It’s mind-blowing to realize that this year marks the 10th anniversary of Riot Fest. Back in 2005, Michael Petryshyn put together a two-day punk rock festival inside the confines of the Congress Theater that featured a nice mix of classic and reformed punk bands alongside some up and coming modern bands. For an aging punk rocker such as myself, it was an exciting bill to see a show with so many “big name” bands all in one place, even if some of those bands were not completely authentic with their lineups at the time (Dead Kennedys, The Germs, and “The Misfits” being the prime examples). To see some form of these legendary punk bands along other big names that were mostly complete and still active such as Youth Brigade, 7 Seconds, Channel 3, The Effigies, and Agent Orange was a big deal back in 2005. Many people never got a chance to see those bands back in their prime and some hadn’t played in Chicago in years even if they were still active.
The following year, Riot Fest returned and it was bigger than the year prior with another amazing lineup, complete with more reunions and surprises. Each year the festival grew, and outgrew its previous confines. They expanded it to last multiple days spread across multiple venues simultaneously, and eventually they outgrew that and in 2012 they moved the whole thing outdoors where it has continued since. This year’s lineup is the biggest one yet and every bit as diverse as any previous fest. Just look at this list, it is amazing to have so many great bands all in the same place on the same weekend and there is easily something for everyone and then some!
Since every Riot Fest has been covered in-depth on this site, in honor of this big Riot Fest milestone, let’s take a look back at history and evolution of Riot Fest in Chicago. Much like the festival evolved, this site did too as the first few reviews were written more like a personal blog which is how this site initially started years before. Grab a drink and dig in.
Riot Fest #1 took place in 2005. It was held on a weekend (a Friday and Saturday) and the Saturday show started around noon! It was a real test of one’s endurance to stay inside the Congress Theater for two full days but there was so many bands both old and new that it was well worth it. The first day’s show was headlined by the Dead Kennedys that had some kid singing in the place of Jello Biafra. The Dickies and the Angry Samoans were the true highlights of the first day and were joined by newer bands such as the Street Brats, Suicide Machines and the Lawrence Arms. The second day was the stronger show which was headlined by “The Misfits” (the first of only a small number of bands who played Riot Fest and refused to allow anyone to take their picture and easily the worst headliner in Riot Fest history) which was really the only blemish on a solid day of music. Channel 3, The Effigies, The Germs (with Shane West playing the part of Darby Crash as he did in the movie), Agent Orange, Bouncing Souls, and The Tossers more than gave people their money’s worth along with about a dozen bands who played before them that day. An after-party at The Exit saw performances by The Germs, Angry Samoans and The Effigies as well which kept the punk rock party going until nearly the next morning! For a first time fest this show was a lot of fun and there was nothing else remotely like it at the time. It was the only truly punk rock festival around these parts.
Riot Fest returned in the fall of 2006 and the highlight of the whole festival was the reuniting of Naked Raygun to headline the show. That band has always been considered super heroes in this city and the Congress was packed full for it. No one expected the band to ever reunite but Mike’s hard work paid off and not only got them back together for that show but it kept them together ever since! A surprise “pre-show bash” the night before the fest started at Subterranean had a surprise bonus of Naked Raygun headlining it and the place was so full and the crowd so crazy that the floor almost caved in. It was a miracle no one was crushed to death with all the flying bodies in that room. The festival proper easily topped the previous year as 7 Seconds, The Effigies, and Youth Brigade returned along with the reuniting of The Bollweevils (who, much like Naked Raygun, opted to continue as a band after this), and appearance by The Business, Mustard Plug, Deals Gone Bad, The Business, The Toasters, among others. The buzz about the Naked Raygun reunion lasted for a long time after this event and people still talk about it to this day.
November 2007 was the time and the Congress Theater was once again the place for the third Riot Fest. This time the festival started branching out a little more in the styles of bands it booked and it didn’t rely so heavily on early punk bands, though they were certainly still a staple of the show. The inclusion of some more popular, newer bands resulted in a larger and more diverse audience and made the long days have more variety which kept it interesting. The first night was headlined once again by Naked Raygun and included Stiff Little Fingers, 7 Seconds, Necromantix, and The Queers. The second night featured Youth Brigade, The Bollweevils, Dillinger Four, The Casualties, the reuniting of Sludgeworth (which was a big deal for the locals), and a really horrible performance by The Bad Brains (the band played fine, the loony HR’s insulting performance which came off as a giant “fuck you” to the fans is what ruined it). The Bad Brains debacle was the only sour note of the entire two days and everything leading up to that was really enjoyable.
The fourth Riot Fest took place at the Congress Theater in October 2008 and they also had some additional shows at some smaller venues. Aside from all the bands playing the big stage at the Congress, they had a smaller stage set up out in the lobby and had smaller bands playing on it all day long. You were literally surrounded by music once inside the venue. Highlights of this year: Valient Thorr, Mustard Plug, D.O.A., Horrorpops, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Jay Reatard, The Casualties, and Big Drill Car all put on great performances leading up to the reunion of All!
