Riot Fest is a massive music festival held annually at Chicago's Douglas Park, held this year on Sept. 16-19 Usually a three-day celebration, Riot held a preview party Sept.16 that began at 2:30 p.m. for the first time. Free carnival rides; exclusive merchandise; and performers Morrissey and Alkaline Trio as well as Patti Smith and Her Band were all part of the entertainment. An ordained minister was also on hand to marry couples who wished to do so. A special ticket for that evening was offered to benefit the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and, because of the Sept. 19 lineup changes, ticket holders for that day were allowed to go on Sept. 16 as well.
Speaking of the talent roster, Riot Fest battled a constantly changing schedule of musicians, for various reasons. For the third time in its history, Riot Fest was canceled in 2020, this time due to COVID-19. Headliner My Chemical Romance was moved to 2022 and several shakeups followed with the schedule this year. Nine Inch Nails was switched for Slipknot after canceling; then, the alternative band Pixies ended their tour and were replaced by The Flaming Lips. Faith No More stepped in, then stepped out because of lead singer Mike Patton's mental-health issuesand the change included his band Mr. Bungle, which was planning a separate set as well. Locals Rise Against and Anthrax replaced both those bands on the roster.
The festival played on despite these obstacles and some sporadic rain on Sept. 17. During the day on Sept. 18-19, the sun proved challenging to the many festivalgoers in black clothing, who headed to shadier spots around the park to watch the musicians from a distance. Food truckswhich were parked on the outskirts of the festivaland vendor booths were around to feed the hungry crowds. Some of the companies presenting cuisine this year included Harold's Chicken, Island Noodles and Taco in a Bag, among many others. Cold Stone Creamery had a constant line over the weekend, as it made each unique concoction to order.
The Riot Mall had artists displaying their works for sale. Several booths in the outdoor area spotlighted important causes such as Amnesty International, which had rainbow paper fans that displayed "Love Is Love" in support for LGBTQ+ rights.
The stages all begin with the letter "R," which is a little confusing when trying to keep the performances straight.
On Sept. 17, acts ran the gamut, with Living Colour performing "Cult of Personality" on the Radical Stage, local band Beach Bunny rocking on the Rebel Stage, The Smashing Pumpkins singing "Quiet" for the first time in 27 years at the Riot Stage and rapper Lupe Fiasco bringing his entire second album, The Cool, to the Radical Stage.
The following day, gay performer Big Freedia brought her bounce music to the Riot Stage, asking for a few members of the audience to twerk on the stage. She explained,"I would have brought everyone up here if it wasn't for COVID!" Hip-hop collaborative Run the Jewels closed that night on the same stage.
For Sept. 19, K. Flay climbed all over the Roots Stage during her set; then, retro group DEVO held a light show in the afternoon, followed by The Flaming Lips in a hamster ball that rolled into the crowd. Slipknot ended the weekend singing signature heavy metal in masks.
Several musicians spoke with Windy City Times backstage about their projects and accomplishments. Brand-new punk band Meet Me @ the Altar has two lesbian members with Tea Campbell and Ada Juarez. They met online and found lead singer Edith Johnson later. Johnson said, "I was 14 years old when I found them and didn't know any women of color in the scene, so I felt connected to them already!" They talked about shooting the video for their current song, "Brighter Days (Are Before Us)," in a plane and the challenges of making it on a hot set. While they were first to play Riot Fest on Sept. 17, the band was impressed by the crowd size.
Dicky Barrett, from The Mighty Might BossTones, stopped by Sept. 18 to chat about his experience being in the movie Clueless. "We were in a warehouse across from the O.J. Simpson trial. We didn't know what the movie was about, but we trusted [director] Amy Heckerling because she made Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I had a good time, despite how I look in it!" he joked. When asked about why ska music plays well at a festival such as Riot, he said, "People come to a festival to enjoy themselves and it is very danceable. It has a party feel to it with a good message. I think this is why we have been invited to festivals ever since we started the band."
Current pandemic protocols were firmly in place. Onsite rapid antigen testing was offered at the entrance of Ogden Avenue and Sacramento Drivefor $50. Home self-tests were acceptable if they were FDA-EUA approved, with documentation. Vaccine cards were strictly checked with an ID at all entrances including VIP. There was plenty of space in the massive park to remain socially distant; masks were required at all indoor spaces.
Plans for next year are well underway, with a few acts already booked, such as My Chemical Romance (for Sept. 16) and Misfits (on Sept. 17). Prices begin at $169.98 for three-day passes at RiotFest.org .