Monday, September 19, 2016

Riot Fest 2016—it's a wrap! And a few additional notes from me...

Some guy totally ruined my excellent selfie!
Riot Fest was a blast this year. There were the usual naysayers who griped and grumbled about some things, but my personal experience was great. Here are a few quick notes about things we didn't get to address in our coverage on Chicagoist.

People complained about his 30 minute pre-show video (some blaming Riot Fest itself for "stalling" under the misconception Morrissey was being difficult about appearing) when this is something he shows BEFORE EVERY SINGLE SHOW HE PLAYS. There were also complaints about vendors not being allowed to sell meat during his set, which I admit was a bit of a stretch but also his prerogative given his highly principled stand against eating meat. I mean, theoretically he could have tried to ask for what he usually does and ban all meat sales, period.

And finally people were upset he didn't play a hits-heavy set, but I walked away satisfied, especially given his powerful performance of the rather prescient 2006 song "Ganglord." I thought his set was, in general, pretty punk rock.*

The layout
Riot Fest finally hit on near perfection with the layout of stages, food and vendors. The grounds were extremely easy to navigate and aside from particularly packed sets on the Rock Stage where the crowds reached back into gently rolling hills, I didn't encounter anything even remotely resembling a bottleneck. This includes exiting through the main gates at the end of each day. Kudos.

The bars
I didn't drink this year (more on that later) but I LOVED the fact that instead of generic beer tents, the bars were sponsored by Liar's Club, Cobra Lounge, Double Door, Motoblot and Reggie's—all local establishments with deep and vibrant roots into the local music scene. And they served beer in cans instead of out of kegs, which seemed to make the drinkers I ran into pretty happy.

Free water
O.K., this is the one area that could use work. Maybe next year they'll figure out how to add more water stations?

The crowd for Andrew W.K.just before everything went completely bonkers.
Happy discoveries
I had just about zero downtime this year because even when I wasn't covering a set I was supposed to catch for the Chicagoist reviews, I tended to stumble across pleasant surprises all weekend long. This included an intimate set by a band that shows future promise, The Walters; Violent Soho, an act that sounds like old school '90s aggressive fuzz pop Chicago and made me appreciate their latest album in a different light; the over-the-top reductive silliness of All Time Low, which I found kind of endearing in an odd way; The Vandals, duh; the crazy fun of Chevy Metal, which hadn't even been on my radar; the absolute power and insane crowd of The Wonder Years; and my way-to-late-to-the-party new appreciation for Motion City Soundtrack. And that's on top of what I had planned to cover and was responsible for.

The Misfits
It was packed and the sound varied depending on where you were, but I walked away happy and heard just about every single song by that band I could possibly want to see live. After too many years of either seeing The Misfits or Glenn Danzig at Riot Fest it was a true joy to see the band get back together. And if you were one of the casual fans who left early because you didn't get it, you fucked up.

The neighborhood
So far the only report of violence in the "bad" neighborhood Riot Fest's new home of Douglas Park I've seen involved a Riot Fest attendee on Riot Fest attendee attack. I even took a walk through the other side of the park—which is truly gorgeous—and enjoyed some quiet time by its lagoon (pond?) and lush greenery. Sure, Humboldt park was closer to where I live, but this location seems to offer Riot Fest great logistics, lovely surroundings and a supportive local community all too happy to set up numerous food stands and bring some more cash into the neighborhood, from what I could see. (And from what I can tell, there are quite a few Humboldt Park businesses none too happy with their Alderman for driving Riot Fest away...)

It's impossible for me to look at this photo and not laugh.
Riot Fest is still run by a small team. When you see how huge it's become—and believe me you don't know a fraction of what goes into it since attendees are completely oblivious to the small city hidden behind those screened fences surrounding the concert grounds—it's even more impressive that it's still a privately held affair. Even the handful of sponsors were aligned with the fest's philosophies and pretty much completely unobtrusive. No stages with corporate names to b seen here!

Sobriety and gratitude
This was my first Riot Fest where I didn't drink a drop of booze. And I still really enjoyed myself. I was graciously given a pass with lots of access but all I partook in was the free water and coffee. There was free food as well, but I spent my money on the local vendors on the festival grounds instead. I reckoned it was the very least I cold do when gifted with great access while others paid a pretty penny for their tickets. In fact this was the first year I was sober for all the major music festivals and it just made me appreciate even more just how lucky I am to attend these events and take in so many great bands. I've been writing about music for 27 years now, and I never take anything for granted just because I've been doing this for so long. Every concert is still an event for me (no matter how much I might grumble at times about being tired or sore or exhausted) an I hope it will always stay that way.

Thanks again, Riot Fest. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Check out our coverage on Chicagoist:

*I'm still bummed some people misinterpreted our Morrissey-related headline on Saturday and didn't actually read our piece since I think they missed the nuance that hed was trying to convey, something that actually taking in Stephen's thoughtful review of Morrissey's set would have immediately countered and clarified. Stop just reading headlines and pretending you get all the content of an article out of them, people!

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