“We’re going to have a Ferris wheel, a Tilt-a-Whirl, a Yoyo. Carnival games like throwing darts at balloons,” says Riot Fest founder Mike Petryshyn. “Just picture a state fair—that’s kind of what we’re doing.” As he describes this year’s version of the annual punk-and-proud music festival, I’m able to picture it pretty clearly—right up until I remember that this particular state fair will feature four stages of bands, including the Stooges and the Jesus & Mary Chain, playing smack in the middle of Humboldt Park. That’s when things get blurry.
But this is Petryshyn’s vision, not mine—and it’s a far cry from what he imagined when Riot Fest began in 2005 as a modest two-day bill of old-timer punk at the Congress Theater (where he’s since become a head talent buyer). “I only planned on doing it one year,” he says. “I just wanted some of my favorite bands to play and see how it goes. I had no real experience with any of this stuff.” But when the Dead Kennedys, the Germs, and the Misfits play your festival in its first year—even with replacement vocalists—chances are you’ll want to try again, just to see what you can pull off. And after Petryshyn got local legends Naked Raygun to reunite for the 2006 version, Riot Fest started to snowball.
The fest expanded to a multiple-venue wild-out in 2008, with a “hub-and-spokes” that Petryshyn says helped fans “jump on a bus and see the city through venues.” House of Blues, Bottom Lounge, Double Door, and Cobra Lounge—owned by Petryshyn’s partner in Riot Fest, Sean McKeough—all came aboard. The expansion turned Riot Fest fans into punk-rock nomads. No lazy camping out in a shaded sweet spot in Union Park, like at Pitchfork or North Coast—get your old bones on the bike and get pedaling, or you’re going to miss Cock Sparrer.
Though Petryshyn and McKeough have been discussing taking Riot Fest outside since 2009, they were hesitant—but then the Chicago version (it exists in four cities now) got too big for its britches and forced their hands. “We always kind of knew we were cannibalizing our audience in that they had to make tough choices,” he says. “Do I go see Circle Jerks or Articles of Faith?” A multivenue approach made it almost impossible to fix that problem.
So bring on the carnies, I guess.
This year’s Riot Fest occupies a mere one-eighth of Humboldt Park’s 219 acres, according to Petryshyn, but it’s still huge. And it will have its own logistical hurdles, including public-transit constraints. The festival’s territory sits between Division and Augusta and between Sacramento and Kedzie, and unlike Union Park it’s hardly in the shadow of a CTA station—the Kedzie Green Line stop is a 15- to 20-minute walk, the Division Blue Line stop nearly a half hour. Biking and walking are encouraged, and at press time organizers were in conversation with the CTA to add more buses to nearby routes.
This year’s lineup, 51 bands strong, includes plenty of the usual old farts playing the classic punk they wrote decades ago. But parts of it look a bit like Warped Tour lite: A Day to Remember, August Burns Red, A Wilhelm Scream, et cetera. “Sean and I were both kind of biting our nails,” Petryshyn says. “By having some Warped bands on there, we didn’t know how our base was going to react. But at the same time, I don’t want to be that 34-year-old guy pointing the finger and being like, ‘That’s not punk rock—that’s not hardcore. Our scene was better.'”
On opening night, Fri 9/14, the Offspring headline a four-band bill at the fest’s old home base, the Congress Theater. Everything else (sans the aftershows) is in the wild kingdom of Humboldt Park. Petryshyn hopes to keep the fest there and continue expanding.
“It doesn’t have to be gloss and glitz like Electric Daisy or anything,” he explains. “It just has to be something different and something cool. I think with the bands, we achieved that, but we wanted to add other elements—hence the carnival. No one else is really doing it in Chicago proper. We just want people to have fun at our fest. As innocent and naive as that sounds, that’s really the goal.”
Keep reading for highlights of Riot Fest’s two days in Humboldt Park . . .
