Of course, music festivals aren’t required to book local talent from the cities that host them. But Riot Fest has given a little love (and stage time) to Chicago acts, not to mention Rockford’s finest, Cheap Trick. Many of these artists—including last-minute additions Vamos! and Netherfriends—are must-sees, and we’ve previewed most of them below. Study up!
Fri 9/12, 9 PM, Rock Stage
Over the course of seven albums, Rise Against have smuggled their pointed politics into the world of rock radio by shedding layers of thrashing hardcore from their sound. The Black Market (Interscope) debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 in July, and fierce songs such as “Tragedy + Time” and “Methadone” shape rock bombast into something Warped Tour tweens, Nickelback stans, and open-minded punk lifers could love.
Sat 9/13, 1:05 PM, Riot Stage
Earlier this year Elmhurst youngsters the Orwells got the David Letterman seal of approval with a performance of the bawdy single “Who Needs You?” Even though front man Mario Cuomo (no relation) spent a fair amount of time awkwardly humping the air, Letterman asked for an encore. The Orwells’ supercharged garage pop is so catchy that you can get into one of their live sets without having heard their recent sophomore album, Disgraceland (Atlantic), and Cuomo’s manic delivery of his soulful vocals makes him sound like a horror-movie extra being chased by a psycho with a cleaver.
Sat 9/13, 5:45 PM, the Radicals stage
This local supergroup features members of Deal’s Gone Bad, Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians, and Civilized Age, and they’ll provide a ska fix early in the day. Preeminent Chicago ska label Jump Up! released the band’s 2011 debut seven-inch, which features a couple covers that split the difference between two-tone and third wave; their loving albeit slightly sped-up cover of Niney the Observer’s “Blood & Fire” might not go over well with reggae purists, but their update of Deal’s Gone Bad’s “Mad at the World” is fairly faithful.
Sun 9/14, 3:35 PM, Roots Stage
You can’t talk about Chicago punk without mentioning Naked Raygun. Even if you don’t know 1986’s All Rise front to back and can’t recognize Jeff Pezzati’s cool sucker punch of a voice from the first syllable, you know who they are. These guys are a perennial Riot Fest pick—they reunited in 2006 to headline it—and though they didn’t play last year’s installment, Pezzati showed up to help Fall Out Boy cover Raygun’s pogoing “New Dreams.”
Sun 9/14, 4:30 PM, the Radicals stage
ShowYouSuck was born to rap at Riot Fest. He references Minor Threat and Fugazi in his lyrics, and he fuels his feel-good performances with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm—he can go toe-to-toe with any four-piece punk band. The sleek, uplifting “Make-Out King,” from his unrelentingly ebullient debut EP, last year’s Dude Bro (Closed Sessions), should provoke the crowd into all sorts of goofy dancing.
Sun 9/14, 3:30 PM, the Radicals stage
Less than a year ago, Lucki Ecks was studying at Proviso East High School in the west suburbs and playing video games with his pals, but on the strength of his excellent debut mixtape, 2013’s Alternative Trap, he’s now a bona fide Chicago rap phenom. On the recent Body High, he combines heady drug raps and languid, trance-inducing beats.
My Gold Mask
Sun 9/14, 5:30 PM, the Radicals stage
Goth-pop outfit My Gold Mask has evolved since husband and wife Jack Armondo and Gretta Rochelle started it as a duo in 2008—for one thing, it became a trio in 2012 with the addition of James Andrew on drums. My Gold Mask’s music remains cool and minimalist, though, and Rochelle’s powerful, direct vocals on the recent self-released single “Dissipate” are the stuff of pop greatness.
Archie Powell & the Exports
Sun 9/14, 7:30 PM, the Radicals stage
Archie Powell & the Exports play straightforward, sometimes boisterous rock that kids and their parents can love. The unpretentious alt-rock pastiche on this year’s self-released Back in Black is good fun, but it’s less exciting when they wear their influences on their sleeves— “Lean,” for instance, is somewhat too obviously a Pixies homage.
Sun 9/14, 6 PM, Rock Stage
The Blue Meanies formed in Carbondale, but they also called Chicago home, and in the 90s they helped make our town a hub for midwestern third-wave ska. Though many of the other big bands in the scene bludgeoned the personality out of ska by barreling toward the speed and aggression of hardcore, the Meanies’ output is stranger and more daring—”Grandma Shampoo” sounds like a demented Balkan parade band.