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After three months of earth-shaking EDM extravaganzas, sprawling grab-bag festivals packed with indie pop, hip-hop, or alt-rock, and neighborhood block parties headlined by Better Than Ezra (or by local bands covering Better Than Ezra), the prospect of attending yet another music festival might feel about as exciting as getting a student-loan statement—”What, this nonsense isn’t over with yet?” But Riot Fest has set itself apart and created its own excitement: since it transformed itself from a multivenue bash into an outdoor extravaganza in 2012, its lineup has been jammed with dozens and dozens of well-known punk and alternative bands, many of whom aren’t on the usual stateside summer-festival circuit. Plus, the carnival games and rides keep things fun when you’re sitting out sets from washed-up Warped Tour alumni.
Riot Fest turns ten in 2014, and it’s still growing. For the past two years it’s been confined to the south end of Humboldt Park, between Division Street and Augusta Boulevard, but this time it moves north, and the festival grounds will be roughly twice as big—it’s taking over the entire park north of Division, stretching all the way to North. Last year the fest had about 80 acts on five stages, and this year it’s got more than 100 on eight (though one stage will only be used for a Pussy Riot panel on Friday).
The organizers have also added to the usual bounty of carnival attractions, which have included lucha libre wrestling, win-a-giant-stuffed-something skill games, a circus sideshow revue, and a Ferris wheel—this year there’s a second Ferris wheel, a mini-golf course, bumper cars, a vintage video-game arcade, and a top-of-the-line haunted house run by the folks behind the Statesville Haunted Prison in Lockport. Chain-saw sculptors will carve different statues every day, including a likeness of Gwar’s Oderus Urungus on Friday, in tribute to the bizarre genius who wore the costume, the late Dave Brockie (it’s no Viking funeral, but it’ll do). You have to buy additional tickets for the haunted house and carnival, though: the former is ten bucks, and a three-day all-you-can-ride pass to the latter costs $49.98.
The festival gets a lot of love (and a lot of flak) for playing on nostalgia with its lineup. Because so many of the acts are known quantities, the Reader is mostly skipping the artist write-ups that usually make up our coverage. Instead we’ve decided to approach Riot Fest as a whole from several different angles. If you want to create a schedule based on your mood (or if you know that you want to feel a certain way), Sasha Geffen’s Venn diagram can help. If you’re looking forward to hearing a band play a classic album in its entirety, Luca Cimarusti has your back. If you’ve only got as far as deciding what headliners to see, you might want to consult Molly Raskin’s flowchart. If you need a hand navigating the two decades of emo history represented on the bill, my family tree is there for you. And if you want to see some neighbors onstage, I’ve rounded up nine Chicago acts on the bill—I skipped a couple late additions and Ur Lineup Sux, Bro, a band that appears to have formed in response to a joke in the Riot Fest lineup announcement. At any rate, they do sux. —Leor Galil