Words by Kimberly Eggleston
All Live Photos Credit: Jonathan Sippel
Oh, Riot Fest. It marks the end of the Summer season when the leaves on trees start changing color and begin to make their impending descent to the ground. It also marks the end of music festival season for those of us north of the equator where we get snow for far too many months of the year. So to celebrate these final days of scorching heat, thousands of dads break out the expired hair gel that’s been sitting in the back of the shelf in their bathroom to spike the last little bit of hair they have left over their hard-earned bald spots. You can find these dads scattered throughout the festival carrying smaller versions of themselves on their shoulders while they’re beautiful Riot Wives happily push light, empty strollers. They can be seen exercising their index and pinky fingers to form “devil horns”, and avoiding crowd surfing for the fear of injuring their aging hips. These men have come to share their insights on true rock music, on what it was like back in the day when bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Buzzcocks, Jawbreaker were on the top of their music games. Shout out to you dads for being the true stars of the show at Riot Fest.
I’m totally kidding, John Stamos was obviously the real star of Riot Fest, but dads take a close second.
We arrived at the festival bright and early to check out the “ugly pop” band Skating Polly. While listening to playlists for Riot Fest, this sister duo band really caught my attention and I loved their sound immediately, so I was super excited to watch their half-hour set on the Roots Stage. They had a great energy from the moment they came out on stage, and you could tell these young “old” souls were incredibly passionate about their music. They opened with “Perfective Boy”, and played my favorite “Louder in Outer Space”, and closed strongly with “Alabama Movies”. It was a great set that was worth coming several hours early before any of the bands I was supposed to cover were scheduled to perform.
Since the day was off to a bit of a slow start my photo partner Jon and I decided to check out Action Bronson over on the Rise Stage. I haven’t listened to much Action Bronson, but my interest in him is what drew me over. A couple of years ago, while I was still living in Toronto, Ontario back in good ol’ Canada, Action Bronson was supposed to do a free show as part of NXNE. He was forced to cancel after too many people protested his music and how controversial it was, and how they didn’t want someone like that playing downtown. So now I had this crazy idea that Action Bronson was some crazy, sexist beast of a person. Although I can’t tell you a damn song he played, I can tell you that aside from throwing around the word “bitch” a little, his set was pretty tame. In fact, it was a little boring, but then again that could just be my fault for going in with this crazy illusion of what he was going to be like. There were plenty of people in the crowd who were clearly very into his music and sang along to all his songs.
After getting some of the awesome food that Riot Fest had to offer, I made my way over to the Radical’s Stage to catch some of the pop-punk band’s The Story So Far ‘s performance. The lead singer Parker Cannon put on an energized performance for the rowdy fans, getting everyone first bumping and moshing to songs like “Empty Space” and “The Glass”. There were bodies being thrown and flipped through the mass of people as those brave enough crowd surfed, coming out the other side still jumping, and singing excitedly. They also did a live debut of their new single “Out of it” as the sun beat down directly in front of them so bright I don’t think Parker’s baseball cap was going to be of much use to him. But they rocked out, asking the crowd how they were doing, which was met by loud cheers. I feel a band asking this has to be rhetorical, could people possibly be doing bad while headbanging to a weekend jammed packed full of their favorite musicians? I don’t think so. While their sound was a little too generic for me there were plenty of good vibes coming from all the people around me. Everyone in the crowd seemed to share a deep connection to the guys on the stage playing and the lyrics they were singing, which really added to the experience.
I left the show a little early to catch industrial band Ministry play over on the Riot Stage. I want to dub this band as the band with the coolest hair, and probably my favorite band the day. Al Jourgensen, the godfather of the industrial genre, put on an unreal performance showcasing his love for controversy. Between videos sexualizing Jesus while voices chant “praise Jesus” in the background during the song “Psalm 69”, or politic leaders (mainly Donald Trump) getting in fights, and knocked out during “Punch in the Face”, these guys really knew how to get the crowd going. The Chicago native band told the crowd it was good to be back home and joked that some people probably recognized him and probably remembers “ripping (him) off of cab fare” before. Ministry also announced a new album (AmeriKKKant) that would be coming out in a couple of months and even played their new single “Antifa”. They also played some older tunes like “N.W.O” and “Thieves” for those who came out to listen to some of the bands hardcore classics.