There are few settings more appropriate for Justin Champlin’s alter ego than a punk-rock carnival, preferably with a shit-hammered dude in bondage pants barfing behind a porta-potty. Wearing his trademark sweat-bedraggled rabbit mask, this Oakland-based, Chicago-bred human cartoon pogos through his bubblegum- and doo-wop-flavored garage with a juvenile fervor that’s snotty and sincere, gross and charming. Nobunny‘s latest full-length, 2010’s First Blood, is relatively spit-polished for him—it even dared to get contemplative at points—but onstage, where Champlin gets down to brass tacks (and his American Apparel briefs), all his songs are rambunctious fun that should pair nicely with cotton candy. His next full-length drops this fall on Goner. —Kevin Warwick
English punks the Adicts are celebrating their 35th year as a band, and by now you should know better than to expect them to throw you for a loop. Front man Keith “Monkey” Warren will dress up in some sort of jester’s outfit, the rest of the lineup will look like something out of A Clockwork Orange (bowler hats included), and “Viva la Revolution” is very likely going to close the set. The band likewise stick to their guns on the new All the Young Droogs (DC-Jam Records), which sounds like a tenth-generation carbon copy of their raw 1981 debut, Songs of Praise. And considering I’d be impressed by some yahoo farting on a snare drum for 35 years, the fact that the Adicts have been playing oi-inflected burners to Mohawked kids and boots-and-braces punks for just as long is frankly incredible. The band’s shows have always been goofy, with confetti and streamers and other tomfoolery, so booking them at a carnival seems pretty spot-on. Also tonight at Congress Theater, $35, 17+. —Kevin Warwick
Ever since the patron saint of partying hard dropped I Get Wet in 2001, he’s had one of the oddest pop careers in recent memory—he’s toured as a motivational speaker, released an eccentric album of improvised piano sketches called 55 Cadillac, and produced an album by reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry. But though Andrew W.K. has made some great music in the past decade, his major-label debut remains his high-water mark: passionate, bombastic, and sincerely unironic, I Get Wet rescued the heavy side of pop from angsty nu-metal with its single-minded, jubilant message. Century Media’s new I Get Wet reissue is a reminder that even in these troubled years, sometimes partying really will help. —Leor Galil
I really couldn’t have felt cooler standing three feet from Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson at last year’s Riot Fest as they discussed the feasibility of a third encore. Just being there made me feel in with the in crowd—I was one of the too-cool kids the Descendents had grumbled about on their pioneering pop-punk albums (especially 1982’s Milo Goes to College and 1985’s I Don’t Want to Grow Up). The band made their mark in the early and mid-80s, when the west-coast hardcore of Black Flag was on the way up, but the Descendents play punk for quirky spazzes and dorks in thick-rimmed glasses who have no problem throwing an elbow but also get down with fart noises and cheesy love songs for silly girls. It’s got to be surreal for these guys to play the same chords and sing the same lyrics they wrote when they were 19 years old, but unless I’m misunderstanding the whole kid-at-heart thing, that’s exactly what they’ve always wanted. —Kevin Warwick
The Promise Ring
The recent rash of 90s emo reunions—Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas Is the Reason, Braid—has been a useful reminder that there’s more to the genre than asymmetrical haircuts and guyliner. Take Milwaukee band the Promise Ring: after mastering the cathartic posthardcore that forms emo’s foundation on their 1996 debut, 30 Degrees Everywhere, they helped transform the style into the contagious phenomenon it eventually became, filled with irresistible hooks but grounded in messy cacophony. Their sophomore album, 1997’s Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree), is required listening for anyone with an interest in the intersection of pop and punk. The Promise Ring have been in fine form for their reunion shows this year, bashing out their shoulda-been hits with gleeful abandon. Also Sat 9/15 at Bottom Lounge, sold out, 17+. —Leor Galil
NOFX took the suburbs by storm in the 90s with a snarky subspecies of punk driven by a blistering one-two kick-drum beat—and they’ve been riding that train for nearly 30 years, earning a gold record along the way (not to mention Fat Wreck Chords, the influential label founded by front man Fat Mike). To me NOFX’s Punk in Drublic and Heavy Petting Zoo—the soundtracks of my formative years—will forever be the sound of mooning authority figures and flicking off whomever. That’s because the band never lost their stupid sense of humor, even when they got political in the early aughts and adopted an anti-Bush agenda for The War on Errorism (kindly recall front man Fat Mike as Cokie the Clown at SXSW). Of course, because they’re professional punks, their albums all share some of the same DNA, but if those decades of consistency are what give them the cred to get away with the occasional off-the-rails stunt—say, 1999’s 18-plus-minute, single-song EP, The Decline—then I think we’re all good here. Also Sat 9/15 at Congress Theater, $35, 17+. —Kevin Warwick
