Thousands gathered in Douglas Park over the past weekend to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Riot Fest. The festival began as a venue based event before turning first into a two day festival and one year later in 2013, a three day festival that has featured reunions that not even the big players (see: Coachella and Lollapalooza) have been able to pull off. This weekend was no exception as the lineup featured major reunions (Bikini Kill), final send-offs (B-52s and Slayer) plus a number of unique album sets. Put it all together and you have one of the most unique music festivals not only in the midwest, but in the entire country. With that, here are the highlights of this year's Riot Fest.
Album Plays Galore
Album sets have become more and more popular over the past five to ten years and Riot Fest has been at the forefront of just that. This year was no different as eleven bands took park in album sets this year, two of which did not one but two over the weekend. Senses Fail performed "Let It Unfold You" on Friday and returned Saturday to perform the recently re-recorded "From The Depths Of Dreams".
Against Me performed "Reinventing Axl Rose" as well as "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" on Sunday during a 75 minute set which packed the Riot Stage. Album plays are likely going to be a staple of this festival for years to come and judging by the crowd's reaction to each one, that's absolutely a welcome addition to every lineup. And while we're on set length....
Longer Set Times
Riot Fest has long kept set lengths short and sweet, likely due to many acts having, well, short and sweet punk songs. Things can get a little dicey like they did for Mastodon in 2014 when they only had 50 minutes to cram in as many of their longer prog-metal tracks as possible. This year really saw that begin to change as acts saw longer set times including Against Me's 75 minute set and Ween's Sunday set which went a whopping two full hours. As a result, the crowd was blessed with a gigantic 27 song show which included "The Mollusk" being played in full.
Saturday brought the thrash
Could Saturday have been the heaviest day Riot Fest has ever had? It's certainly possible when the day gave us perrennial favorites GWAR as well as Testament, Avail, Anthrax and of course, Slayer. There were complaints from fans on Friday that the stage sound was too quiet (it definitely was during Violent Femmes) but those worries were nowhere to be found as people in Milwaukee likely could hear Testament performing. In addition, the festival used both main stages speakers during each band's set Saturday and Sunday, making the sound much, much better.
YMCA: Riot Fest Style
Everyone can agree that Village People are not who you think of when you imagine bands at a punk rock festival. Nevertheless, Village People graced the Radicals Stge Sunday afternoon to a massive crowd. Not only was the crowd quite impressive for 2:30pm, but they went absolutely bonkers for the entire duration of the show. Mosh pits? Check! Body Surfing? Check! Heck, there was even something called a "wall of death" which just sounds painful, doesn't it?
We're All Friends Here!
What really stuck out the entire weekend was how kind everyone was to one another. Anyone that accidently bumped into someone else was almost immediately followed up by an "Excuse me! Sorry!" People were seen picking up garbage, lost items were being given to information centers/lost & founds and to that point, after The Flaming Lips wrapped up, four complete strangers worked together to help someone else find their missing phone. This positive vibe is sorely lacking at other nearby festivals so it's a nice change of pace and something Riot Fest has become rather known for.
The Sponsors Invested Wisely
Music festivals have corporate sponsors. It's just a fact of life nowadays. One can wonder if the investment pays off for the sponsors and judging from the lines all weekend: Yes. Yes they most certainly did.
Pedialyte, for example, never seemed to have less than 100 people lined up for their free allotment. Magic, The Gathering had people flooding social media with comments, compliments and of course photos of games in session throughout the festvial grounds.
One other pleasant addition was Goose Island taking over the beer sales (with the underrated All Rise Brewing available as well, of course). Attendees had their choice between the always popular 312 Wheat Ale, Natural Villain Lager and the Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale (which had a label that you could peel off and use as a festival schedule!). With long beer lines, food lines and seemingly ever sponsor set up attracting massive lines, it goes without saying that Riot Fest is a good investment.
Back in 2014, Cheap Trick played "Heaven Tonight" in it's entirety. Since then, there hasn't been any Rockford representation on the lineups. That changed this year when Rockford native Steve Carey played not one, but two sets at the festival with his band Senses Fail. Carey joined the band back in February of 2018 and has stayed on as their full time drummer.
The band went on to perform two albums in their entirety including "From The Depths Of Dreams", which was re-recorded recently with Carey on drums. Senses Fail's tour continues through October 19th and includes Midwest dates in Iowa City, Omaha and Detroit.
For a festival that always surprises, what could possibly be up their sleeves in 2020? Overheard during the weekend included reunion guesses such as My Chemical Romance, Fugazi, Operation Ivy and even the impossible The Smiths or Talking Heads. Unfortunately for all of us, we're just going to have to wait and see.