80’s English rock band New Order (minus Peter Hook) headlined the Roots Stage just as the sun started setting. Although the sound could have been better, they gave a solid show playing some of their post-punk hits like “Blue Monday”, and even did some Joy Division covers of “Disorder” and encored with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Those looking for some good nostalgic feels weren’t disappointed.
Headlining over on the Rise Stage was Chicago rap native Vic Mensa. He had a lot of pride in his hometown, giving a shout out to the south side High Park area where he’s from, and the crowd was really feeling it. Behind him lights flashed bearing the cities colors while he rapped about police violence with the powerful “16 Shots”, a song sparked from the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald, and got the crowd to yell “fuck the police!” It felt good to have someone performing this weekend with a political voice to speak out against police brutality. He continued this momentum and put on a really good show with more deeper hits like “Heaven on Earth” off his new album “The Autobiography” that came out earlier this year. He also brought out another Chicago rapper, Joey Purp, to join him in performing “Down for Some Ignorance”.
Nothing More was the first band I saw Friday performing on The Heather Owen Stage (named after an amazing lady doing amazing things for dogs!), and they nailed it. Listening to their recorded music beforehand, the band didn’t really seem like anything much to boast about but hearing them live changed any negative ideas I had. Jonny Hawkins had a voice that was strong, and he hit notes, sang chords and hair-flipped in ways that would give any legendary 80’s rock band’s frontman a run for their money. You could really tell the band was giving it their all that night, most likely because they had a new album that had just been released that day titled “The Stories We Tell Ourselves”, and played some songs on it like “Let ‘em Burn” and “Go to War”. Of course, they also played some oldies from their first 2009 album like “Salem”. Unfortunately I did miss the first bit of their set while catching Vic Mensa, but I did make it in time to see the band do a pretty awesome two-man bass solo, that turned into a trio when Hawkins’ joined in with drumsticks, on their totally crazy and unique device they’ve titled the “Scorpion’s Tail” .
A Day to Remember and Nine Inch Nails were scheduled to start at the same time, so Jon and I, like the kickass duo we are, split up to get the most coverage we could. I ended up at the Radicals stage to watch a bit of the metalcore band, A Day to Remember. It started off a little cheesy, they had put a female voice over on the stage which announced “I am the Stage”, and proceeded to let us know that 5 guys were about the play a show on the stage. I was a little confused by the whole ordeal, but they made good attempt to revive themselves by shooting confetti out of a canon as they came on stage. I’m a sucker for confetti cannons, and if there’s anything worse than having to be the person to tediously pick up cigarette butts, it’s being the person that has to clean up after a confetti cannon. They played a lot of their top songs like “All I want” and “If it means a lot to you”. They were the first band of the fest to use pyrotechnics during their performance, but when you’re competing with a legendary band like NIN 150 meters away… well, desperate times call for desperate measures. All in all, it was a good show and I enjoyed watching all the fans jump around and sing every word to every song with such energy. ADTR’s crowd may not have been quite as big as Nine In Nails, but the people who were there wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else.
Just over at the other side of the park, on a smoky stage with crazy atmospheric lighting, Trent Reznor was slaying it. This was the band everyone had been talking about, the band whose name had been on every other person’s shirt that day. I squeezed my way through the dense crowd to find an open space that I could watch the show from. The fact Riot Fest is one of only a small handful of shows the band is performing this year, and with the recent release of his new EP back in July titled “Add Violence”, it makes sense that everyone would be eager to hear some of their new favourite tracks being played live by the musical legend. Reznor didn’t disappoint either, playing for the crowd his hit “Less Than”, as well as a live Debut of “The Background World”. He gave a generous shout-out to New Order, and fellow industrial rock band Ministry who played on the same stage earlier that day, as being two of his favorite bands, and biggest musical influences. He also mentioned the passing of his close friend David Bowie just last year, and did an amazing cover Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away”. The band followed up their amazing set with 3 great encores, and ended with playing one of their biggest hits “Hurt”. Trent Reznor gave a strong, musically diverse concert to thousands of people who were definitely going to wake up in the morning with massive hangovers and some serious post-concert depression.
My body was clearly not used to this much physical activity, and I could feel it in the way everything ached by the time I got back to my hotel room, and still ached when I got up in the morning for day 2. But no level of soreness or headaches were going to bring my mood down, so I popped a couple ibuprofen, put on my big girl shoes (that are actually a kids size 5), and was ready to rock… again.