One slice of pizza, three bottles of water, over 18,000 steps, [maybe] one too many alcoholic beverages, and a whole lot of smiles and hugs… it’s my favorite time of the year– Riot Fest! I’ve never written about my experience at this festival before. I’ve always taken it as the one weekend where I am just a concert-goer, not a critic but that changes this year. I promise not to make these posts super long but I promise to at least mention all of the acts that I saw and the ones I wish I had seen so buckle up and let’s go on a journey through the first day of this three-day fest in beautiful and sunny Chicago.
The first day, Friday, of this festival brought with it a larger crowd than I had ever seen before. It was obvious why it felt busier than usual which lead to obnoxiously long lines and overfilling garbage cans very early in the day. People have been waiting for years to catch My Chemical Romance after their sudden break-up and then pandemic postponements and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t meant to be the highlight of my Friday but was that the way my day shook out?
The first band I caught was Lucky Boys Confusion. I honestly hadn’t thought of this band in years but as soon as I saw their name on the line-up, I knew I had to catch their set. Chicago-born and raised, this band that blends pop-punk, rock, ska, and various other genres was a perfect way to kick off the weekend for me. I loved singing along to those songs that I used to obsess over back in the day and hearing some unfamiliar tunes from them that I must have missed. Although years had passed, as soon as vocalist Kaustubh Pandav started singing, it all came back to me and although I didn’t stay for the entire set, the few songs I did catch had my heart feeling full.
Why didn’t I stay for the entire set? Foxy Shazam was playing on a nearby stage and I definitely wasn’t going to miss that. When I saw them at The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis a couple of months ago, I was thinking that their show was too big for such a small and enclosed venue so I definitely wanted to see what it would be like to see them in a bigger festival setting. They absolutely nailed it and although I wasn’t planning on staying for the majority of their set since I had just recently seen them perform, I found myself stuck in front of their stage with a smile on my face. Full of energy, heart, and great music, Foxy Shazam was definitely one of the better acts energy and sound-wise that I saw all day.
I had a small break after Foxy but instead of grabbing food or water, I made my way back to the two main stages to prep for Lagwagon. In doing so, I was able to catch the tail end of AViVA set. If I’m being completely honest, AViVA’s pop-tinged rock music wasn’t for me but I loved the fact that she was commanding the stage almost all on her own. With only a drummer joining her on stage, there was an undeniable sense of power that came from her set and although I don’t think I’d ever go out of my way to see her live again, I definitely give her mad props for getting up there and killing it in the mid-day heat.
Unfortunately, Lagwagon let me down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I will never dislike this band and absolutely respect them as a band because they are one of the OG’s in the punk scene but something about their set just felt a bit lackluster to me. Overall, Lagwagon seemed to be lacking that energy and fury that so many other bands were putting in the spotlight on Friday so I ended up walking away to go get some water. That’s when I heard Anberlin. I’ve never been a huge Anberlin fan but did spend my fair share of time with their album ‘Never Take Friendship Personal’. I wasn’t expecting to be caught by their set on Friday but that’s exactly what happened. Anberlin sounded flawless and absolutely got a couple minutes of my undivided attention before I carried on to fill my water bottle up.
After filling my water bottle, I found myself with a little lull in my personal schedule so I filled it by camping near the mainstages and catching some of Sparta. I know very little about Sparta and I don’t know that they really caught me with their set that came complete with pleas for helping Texas. Although I agree that Texas needs help, I felt like the begging for donations for Beto O’Rourke, who is running for governor down there, was a bit much and just left a weird taste in my mouth.
Thankfully, Descendents were up next and changed everything. The best set I caught all day, Descendents looked and sounded great as I knew they would. Descendents have honestly been at the top of their game since starting back in 1977 and I always love catching them live, especially in a festival setting. Vocalist Milo Aukerman was full of life and energy and was the only person that I saw to break down the fourth wall by jumping into the pit in front of the stage and getting close and personal with the fans. We all know Covid is still a thing but it was just so refreshing to see such a seasoned band get that close to strangers. It just felt like something had changed and, although again, we all know Covid is still real, it was as if Milo was showing the festival that we all need to just keep on living and keep on rocking. That really set the tone for the rest of my night.
Following Descendents was Taking Back Sunday, a personal favorite of mine that is a staple in the daily playlist of my life. I was super disappointed in their set when I saw them open for Third Eye Blind just outside of the Twin Cities just a couple of months ago and honestly wasn’t planning on staying for their entire set but they sounded flawless on Friday. The song choice was on point and the energy was full. It was absolutely a moment of redemption for this band for me. I was hoping that the same would be true for Alkaline Trio after a disappointing set from them when they opened for Coheed & Cambria at The Armory in Minneapolis a couple of months ago but, sadly, they fell flat for me again. There was a lack of energy overall for me so after just a couple of songs, I moved on to catch Bleachers.
Bleachers is not your typical Riot Fest “big band” but I was so excited to see them at an outdoor festival. I know I have said that about a couple of bands thus far and will continue to do so through the weekend but there is something that changes when a band plays a giant festival rather than a small venue. It can make or break a band and I am always curious to see who holds up in the festival setting and who falls flat. Bleachers absolutely held up and had a super powerful set sonically and a very colorful one visually. Was I low-key wondering what Alkaline Trio was doing at any given point during Bleachers’ set? Absolutely but Jack Antonoff’s charisma and charm kept me at the Bleachers set until the bitter end.
There was only one band left to see after Bleachers and that was the one and only My Chemical Romance. I won’t bore you with a background on this monumental band or how they changed the lives of so many people in my generation and beyond but will just say that it was an absolute treat to catch them live for the first time in literally over a decade. Although a little annoyed with the constant stops between songs for production and vocalist Gerard Way to tell the crowd to move back and take care of one another, it was a perfect night of nostalgia and interpretive dance for me. My friends may have been embarrassed by my dancing but it was the icing on the cake to a beautiful day.
Friday was just the first day of this festival. I have two more to go and although I’m not sure my legs will be able to make it to the end, I am sure as hell going to try.
Are you out at Riot Fest? Come find me and grab a sticker or some pins!
Smell-O-Meter: Where Do I Even Begin Here?
Average Age of the Crowd: 39
Crowd Surfers- There’s Zero Way To Count This
Mosh-ability- 11 out of 10
Sausage-Fest Meter- 9 out of 10
Amount of Beer Spilled On Me While Walking Around- $76
Broken Bones- None Spotted
Spotted Flying Through The Air- Drinks, People, Clothing
Randomly Shirtless Men – Way Lost Count
Passed Out Kids- There’s No Way To Count This
Idiots Taken Out By Security – There’s No Way To Count This
Celebrity Sightings – Lee from Mithya
Overall Score- 11 out of 10
Show on Deck- Riot Fest Day 2!
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