Words by: Laura Graves
Pictures by: Jonathan Sippel
When we arrived on the festival ground, California duo The Garden – twin brothers who both model on the side – we’re on the main stage. It’s difficult for any band to get a crowd active at the start of the day, but the theatric vocals and charisma of the brothers got the small group clustered around the stage moving. The costumes and chaotic, bass-driven performance were reminiscent of Athens group of Montreal, another group famous for gender-bending and sexual ambiguity. The performance was surprisingly varied with a good diversity of electronic sounds interspersed with skits and comedic interruptions. They ended on a high note with hit All Smiles Over Here 🙂 and had the crowd chanting and screaming along for a solid ending.
Anti-Flag, more than any other band this weekend, lived up to their name. The crowd (a mix of veteran punks in 20-year-old battle jackets and kids in Abolish ICE shirts) knew what they were in for arriving to a stage with a backdrop of an upside-down American flag. The band opened with my high school fav You’ve Gotta Die for the Government, a singalong anthem against exactly what it sounds like. As the band (minus guitarist Chris Head, absent due to a new baby. Congratulations Chris!) stormed through their set, I felt the solidarity that punk rock can bring. As expected, they didn’t shy away from politics, with political interludes between songs. They read the names of victims of police violence to lead into Fuck Police Brutality and had a representative from Amnesty International come to stage to give a quick rallying cry for the organization. With the singalong nature of the early-2000s punk (it’s so hard not to sing along to the woh-ohs) and the bouncy energy and high kicks on stage, the crowd was energized and hopefully left wanting to effect positive change.
Riot Fest is famous for having bands perform full albums, and Senses Fail came Friday with their 2004 debut Let it Enfold You. LiEY is a screamo classic and what propelled Senses Fail into recognition, and the crowd was eager to relive the glory days. Going in you knew that the crowd would be wild for hits like Lady in the Blue Dress, Buried a Lie, Bite to Break Skin, and Rum is for Drinking, Not for Burning. What surprised me was how energetic everyone was for the full performance – the crowd sang along just as hard for opener Tie Her Down as they did for Rum. The performance by the band was excellent, with vocalist Buddy Nielsen cartwheeling and careening around the stage and guitarists Garrett Zablocki and Dave Miller playing precise, fast, and deadly. They played to the crowd, including a medley of hard rock staples like Chop Suey and Bulls on Parade in between Bite to Break Skin and Rum is for Drinking, Not for Burning. The album is short enough to not fill a full setlist, so they continued into a cover of Suicidal Tendencies Institutionalized and the deluxe edition track American Death. Despite the fun, I was a bit thrown off by the parents in the crowd who had brought their young daughters to hear a crowd scream along with multiple songs about murdering women. Maybe some things are better left as nostalgia.
The Get Up Kids
The Get Up Kids have tried hard to separate themselves from being considered an emo band. Their 2019 album Problems was a good mix of the band’s unique sound (defined in large by vocalist Matt Pryor) and new songwriting styles. They opened with new track Satellite and played a few newer tracks, but as the set wore on they brought it back to the classic Something to Write Home About, ending the set with Holiday, Red Letter Day, and 10 Minutes. The crowd reaction showed how beloved these songs are: I and many others had this album helped shape our music taste into what it is now. The stage presence was laid back and professional, and it’s clear the band are comfortable with each other and very used to being on stage. I felt like the band has aged along with me, and coming back to tracks like Red Letter Day felt like returning home – not to a teenage angst, but to memories of when betrayed friendships felt monumental. I hadn’t seen them before, and I am so glad I got the opportunity.
This year’s Riot Fest was the first for New York hardcore band H20, but they are veterans of destroying audiences with their energy. They were one of the most personal bands of the festival, with vocalist Toby Morse jumping into the crowd during the opener and staying there for most of it, holding audience member’s hands and encouraging the crowd to get pumped. They spoke about the power of punk and hardcore music, about how it is special and important, and their performance gave that weight. They knew how to play to the crowd too, whipping them up with notes to other classic hardcore songs such as throwing a verse from Fugazi standard Waiting Room into their song Family Tree. The band was joined by former Agnostic Front guitarist Matt Henderson, a nice gift for hardcore fans.
Rancid was one of the bands I was most eager to see going into the weekend – their 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves has always been a favorite drinking album for me. It’s fun, energetic, well written and is just overall a great feeling album. The performance was everything I expected – fast, fun singalong punk rock. They played heavily to their older tracks, opening with Roots Radical and never straying too far from the songs everyone knew how to sing along with. They worked for the crowd well, with Tim Armstrong only needing to walk to the edge of the stage and start spinning his finger to whip the crowd into a furious circle pit. They ended strong with Time Bomb and Ruby Soho and the entire crowd left happy and energized.
The band everyone was there to see, Blink 182, had an incredible crowd. People were packed in to try to get close enough to see a rare performance by the trio. Blink 182 tends to focus on newer music in current shows, so the band being slated to play their entire album Enema of the State was an opportunity for many to relive their teenage years in a way they rarely get to. They wasted no time ripping through the album. The crowd particularly went wild for What’s my Age Again, Adam’s Song, and All the Small Things. After the short album performance, they stayed onstage “due to contractual obligations”, playing a handful of new songs before ending strong with First Date and Dammit. The most incredible part of the performance was Travis’ energy – he absolutely tore his way through the songs and the multiple solo opportunities he was given. The band was fun to watch, but he was amazing.