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All The Things You Need To Know at Riot Fest Chicago

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Riot Fest Lineup

A decade ago you probably never heard of Riot Fest. Shoot, even this year you still might not know about it. Alas, I assure you, that you’ll know a handful of the artists at one of the country’s biggest punk, alternative, metal and hip-hop festivals. The ORIGINAL Misfits, Nas, Rob Zombie, Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie and Julian Marley should all ring a bell, plus there’s another 80 artists you can enjoy from a mosh pit, hill or ferris wheel. As I clean the dirt from my checkered Vans and wash the stench of tens of thousands from my favorite band tees, here’s what I learned at Riot Fest Chicago this past weekend:

1.If you can, dish out the money for VIP. If you can’t, do what I did and give Dee Snider a handy to get a VIP pass. It’s worth it; free drink tickets, private air conditioned bathrooms, the only Jameson bar at the festival, covered seating, re-entry and virtually no lines.

Riot Fest VIP

2.  In a world of festivals, there’s usually a theme to the type of fashion you’ll see (reference Lollapalooza or EDC) yet with Riot Fest it was one of the most diverse group of outfits. It seemed as if everyone was just comfortable in their band fan attire and Chucks or Vans. Although I’ll never understand how someone can wear a spiked leather jacket and Dr. Martens’ boots in 80+ degree weather, but that’s just because they are more punk than I could ever be.

3.  The people are some of the best parts of Riot Fest. Legitimately the one festival I can attest to where the age range was 2 months to 72 years with the average age of about 32. (Yay, I’m not the oldest, suck it Bonnaroo!)  What I really enjoyed was the “They still make people like these?” punksters who are stuck in a time when Rancid’s “..And Out Come the Wolves”, was just released. There’s also the wonderful idea of trading in a gym membership for more tattoos and how the guys in high school who were shunned for their musical preference and wardrobe are now walking around with the most lovely of alternative arm candy. 

Riot Fest People

4. The “secret Riot Festers” we met included ER nurses, lawyers, a mayor, doctors and A LOT of teachers. It’s a pretty awesome dynamic to see the head of reconstructive surgery standing next to a person who will probably need reconstructive surgery in a few years when their 2” gauges tear through their ears and dermal implants reject from their body.

5. Riot Fest’s crowd culture is better than almost any other festival. To say that 95% of the people you’ll encounter are pleasant, fun-loving and courteous music fans is a gift in a world of audience assholes. Rarely was there a 6’9” Descendants fan who would walk in front of the 5’9” guy who had been standing there for an hour. If so, usually a lighthearted comment and position reconfiguring would ensue. Mosh pit manners are some of the best you’ll ever see, where the meek are protected and the fallen are helped up right away. The very few crowd-plowers that might douche their way through can expect an onslaught of gut punches and verbal reminders that, yes sir, you have a tiny penis and are overly aggressive.

6. Some of the coolest and most down to earth vendors can be found at Riot Fest. For being as large as Riot Fest is, their vendors, especially the DIY travelers and charitable entrepreneurs, are some of the greatest business people and humans. Be sure to check out Black Black Moon for gorgeous handmade gem centric jewelry and Mystical Makings who have a diverse lineup of beautiful stone and hemp jewelry and wooden hand-carved utensils.

Riot Fest Vendors

7. There’s LOTS of good food and beer so the best thing you can do is explore with your mouth (the eats and libations, pervs). Any local craft beers, food trucks and eateries are always a good choice, but if Dos Equis and fried twinkies are your jam, then have at those too!

Riot Fest Food and Beer

8. The carnival is the other “half” of Riot Fest and by half, they mean 1/20th but who really likes math? Try to squeeze in the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Revue into your hectic festival schedule. Fire eaters/breathers, barefoot machete burlesque climbers and an awesome entertainer born without the lower half of his body who definitely made the most of what he has, including being a human volleyball.

Riot Fest Sideshow


9. Water – Bring a big empty bottle or Camelbak. It was pretty warm this year and the filling station can accrue a long line. Bottles of water are pretty cheap at $2-3/ea and the VIP line for water is usually 15 minutes or less.  

Riot Fest Water

10. Bathrooms – If you’re a shit break then poop before you go in or after you leave, unless you have VIP. Go to the farthest port-a-potty from the center of the festival, they stay the cleanest and the wait even with walking time is less than the wait time at the more central latrines. Either way, it’s one of the best bathroom situations of most festivals as far as time and cleanliness.

11. Riot Fest app – For iPhone and Android, this is the best app for a festival. Scheduling the bands you want to see is made easy, the map is clear and concise and the notifications are helpful and hilarious.

12. Weed – (for medicinal use only) So a guy I know was able to bring in, and appropriate, his much needed medicinal marijuana. Riot Fest has a pretty good search process which left everyone feeling safe as well as creative. The only thing notably snuck in; beer and weed. Back to that guy I know, he literally just nut tucked an eighter, brought a very inconspicuous, and empty, dry herb vaporizer, had his girlfriend wear a bracelet bowl and kept calm and open to security at the gates. Bracelet bowl you ask? He let us take pictures so see below:

Riot Fest Bowl Bracelet

Oh and I guess the real reason anyone would go to Riot Fest, the bands:

13. Juliette Lewis and The Licks – Yes that Juliette Lewis, from such classics as Natural Born Killers, Whip It and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, is also one hell of a rock star (and still a total babe.) My apologies to you Ms. Lewis for accidentally grabbing your lady lumps while you were crowd surfing during your own set. (Seriously it was the only way to keep her from falling.)

