Riot Fest 2022 in Chicago continued the tradition of heavy alternative music; focusing on punk rock, metal, industrial, and hip hop with a backing of darkwave and indie.
Now in its 17th year (though calling in sick in 2020), the three day fest continues to attract big acts and respected veteran musicians while affording up-and-comers a big stage. With roughly 40,000 attendees spread between 100 bands across five stages, there was never a shortage of stimuli.
“Where are my queers at? We are a queer band!” called out Heather Baron-Gracie of Pale Waves. Although it always included some diverse acts, the festival has grown even more inclusive in its lineup over the years.
“This is our first show ever,” quipped Anthony Green of supergroup LS Dunes. Featuring members of Thursday, Circa Survive, MCR, and Coheed And Cambria, the band launched into another number: “We’ve never had such a good turnout for a first gig. Here’s a new song!”
“Riot Fest. We will do our best. By your request. Buy the ticket and we’ll take care of the rest,” lilted Eric Nally of Foxy Shazam, speaking as soft as he sings loud. Keyboardist Schuyler White scored one of the more memorable moments of the weekend for crowdsurfing while continuing to hammer his instrument.
Riot Fest is for lovers. Abraham and Rebecca tied the knot while Lagwagon—a real get for a wedding band—played in the background. “Music is a solidifying aspect of our relationship,” said the bride “We’ve seen over 50 live acts together.”
“I knew I wanted to marry her,” declared the groom, “And I knew Riot Fest would be the perfect place to do it.”
“Here’s another old song because all we have is old songs,” joked Joey Cape of Lagwagon. The festival gives veteran bands a chance to reconnect lifelong fans.
“There’s very few festivals that are interested in this vague sub-genre of rock n roll that I play,” said Speedo, meditating on why he brought Rocket From The Crypt back to Riot Fest, “And I see the people who run Riot Fest as patrons of this music.”
“It was our idea to play Group Sounds as an album play. Of all of our records, it feels the least like the musical equivalent of moving back in with our parents.” Full album playthroughs are no stranger to Riot Fest. Aside from Rocket From The Crypt’s set, Fear played The Record in its entirety, as did The Get Up Kids with Four Minute Mile, Yellowcard with Ocean Avenue, and The Misfits with Walk Among Us.
“Everyone. Take one step back,” Gerard Way repeated every few songs, even stopping the set at one point while My Chemical Romance’s production manager insisted the crush of fans give each other some breathing space. After missing 2020’s festival and cancelling their own tour in 2021, MCR’s set may have been a victim of overeager anticipation from fans hungry to see their idols.
“That’s ‘Pussy’ with a ‘Y’,” called Marisa Dabice of Mannequin Pussy to a crowd that didn’t know any other way to spell it.
“I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a label, I don’t know how the fuck I’m on this stage?” shrugged unsigned rapper Jake Hill, “Make some noise if you have no idea who I am!” But the crowd reaction showed that he was one of several upstart acts connecting to a new audience at the festival.
“If my wig flies off, get that on camera,” japed lifelong musican-turned-tiktok-star Mothica.
“Sleater-Kinney paved the way,” Karen O would say about her heroes later that night.
“Riot Fest: Familia!” screamed Eugene Hütz as he kicked off one of the most energetic performances of the weekend with Gogol Bordello. Ukrainian-born Hütz surely appreciated that the entire festival stopped for a moment to rally for Ukraine.
Ranging in age from 12-18, The Linda Lindas were as excited to be on stage as the crowd was to see them perform their cover of “Rebel Girl”. That the up-and-comers have hit fame early hasn’t seemed to hurt their manners—they thanked all their stage techs by name before asking the crowd to take a selfie with them.
Lunachicks’ vocalist Theo Kogan got vulnerable in the heat, “One of these two wigs I’m wearing has to go.”
Poliça sadly announced that this would be their second-to-last live performance before an indefinite hiatus, due to the diagnosis of a brain tumor for bassist Chris Bierden.
“It’s nice to be back to our roots, playing with bands we grew up listening to,” mused Jordan Hastings of Alexisonfire in a Spacelab interview. “Being here, I still have those moments that brings me back to being a teenager listening to records. It means a lot.” Riot Fest mixes fresh faces with hardened touring acts with veteran bands that only come out on the rare occasion. Several generations of musicians share the stages, cross-pollinating and admiring each other.
“They say don’t meet your idols, but I’ve had nothing but love from these bands that we used to look up and now we are playing with,” Jordan continued, “And I’m always super stoked when someone comes up to me and says that they’ve been listening to us forever.”
Several instruments met their end in the warm nights of Riot Fest. Karen O contributed to the casualty count by bashing her mic repeatedly on the stage before attempting to tear it apart with her teeth. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs stuck around to play another show in Chicago after the festival, marking their return to the USA.
“This is one of my favorite festivals in the world and we’re so glad to finally be back here,” declared Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, in a close-out stage show that proves the value of live music.
Riot Fest continues to be one of the best-run music festivals out there, and one this writer will continue to return to. The food lines may be Soviet in length, but the sets are more or less always on time, the lineup always stellar, and the water plentiful. A repeat of the MCR crowd crush seems an unfortunate aberration, handled as well as circumstances allowed. With any luck, the festival will continue to call Chicago’s Douglas Park home for years to come.