Up To Boston,” Riot Fest was on the verge of a punk-induced riot of its own. There may have been six more sets, but for me – this was the peak moment of the day.

This is what a music blog editor looks like at 6AM after a cross-country flight following a full day of festival coverage.

This is what a music blog editor looks like at 6AM after a cross-country flight following a full day of festival coverage.

The final sets of Riot Fest Denver came from Rise Against, The National, and the Wu-Tang Clan. My flight was shortly after midnight however, so those last two acts had to be skipped. While fans were standing in the Colorado rain, I was navigating the interstate on my way to Denver International Airport. It was a ghost town, which was fine because I was out of energy anyway. My flight took off later than expected, transporting me from Denver to Charlotte, and after a 90-minute layover I was finally able to board a flight to Boston. At 10AM Monday morning, our wheels touched down on the runway at Logan International Airport.

The only thing that kept me sane while traveling was the new Deadpool Bi-Annual #1. Pick it up if you enjoy silly things.

The only thing that kept me sane while traveling was the new Deadpool Bi-Annual #1. Pick it up if you enjoy silly things.

All in all, Riot Fest was everything I had hoped for and a whole lot more. The sets were great, the setup was well put together, and the sound was the best I have heard at a large scale music event all summer long. I am sure you could nitpick various shortcomings, but overall Riot Fest delivers on every promise and leaves you impatiently curious about what next year’s festival may hold.

Photos and text: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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