Juliette Lewis and The Hives at Riot Fest

14. The Hives – The Swedish quintet claims to the be, “The Most Entertaining Band in the World”, and they are! With Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist at the helm, it’s like Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth and Freddie Mercury all donated sperm to the same tall leggy blonde surrogate who popped out a rightfully cocky baby.

15. Sleater-Kinney – To be honest, they weren’t even on my list, despite my love for early 90’s grunge and Portlandia. Until I walked by, and holy shit not only are they babes, they sounded amazing! Even better than being appealing to the senses they partnered with a great cause to initiate a zero-tolerance harassment rule at Riot Festival. Hands off the fishnet asses, unless they ask!

16. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – If you don’t know a single song at Riot Fest (you’re probably a really nice dad or cool AF GF) you should at least see the greatest cover band of all time. Even if you like half the bands there, do yourself a solid and watch Me First punkify classics from R. Kelly, Dolly Parton, Elton John, John Denver and Gloria Gaynor. They’re the only band where you’ll find a mosh pit, ballroom dancing and a chorus line all in the same crowd.

17. Rob Zombie – “Save you LSD for the spectacle”, was the suggestion from Thursday’s frontman. Yet it helps to remember they are just playing the White Zombie album in its entirety. No “Dragula” for you but here’s a dope Camaro that has nothing to do with Rob Zombie!

Riot Fest Camaro

18. If you’re into hip-hop, you would’ve been pleased with the fact that every rapper there paid tribute to A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. Special props to People Under the Stairs for the best variation.

People Under the Stairs

19. Joey Bada$$ was well, badass! Bangin’ beats and the ability to control the crowd better than Nas, who performed the night before. Not too shabby Joseph.

20. Gwar – Even if their music isn’t your thing, do as many of us did and stand out of range of the gallons of blood being sprayed into the crowd. The theatrics alone rival many bands in the history of showmanship. This time around the blood spray came from decapitating Obama, stabbing Trump, ripping Hillary’s exposed breasts off and ultimately Bernie Sanders dousing metal heads with ooze and plasma from a mobile throne made of the latter’s body parts.

21. Motion City Soundtrack – This was their last show in front of a big crowd and second to last show ever. (The after-party ticket was as much as a one-day Riot Fest ticket so fuck that.) By big crowd, I mean huge and very heartfelt. From front row tears to a mass sing-along of ‘Everything is Alright’, this is what music should be; hit you right in the feels and bring everyone together.

Motion City Soundtrack Riot Fest

22. Andrew W.K. – Detroit party rocker, does just that, party (and hard)! Not one for stage props and theatrics but his presence, positivity, energy and crowd enchantment is something to be seen by all and rivaled by many artists.

23. Thursday – Because, where have they been for 5 years? Mending wounds and practicing gauging from how they performed. They presented themselves as a band who could still sound great and definitely matured.

24. Little guys are always a good idea to check out. Chicago’s very own Deals Gone Bad sounded just as awesome live as they did on the bluesy reggae-ish ska CD we bought from their merch guy’s backpack.

Deals Gone Bad Riot Fest

25. Notable mentions: Big D and the Kids Table, Fu Manchu, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, The Specials, Pepper, NOFX, Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, The Vandals, Method Man and Redman, Death Cab for Cutie, The Bronx, Swingin’ Utters, Chevy Metal, The Julie Ruin, Deftones, Bad Religion, The So So Glos and Syd Arthur.

26. Oh wait I forgot, The Misfits reunited after 33 years in front of the largest crowd in the history of punk rock ever so there’s that too!

See you next year Riot Fest!

Riot Fest Sign

Author rant:

Since I dropped a wad of cash and didn’t even use a press pass to plug Riot Fest I feel obligated to say, fuck you Redeye Chicago and your “Name a Stage” contest. Albeit, Storyheart is a decent name, and the anecdote that came along with the winner is cute; silly given birth name, sucked growing up, made the most of it blah blah blah, very Riot Fest for sure. Well, there were two people at Riot Fest much more deserving of that stage name. One was a fairly young lady’s late husband who had passed away two years ago and had attended every Riot Fest with her while he was alive, kind of a no-brainer. The other, an even younger lady who is only a few months out from brain surgery and on break from chemo treatments. Even with a skull still trying to fuse itself, she let Juliette Lewis fall on top of her, sandwiched herself between the two Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ mosh pits and lasted all three fucking days from open to close.


Riot Fest eBay

My least favorite type of people for any event are the eBaying pieces of shit who buy multiples of everything and then jack up the price 3-8 times higher after or even DURING the festival. Go fuck yourself, sorry most people wanted to enjoy the music and then try to buy merch at the earliest convenience.


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Curtis Schabath

Curtis Schabath

Detroiter, dog dad, and down-to-earth dude. Living the creative lifestyle and crusading for quality causes all while adoring alliterations. You can trust 95% of what Curtis says and 100% of what he does (he's vegan and a volunteer after all). He can often be heard misquoting common idioms, his favorite; "Better safe than safari" - but he'll never misquote a rap lyric or movie quote from the 80s-00s.