One of the titans of the North American summer Music Festival season is Riot Fest, and we were damn glad to see it come back strong in 2021. Especially after Lollapalooza did such bang up numbers coming back, and kept the safety methods strongto minimize the effects of the pandemic, you knew Riot Fest was going to go hard, and bring it big time. Even with the departures from the lineup of Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and others, it was as stacked a lineup as the fest has ever had. If you’ve ever been to Riot Fest, Lollapalooza, Coachella or any other festival, you’ve witnessed the power of live music bringing people together. At Riot Fest 2021, we learned that even a global pandemic is no match for a community this passionate and devoted. What makes Riot Fest particularly special, though, is the integration of bands and artists from several generations, and the consequent mingling of their fans. Whether you’re twelve or sixty years old, there’s someone on the lineup for you.
Riot Fest is always run like a well-oiled machine, with great experiences for fans, few overlapping bands (although that Saturday bill was a killer this year). Thursday, billed as the additional fourth day/pre-party was insane from a talent perspective. Even haters of the much loved/decried vocalist Morrissy talking over as the Thursday headliner, you had to admit, this was a last minute steal to fill the top of the bill. The drama of the fest didn’t end here, but certainly didn’t detract from the good vibes and great bands. The late additions of Morrisey, Alkaline Trio, Joyce Manor, WDRL, and Kristeen Young made Thursday a feast for the ears and eyes. The Thursday bill needs to stay a permanent fixture of future fests
Friday was a wild ride. It was my first time seeing The Sounds since their 2009 tour with No Doubt and Paramore, and not much has changed – same upbeat energy, call-and-response singalongs, and even the same stage backdrop (I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?). I don’t remember Maja Ivarsson erotically stuffing the mic down her pants back then, but my adolescent memories may be foggy. Anti-Flag’s set was about love and acceptance as much as it was about rebellion. The Punk savants played a handful of songs that are more relevant today than ever, including “1 Trillion Dollar$” and “Fuck Police Brutality”. Heartfelt speeches speaking out against war, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and general bigotry made it clear these guys are still just as genuine as ever in what they do. They played a solid cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and closed with the raging “Die For The Government”.
Thrice’s set included the live debuts of “Scavengers” and “Summer Set Fire To The Rain” off their new album Horizons/East, as well as fan favorite “The Artist In The Ambulance”. Dustin Kensrue’s soaring vocal performance combined with Teppei Teranishi’s thundering guitar lines made for a show that inadvertently foreshadowed the stormy weather to follow.
Playing at the break of nightfall, Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez whipped out a double neck guitar for their closer “Welcome Home”. While he and lead guitarist Travis Stever shredded side by side, lightning struck above the stage in a cloudy, dim sky as the performance’s cherry on top. Fans continued on chanting the song’s ending “whoas” even after the band left the stage.
Smashing Pumpkins ended Friday night with a whopping twenty-song setlist comprised of songs that date back to the early ‘90s all the way to their latest release CYR in 2020. They even dusted off the 1993 deep cut “Quiet”, playing it for the first time in twenty-seven years. Though the set was killer and the sound was enormous, I couldn’t help noticing their lack of energy in comparison to every band before them. Despite being the biggest act of the night, their weak stage presence made the performance feel underwhelming at times. After a year and a half of no concerts, one would expect them to be fully charged and ready for the sweet release, but their bored expressions became contagious after a while.
Saturday was filled with one of the best daily lineups for the weekend. We were able to catch too many acts to highlight each, but a few stood out amongst the long day. Action/Adventure kicked off the day for us. They are a local Chicago pop-punk band and carry the quintessential sound known from bands like Alkaline Trio and other Chicago native pop/punk bands. I had never been able to catch a GWAR show before and they were a bucket-list band for me. While I made sure to not get splattered with “blood,” it was one of the most gruesome and interesting experiences I have ever witnessed. Their pageantry is second to none and should be experienced by anyone that is a fan of metal!
Gogol Borello was probably the most unique band we caught on Saturday. They are such an eclectic group and incorporated so many styles and blended them with rock seamlessly.
Another home-town band, Rise Against, rocked us into the evening. While I had my heart set on seeing Faith No More, Rise Against fit the bill and stepped in. They brought a ton of amazing stage lighting and their sound was crisp. It seems like their entire set was hit after hit and really could have been a headliner that evening.
Out of the headliners, I split my time between Run the Jewels and Dropkick Murphys. RTJ has been a favorite of mine for a few years and was another bucket-list for me. Their mix of hard-hitting bass and alternating vocals gave the crowd a great show. Dropkick Murphys closed out the day with great background visuals and high energy. Crowd surfers were plentiful as the band played hits from their extended catalogue including some covers and songs off their latest release, Turn Up That Dial.
Blackstarkids brought fun-loving energy to the Radical Stage with their enticing blend of Pop, Indie and Hip Hop. Indie Rock band Gymshorts tore up the Rebel Stage with their authentically raw charm and innate connection to the small yet lively audience. Vocalist and guitarist Sarah Greenwell has a natural charisma that enhances each song’s character tenfold.
Anthrax took fans through an ‘80s time warp. Though the Heavy Metal veterans are now pushing 60, they showed that their love for the music is timeless. Sweet-sounding solos and beefy thrash licks kept the crowd riled up in a raucous nostalgia. The band stopped mid-song during “Indians” for lead guitarist Scott Ian to warn everyone it was their last chance to join the pit for the “War Dance” finale. Fans of all ages then jumped into the circle pit for the epic finish. Knuckle Puck’s set made me feel like I was at Warped Tour again (RIP). Catchy Pop Punk riffs and fiery melodies had the crowd going nuts, especially for the rager “No Good”. Rhythm guitarist and supporting vocalist Nick Casasanto climbed up the stage scaffolding for his spoken word verse in their anthem “Pretense” as fans shouted along with him.
Simple Plan played songs from all of their albums, including their newly TikTok famous classic “I’m Just A Kid”. They even included their rendition of “What’s New Scooby Doo”, for which at least half the crowd immediately pulled out their phones to capture on video. Near the end of their set, singer Pierre Bouvier encouraged everyone to see Slipknot later, calling them a “must-see” whether you are a fan or not – and he was absolutely right.
As a massive crowd waited eagerly for Slipknot to come on around 8:30pm, AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)” played on a tape to hype them up further. The band then opened with the blaring synths and ghostly chants of “Unsainted”, filling the field with theatrical ambience and monstrous savagery. Complete with versatile vocals, two guitars, bass, a DJ, keyboards, drums, and two percussionists on each side of the stage, all nine members came together for a collective madhouse of a performance. The band closed with their bloodthirsty hit “Duality”, only to return for an encore of “People = Shit”, “(sic)” and “Surfacing”, putting 2021’s festival to rest on a high note.
Riot Fest 2022 already features The Original Misfits and the return of My Chemical Romance. Tickets are on sale now here: https://riotfest.org/
WORDS BY COLLEEN KANOWSKY & RANDAL HICKS
PHOTOS BY WINDY BRICK PHOTOGRAPHY