Riot Fest -- Alternative Sounds and Memorable Music
By Oscar Yanek
Riot Fest is an alternative and punk rock music festival that takes place one weekend every September, and this year was held from Sept. 14 to Sept. 17. The festival is held in Douglas Park on Chicago’s South Side, and took up around a quarter of the park (which was entirely open field). The festival also had carnival rides towards the back of the park near the water station, as well as food trucks for festival-goers. I attended Friday and Sunday and saw The Front Bottoms, Flogging Molly, Taking Back Sunday, Weezer, Mom Jeans, Beach Goons, SWMRS, and Blondie.
Friday was the perfect day for outdoor music, with moderate temperatures and clear skies. I mainly bought my Friday ticket to watch Blink-182 and The Front Bottoms, but when Blink cancelled its headlining appearance for health reasons, I was worried I would not have as much fun because I was not familiar with most of the other bands. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Flogging Molly and Weezer. Flogging Molly is an Irish-American celtic punk band, a genre I didn’t know existed. I worked my way to the front of the crowd before the show started, not knowing what to expect. Once the music started, the punk origins were evident and mosh pits began raging to the beat of accordions and tin whistles. The fans in the crowd for Flogging Molly ranged from hardcore punks with dyed mohawks and black clothing, to people in leprechaun costumes and four leaf clover shirts. Friday’s new headliner and closer was changed to Weezer, a very popular 90’s alternative rock band. When I arrived at the stage, the crowd was so far back that I could not see the band. I got a spot at the back of the crowd on the left side of the stage. The set was decent in the beginning, but because I was so far back not many people around me were getting into the music and were standing still. There was an empty stage next to where I was standing because of how far back I was, and about halfway through the performance when I started to regret not going to Dropkick Murphys instead, Weezer’s lead singer, Rivers Cuomo, disappeared from the stage and reappeared on the stage directly next to me holding an acoustic guitar. The crowd took a minute to notice, so my friends and I quickly ran to the front of the new stage where Cuomo performed the acoustic version of its song “Island in the Sun.”. I was glad I decided to stay, and once Cuomo returned to the original stage, the crowd moved with him and I was able to get a better spot. Weezer finished the set with a cover of “Africa” by Toto, “All the Small Things” by Blink-182, and their biggest song, “Say it Ain’t So”.
Sunday was very different from Friday. The heat had risen substantially and many people had only gone on Friday and Saturday, so the crowds were a little thinner. Still, with headliners like Blondie and Run the Jewels, the festival was still crowded. I arrived early in the afternoon for Mom Jeans, an indie rock band that formed in 2014 out of Berkeley, California. Mom Jeans played a fun set, and even though I arrived just before it started, my friends and I were able to get to the very front easily. The band played a great set with fan favorite songs like “Death Cup,” “Scott Pilgrim V. My GPA,” and” Edward 40hands.” Compared to the crowds on Friday, the crowd for Mom Jeans was much younger, with most people appearing to be around college age.
Beach Goons started directly after Mom Jeans’ set, so I went over to wait by the fence at the stage next door. Beach Goons was formed in California in 2015, and all the band members grew up together in San Diego. It is a very small indie band with a very interesting sound. Many of its songs on their newest album have Spanish titles (or are entirely in Spanish), connecting their music to the band’s Hispanic backgrounds. Beach Goons drew a very small crowd at Riot Fest, with only about 150 people. Regardless, mosh pits formed and the whole crowd was dancing, making Beach Goons one of my favorite performances at Riot Fest this year.
However, the best show I saw at Riot Fest this year was SWMRS. SWMRS is a rock band formed in 2004 out of Oakland, California. The show started with the lead singer, Cole Becker, briefly addressing the crowd. Becker was very talkative during the course of the show and paused the music to talk to the crowd multiple times. One of these times he stopped to address how he wanted the crowd to be a safe space for anyone who wanted to listen to their music, and if anyone noticed someone assaulting or attacking someone, the bystander should say something and not allow it to continue. It was a positive message that was well received by the crowd. The band played most of the songs off its debut album “Drive North,” and a few recent singles such as “Berkley’s on Fire.” Some of the most memorable moments from the set were when Becker jumped onto the speakers directly in front of the crowd to sing to the front row, and when Becker opened up the crowd to form a gigantic “Red Sea” mosh pit that split the crowd down the middle to about three hundred feet from the fence.
This year was my first Riot Fest but definitely not my last. With a much cheaper price tag than Lollapalooza, fans could attend all three days of Riot Fest for as low as $120. With interesting sounds and very unique bands, I would highly recommend Riot Fest for Chicago music enthusiasts who have a fondness for rock and alternative music.