It’s the middle of September– you know what that means– Riot Fest! Easily my favorite weekend of the year watching some of the best music on the planet with the best friends that anyone could ask for. I know that all sounds cheesy but, out of all of the shows and festivals I cover throughout an entire year, Riot Fest is hands down my absolute favorite. So after a six hour drive, a night out in Wicker Park, and a quick sleep, it was time for day one.

Festivals are hard to write about. I saw so many amazing bands. Some I stood and took in in all of their glory, others were witnessed and heard just when passing by a stage to get to the next one. I wish I could tell you about everyone I saw but, the truth is, I just don’t have the time this morning to write about it all and it was all kind of a blur at one point so here were my highlights from day one in sunny Chicago.

Hawthorne Heights: This band has been around since 2001 and was one of the more nostalgia-fulfilling acts for me of the festival. The band came out and instantly started playing their hits that transported me back to my teenage years. Although it has been decades since they got their start, the performance was flawless. The band sounded great and absolutely CD-quality throughout their thirty-minute set.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic: At age 82, and with hints of a retirement from performing, nobody knows when George Clinton will stop. If his performance on Friday is any indication, there is no stopping this amazing man. At first I didn’t recognize him has he has traded in his colorful hair for a more mature look but George truly looked and sounded amazing as he brought the funk to the giant crowd that had gathered to see the legend. Stylistically, this set was out of left field when compared to the rest of the festival but that’s something that keeps me coming back to Riot Fest year after year. They through these curveball bands and acts into the line-up that don’t quite match every year yet always bring a sense of excitement to the festival. I’m not sure how much longer George Clinton will be out doing this but I truly hope I get at least a hundred more chances to see him live.

The Wrecks: I’ll be honest, the music of The Wrecks is a bit poppier than I tend to go but their live show is something I will never miss and Friday was no different. Although I didn’t have long to stay at their set before forging on with my schedule, I was able to stop by for a few songs and loved every second of it. The Wrecks are one of those bands that have such a great sound but what really sells me on them is their show. From the energy to the unspoken banter with the audience, this young band knows exactly what they’re doing when they hit a stage and, although they’ve already had some hits out there, I expect very big things for them in the future.

Bayside: If you know me, you know I adore this band so I would never have the heart to write anything bad about them. Okay, that’s not true. I tell it like it is and, if I’m being honest, Bayside killed it. Like Hawthrone Heights, this was another nostalgic set for me but it also wasn’t. I feel like Hawthorne Heights had a certain time in my life and then I fell off. Bayside is one of the few bands that I have stuck with since the early 2000s. Although their set mostly focused on the old bangers, they threw in a couple of newer tracks. At Riot Fest, I feel like singing along is key and even though a lot of the audience clearly hadn’t heard these newer songs, there was no lack of energy throughout the field.

Say Anything: I honestly never thought I would be watching Say Anything perform live again. This quintessential emo/pop-punk band broke up in 2018 and it seemed like they had sworn off performing altogether. I don’t know if it was the pandemic or what but Say Anything is back people, and they sound better than ever! Vocalist Max Bemis gave the audience a flawless performance both with his energy and his sound. Honestly, the Say Anything set was a bit of a blur for me just due to the excitement in my soul of finally seeing this band live again. I wish I had more to say but you just had to be there.

Foo Fighters: This year seems to be one of those years that I am just constantly checking bands off of my short bucketlist and Friday night at Riot Fest was no different. I don’t know how but I have gone my entire life without seeing the legendary Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters perform… until now. Closing out Friday, Foo Fighters took the mainstage and instantly had the audience hooked– and for good reason. Outside of being just a fantastic band with a million of hits, Dave’s attitude and banter with the audience was pure gold. From pointing individual people out to making you feel like you were the only one in the audience, there was something so magical about his performance. Don’t get me wrong, the entire band was great but seeing Dave Grohl live was something that dreams are made of. The entire band was full on intensity and energy creating a perfect way to close out my Friday night.

Like I said, if I sat here and wrote about every band that I saw on Friday, you wouldn’t read to the end and, honestly, I just don’t have the time this morning but here are some bonus photos from some of the other amazing bands I saw on day one:


The Interrupters:

Code Orange:

While watching Bayside, I was standing with a friend I went to college with. I don’t get to see her often yet, everytime I do, it feels like no time has passed. As we stood there singing along to our favorite band, she turned to me and asked if I remembered sitting in my old apartment in college and telling her how I wanted to be one of those people who was taking photos at concerts and reviewing them. She looked down at my camera hanging from my neck, and glanced at the wristband that said “Press” and just said, “I’m so proud of you!” I saw so many amazing bands on Friday but that, that right there was the highlight of day one.

So now, after just a couple hours of sleep and maybe one too many energy drinks and coffees, it’s time for day two. I’ll see you there, right?