Chicago’s Riot Fest runs Friday through Sunday, September 16 through 18, entering its fifth year as a multiday outdoor event. Riot Fest has changed a lot since 2012, when it spent only two of its three days in Humboldt Park and about 50 bands played on three stages. Since 2013 the festival has been entirely outdoors: that year it booked roughly 80 bands on five stages, and in 2014 it expanded aggressively, hosting more than 100 bands on eight stages and taking up much more of Humboldt Park.
Facing opposition from a growing number of residents and 26th Ward alderman Roberto Maldonado after causing $182,000 in damages to the park, last year Riot Fest found a new home in North Lawndale’s Douglas Park. Not everyone in that neighborhood is thrilled that Riot Fest is returning in 2016, and Mayor Emanuel has put the festival’s organizers “on notice,” suggesting that they won’t get a third chance if they’re pushed out of Douglas Park. But so far this year, no major obstacles have arisen.
Fri-Sun 9/16-9/18, 11 AM-10 PM, Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento, riotfest.org, $84.98-$159.98 single-day pass, $149.98-$159.98 two-day pass, $209.98-$699.98 three-day pass, all ages
Riot Fest continues to corral an impressive roster that despite its eccentric variety shares the spirit of punk (if not its sound). In some respects the lineup has the comfortable familiarity of a well-loved couch with a big dent in the shape of your butt: even before the bill was announced in May, you knew Andrew W.K. and Gwar would be on it. And because Danzig has a long relationship with Riot Fest, this year’s big coup—the Original Misfits with Danzig, Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, and Jerry Only—wasn’t the blockbuster surprise it might’ve been. Sure, the three of them haven’t played together since 1983, but Danzig played Misfits songs with Doyle at Riot Fest in 2011 and 2013—if the Misfits were going to reunite anywhere, it’d be here. On the other hand, pinning down Morrissey was pretty clutch.
Unlike all the summer festivals that seem to draw from the same pool of acts—you could think of them as the Festival Industrial Complex—Riot Fest does its own thing. And as hard as it leans on legacy acts and nostalgia, at least it books veterans from all over the musical map: Julian Marley performing Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Exodus, the Descendents making their umpteenth Riot Fest appearance, Method Man & Redman staying lit despite not having released a studio album since 2009’s Blackout! 2.
Riot Fest also has an ear for vital young acts—this year they include Canadian punks White Lung, fierce Florida rapper Denzel Curry, Nashville guitar army Diarrhea Planet, and Chicago indie-pop charmers the Walters. And plenty of long-grinding Riot Fest acts have continued to evolve, so that despite their relatively advanced ages they can offer more than time-capsule feelings: among them this year are metal chameleons Deftones, indie-pop wizard Dan Deacon, Canadian punk powerhouses Fucked Up, and metalcore experimentalists the Dillinger Escape Plan (currently on a farewell tour).
Visit riotfest.org for updated information as the festival approaches—set times, gate locations, park rules, et cetera. Aftershow headliners include the Specials, Motion City Soundtrack, the Dillinger Escape Plan (at cozy Cobra Lounge, no less), Thursday, Bad Religion, and Taking Back Sunday. v
Five Riot Fest emo acts—Thursday, Tigers Jaw, the Anniversary, Balance & Composure, and Underoath—talk about how the genre’s reputation has evolved along with its sound.
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You know what would go great with Riot Fest? Some of Chicago’s best Mexican food.
By Erin Osmon
There are so many reasons to be wary. But nobody can argue with the songs!
By Jake Austen
We’ve heard from activists and aldermen on Riot Fest’s use of Douglas Park. How about everyday people living in the neighborhood?
By Tiffany Walden
This long-running California punk band has made some pretty great records, but maybe don’t listen to all 13 of them in a row.
By Luca Cimarusti
Activists refuse to be quiet about the festival’s occupation of Douglas Park.
By John Greenfield
Their new Stage Four combines furious energy with earnestness, curiosity, and introspection.
By Kevin Warwick