The Jesus & Mary Chain
Scottish noise-pop band the Jesus & Mary Chain are like Nas, Interpol, or Billy Squier: their debut album introduced a sound so distinct and invigorating that they’ve spent their entire career trying to escape its shadow. Brothers Jim and William Reid, the core members of the JAMC, have never reproduced the Godz-meets-girl-groups euphoria of 1985’s Psychocandy (a record so good the Magnetic Fields built an entire album around its sound), but their often brilliant follow-ups, including Darklands, Automatic, and Honey’s Dead, qualify them as a great minor band with a simple and effective aesthetic philosophy: that guitar pedals can only enhance the dreaminess of 50s and 60s teenage-romance pop. —Tal Rosenberg
New Jersey garage punks Screaming Females sound as passionate, anthemic, and kinetic as ever on their fifth album, Ugly (Don Giovani). Guitarist and front woman Marissa Paternoster sings in a raw, jumpy holler atop her signature shredding, and pretty much every track will get you pumping your fist or busting out some air guitar. But this time it’s not just tight tunes and killer licks: “Doom 84” draws out the band’s chugging cacophony into a something like heavy 70s rock, and album closer “It’s Nice” is an uplifting acoustic ditty with a hint of string accompaniment. That’s not to say the Females have gotten any less punk—the new sounds fit into their rough-and-tumble style rather than papering it over. —Leor Galil
Elvis Costello & the Imposters
Elvis Costello the punk icon, as opposed to Elvis Costello the 58-year-old husband of a jazz pianist, is forever sharp and snappily dressed, with a smart new-wave bite and songs full of big Fender hooks and infectious organ lines. There’s always been an iconoclastic side to Costello: in his early catalog, you can hear it in singles like the untouchable “Radio Radio,” but deeper into his career it resulted in other kinds of risk taking as he tooled around with R&B, country, and even chamber music (in 1993 he collaborated with the Brodsky Quartet on The Juliet Letters). Still, it’s those first few albums, most notably 1977’s My Aim Is True and 1978’s This Year’s Model, that got him invited to Riot Fest in 2012, and I’d be surprised if he and the Imposters (aka the Attractions minus the estranged Bruce Thomas) didn’t blow the dust off a few oldies. —Kevin Warwick
If you’ve only been exposed to what Alkaline Trio has been up to for the past ten years, you probably think of them as a mediocre pop-punk act with a forced air of morose gothiness. Dig deeper into their history, though, and you’ll find a handful of excellently drunk-sounding punk-rock records that are still rough around the edges. The band’s 1998 full-length debut, Goddamnit, spoke to a generation of Chicago kids about what it was like to be young, confused, horny, fucked-up, and broke. With their unforgettably catchy songs, their easily tattooable logo, and their major involvement with 90s punk haven the Fireside Bowl, Alkaline Trio defined the sound and style of an entire era of Chicago punk—it makes perfect sense for them to bring their anthemic songs about stumbling home and losing love to this three-day nostalgia fest. Also Fri 9/14 at Empty Bottle, sold out, 21+. —Luca Cimarusti
Iggy & the Stooges
Name me a moment in rock ‘n’ roll more purely primal than the moment when Ron Asheton’s gnarled guitar kicks in behind Iggy Pop screaming “Lord!” at the beginning of Fun House‘s “T.V. Eye.” Don’t worry—you can’t. All the glory of the Stooges‘ too-brief heyday is distilled into that one gesture—soulful, unrefined, and punker than thou. Forty-five years after the band got started, its three-album catalog (sorry, The Weirdness) remains punk rock’s definitive prologue, providing most if not every act on the Riot Fest bill with a gene or two, no matter how mutated and bastardized. At 65 years old Iggy remains an inimitable force onstage, writhing and yelping—and barely keeping his pants up—while Scott Asheton, Steve Mackay, James Williamson, and Mike Watt plow through Stooges classics with a nonchalance that perfectly plays off of whatever that shirtless maniac is doing front and center. —Kevin Warwick
Alkaline Trio (see above), Brendan Kelly Fri 9/14, 10:30 PM, Empty Bottle, sold out, 21+
Naked Raygun, Dan Vapid & the Cheats Fri 9/14, 11 PM, Subterranean, $25, 21+
Frank Turner Fri 9/14, 10 PM, Cobra Lounge, sold out, 21+
NOFX (see above), Adicts (see above), Casualties, Dickies Sat 9/15, 10 PM, Congress Theater, $35, 17+
The Promise Ring (see above) Sat 9/15, 11 PM, Bottom Lounge, sold out, 17+
Fishbone Sun 9/16, 9 PM, Cobra Lounge, sold out, 21+