Cover photo by Mandy Pichler
Come one, come all: the carnival is rolling back into town September 13th-15th. RIOT FEST is turning 15 this year in Chicago’s Douglas Park, and what better way to celebrate 15 years than on the city’s southwest side with a big punk-rock, freak-show quinceañera! Swap out the puffy, pink princess dresses for silver-studded leather and denim, lace up your Docs, and let’s get the family together.
All jokes aside, RIOT FEST is taking its birthday very seriously. Veterans of the punk music scene are littered over three days alongside metal legends, pop-punk defenders, and a heaping handful of bands who have claimed at least once that they’re retired from performing, yet here they are.
There are dozens of reasons why Chicago holds RIOT FEST so near and dear to its heart, so be sure to stop and admire the wacky and the weird between headbanging.
The energy of a band in their natural environment, likely surrounded by friends, family and familiar faces, is an incomparable experience. Witnessing a home town show is a privilege. The punk scene in America was heavily developed and nurtured in Chicago way back when the British invaded, spitting out some of the most legendary acts the genre has ever seen, and budding new talent all the time. RIOT FEST boasts at least a few of these acts each year.
Sincere Engineer is punk singer-songwriter Deanna Belos who exploded on the scene out of thin air with her 2017 album release Rhombithian. She and her band have since played shows at Chicago’s local live-music television studio, JBTV, and opened-up shows for other beloved hometown heroes like Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms. Her daytime set on Sunday is guaranteed to draw a crowd from all around.
Or, if you haven’t caught them already, Rise Against will be headlining Saturday night with a hometown show. Hometown. Headlining. Double whammy.
THE FREAK SHOW
RIOT FEST is not a high-brow, over-produced festival; it’s almost exactly the opposite. The festival’s charm lies in the nostalgic, antique-carnival style thrown together by the DIY spirit that compels and drives the punk scene. Out by the vendors and away from the stages, you might be reminded of the state fair, but kicked up a notch and styled especially for the freaks.
Little sideshow houses hold classic freak shows that so many have heard of, but never seen: the bearded lady, the reptile man, a sword-swallowing superhuman. A step inside the larger tent will transport you to the sideshow circus. Will last year’s motorcyclists on the high wire be back again, doing acrobatics on a running vehicle 20 feet over our heads? If you still have your appetite after the talent has tricked your mind, you can grab a corn dog, an elephant ear, or another greasy, delicious carnival snack to remind you of your youth. Pro tip: don’t get on the flippy rides right after you’ve smashed a basket of cheese fries.
It has become somewhat of a tradition at RIOT FEST for veteran bands to dig up an especially popular album that’s celebrating a birthday or milestone of its own and play it in its entirety. This year, the most important birthday is RIOT FEST’s, so these full-album sets are more like gifts:
Blink-182: Time to party like it’s 1999! Enema of the State is turning 20 years old in 2019 and the band is playing it for us in full, meaning there’s a guaranteed “na na na” singalong to “All the Small Things” in your future. This album is what propelled Blink-182 to mass fame with tracks like “What’s My Age Again?” and “Going Away to College.” Even so, a chance at seeing one of Travis Barker’s staggering drum solos should be enough to get you to this set.
The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the Lips’ tenth studio album, just turned 17. If you’ve never seen the Lips before, this is your can’t-miss set of the weekend. Their shows are a spectacle to say the least with production value that borders on a trippy Broadway show, with no inflatable creature or whacky costume left behind. Don’t let the antics fool you – this alternative, psychedelic-rock group is incredibly talented, and the music speaks for itself. The rest is just a tremendous bonus.
Taking Back Sunday: Tell All Your Friends and Louder Now are emo/pop-punk cult classics from the early 2000s that have been causing a ruckus again 17 and 13 years later, respectively. The band has been on tour playing both albums across America this year, but each night a member flips a coin to decide which record they’ll play. At RIOT FEST, TBS is giving us a two for one deal and playing both albums during their Sunday night set. Yeah, we’re special. We know.
Other full album details from Against Me!, Dashboard Confessional, Senses Fail and several others can be found on the lineup poster.