The last weekend of summer also happens to be the best weekend of summer if you’re a music fan, and that’s because it is Riot Fest! The city’s (and possibly the world’s) best outdoor music festival made its annual return to Douglass Park here in Chicago. They had a stellar lineup of bands spread over five stages, so there was something for everyone at any given time, not to mention all the food, games, and carnival rides. The bands started each day at noon and ran non-stop until the fest closed each night. You were literally surrounded by great music in every direction.
Olivia Jean played the Riot Stage very early in the day. Olivia and her band played a thirty minute set of some catchy rock tunes. Olivia’s voice was excellent and she also handled guitar duties while singing. There was a pretty sizable crowd to see her too for being so early in the day.
The funk legend, George Clinton and his latest incarnation of Parliament Funkadelic put on a funk clinic to a huge crowd. Their songs were super long (the first one clocked in at around ten minutes or so), groovy, and fun. The stage was packed full of musicians and backup singers as Clinton weaved through them all as he constantly traversed the stage as he was singing. They were a ton of fun and put everyone watching in a great mood.
Code Orange played a devastating set of intense metalcore that had so much testosterone that it was like testosterone on steroids! They were a non-stop assault on the senses with the relentless chunky power riffs and ultra fast playing, all while the singer was shouting his head off. They pummeled the crowd for a full 45 minutes before leaving the stage. It’s a miracle that the crowd wasn’t all knocked out cold from it at the end of their set. Kids these days are strong I tell you!
Former Sonic Youth bassist/vocalist and indie rock pioneer, Kim Gordon, made her first Riot Fest appearance, this time as a solo artist. She had a full band to accompany her. She opened with “Sketch Artist” off her latest album, No Home Record”. Kim solo stuff was more electronic based than what you’d expect from someone who played in Sonic Youth for three decades, but the experimental nature of Kim’s career makes perfect sense how her solo work would be such a departure from the sound she was famous for. The music was really good, and Kim is still a striking front-woman who can easily captivate and audience and take them on a unique musical journey. All these decades later, Kim Gordon is still paving new musical roads, and kicking ass while doing it! And what a treat it was to have a punk/indie rock icon up on a Riot Fest stage!
For the past few years, a handful of bands will play one of their most popular albums in full for their set and this year, Quicksand was one of them. They played their first album, Slip, from start to finish and man did it sound good! Guitarist/vocalist Walter Schreifels was doing triple duty this weekend playing in Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits, and Rival School. Is this Riot Fest or Walter Fest?! This is a Riot Fest record for sure and is likely to never be topped unless they book all of Jeff Dean’s bands to play the fest one year. Walter and this band delivered a flawless performance of such a beloved album. It was really something special indeed.
Braid was another band doing an album set and that was for their third (and possibly best) album, Frame & Canvas. After around a decade of inactivity, Braid has returned once again and the time off may have recharged them if anything because they sounded great! Emo music often gets a bad rap from closed-minded punk “purists”, but it is near impossible to witness a performance such as this one and not fall in love with Braid. The band made a lot of great records and always put on great live shows, and all these years later they still deliver amazing performances. Will this lead to any new material or future shows? Only time will tell, but it sure was nice to have them back for the fest.
A massive crowd packed in front of the Riot Stage in anticipation of seeing Turnstile. Since the release of their latest album, Glow On, around two years now, Turnstile has just blown up and become this huge phenomenon. They keep playing bigger and bigger shows and keep selling them out and have gained a massive new audience of younger fans. I can’t tell you what their secret sauce is that made this happen, other than they seem to have found a sweet spot of the energy they had as a hardcore band, and the more progressive, melodic, and experimental side that they’ve incorporated into their sound. The audience went completely bananas for them during their hour-long set, and many were still buzzing about it for the rest of the weekend. They were hugely entertaining and lived up to the hype.
Fake Names is a punk rock supergroup featuring Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion), Michael Hamptom (Embrace, S.O.A.), Dennis Lyxzén (Refused), Johnny Temple (Soulside, Girls Against Boys), and Brendan Canty. They joined forces for a rock and punk explosion with lots of energy, lots of power, and plenty of melody as well. Every member of this band is a legend in their own right and together they gelled into a really solid rock unit. They played about 45 minutes of great songs and you’d be wise to check them out if you’re lucky enough to have them play in your town. Trust me it will be well worth the effort!
While the Foo Fighters were playing to most of the entire audience, reunited Chicago punk veterans, Sludgeworth, closed out the night for those who preferred an older punk taste. This was their second reunion show of this year and it was even better than their first (which was pretty much flawless). They played a similar set of all their great punk songs. The band was in top form, delivering one great sing-along punk song after the next. This band was really ahead of the curve in our scene for being one of the first to play a more melodic style of punk rock, a style that went on to be very successful for the legions of bands who followed them. If you have a favorite Sludgeworth song , they played it, unless your favorite is one of the funk songs from their funk side of the first album that they erased from history. Dan told a particularly interesting story about how they played with Primus in a basement back in the day and how that and Big Black was a bit of an inspiration on the song “Angry Man” (a personal favorite of mine). The band were genuinely touched by the big crowd that came to see them while a massive rock band was playing on the main stage on the other side of the park. It was a wonderful set full of old favorites, and a new song, and the band has just announced they plan to stick around and record some new material! Welcome back Sludgeworth, you were missed and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for you. It was a very special way to close out the first night of the fest.
The first day of Riot Fest 2023 was a huge success with so many people and so many great bands, and there was still two more days of fun to be had!