October 2009 saw Riot Fest number five spread out over a few days and a few venues. It was no longer contained in one venue and often there would be two very good shows happening at the same time forcing you to potentially play Sophie’s choice as to which show you were going to see and which one you had to miss. It was stressful and sometimes it meant leaving in the middle of one show and racing across the city in hopes of catching part of another one. The upside was it allowed even more diversity in the bands they brought in and did a better job of trying to offer something for everyone. The reuniting of the vintage lineup of the Butthole Surfers, playing only their amazing early material was a real highlight. 7 Seconds made another appearance, headlining one of the smaller shows. No Empathy, Rights of the Accused, and Naked Raygun sold out the Metro one night. The Congress saw Off With Their Heads, Youth Brigade, Street Dogs, 88 Fingers Louie, Cock Sparrer, and NOFX fill the venue on a Saturday while The Arrivals, Pegboy, Screeching Weasel and the Alkaline Trio packed it full on the final day. It was an exhausting week, but exhausting in the best, most rock and roll way.
The sixth Riot Fest took place October 2010, again at multiple venues across the city. Old punk rockers got a real treat the first night at the Double Door when they did a Busted at Oz reunion and had many of the bands who appeared on that compilation reunite for a show with as close to those lineups as they could. Toothpaste, Silver Abuse, Strike Under, The Subverts, and Naked Raygun (featuring Santiago Durango on guitar and Camilo Gonzales on bass!) all played sets true to the time period being represented and it made for a wonderful reunion evening. Other highlights of that year was a very poor performance by a drunken Larry during a Bhopal Stiffs reunion, Articles of Faith reuniting for two Riot Fest shows (one a secret show) and being the best band of the entire week, Jello Biafra, Corrosion of Conformity playing the entire Animosity record, Torche, Kylesa, The Meatmen, some version of Negative Approach, and the Zero Boys playing the entire Vicious Circle album! There was also a wedding that took place right on stage with Riot Mike performing the ceremony!
October 2011 brought the seventh Riot Fest to multiple venues around the city once again. The more closed-minded scoffed at Weezer being one of the headliners but that didn’t stop the Congress Theater being packed to the roof for that show. There was once again something for everyone depending on which club you picked to go to. Highlights this year were X performing the entire Los Angeles album, Social Distortion, All performing with all three singers over the course of two nights, and the amazing return of The Descendents! People traveled from all over the country to come witness The Descendents. No one knew it at the time but this would be the last multiple venue Riot Fest as a huge change came the following year.
In a weekend which turned out to have the nicest weather of the entire year, Riot Fest moved outdoors in September 2012. This was a massive undertaking which surprised everybody and it was such a massive undertaking that the fact that they pulled it off so seemingly flawlessly was awe-inspiring. Riot Fest took over Humboldt Park and put on an outdoor festival that blew away any established outdoor fest. They had multiple stages (four big ones and another smaller one), carnival rides and games, a wrestling ring, and tons of food and drink vendors. There was so much room that even though there was almost 30,000 people there, moving around the complex was always very comfortable. The lineup was even more diverse again this year and there really was something for everybody. It attracted tens of thousands of people who never attended a Riot Fest before. Some highlights were The Adicts, NOFX, Hot Water Music, Andrew W.K., Coheed and Cambria, Descendents, Rise Against, Gogol Bordello, Fishbone, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Alkaline Trio. It was a huge success and immediately became the premier outdoor festival in Chicago.
Last year, the outdoor festival setting added a day, making it a three-day outdoor show at Humboldt Park and they added even more bands and more of everything that made the 2012 show such a success and even included a sculpture of John Stamos made of butter! Performances by Public Enemy, Joan Jett, Smoking Popes, Bad Religion, Fall Out Boy, Dinosaur Jr., Pennywise, Flag, Guided by Voices, Blondie, Violent Femmes, Bob Mould, AFI, The Pixies, and a reunion by what’s left of The Replacements gave concert goers the best value for their dollar out of any concert that entire year. Even the rain on Sunday didn’t prevent the show from happening or people from having a good time.
As if this year’s lineup wasn’t good enough, some bands have agreed to perform entire albums for this year’s Riot Fest and the bands they picked and the albums they picked are pretty amazing!
Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking
The Offspring: Smash
Weezer: “The Blue Album”
Slayer: Reign in Blood
NOFX: Punk In Drublic
Descendents: Milo Goes To College
Naked Raygun: Throb Throb
The Get Up Kids: Something To Write Home About
Happy tenth anniversary Riot Fest!
Tickets for Riot Fest are available from the Riot Fest website.