Among the Mud People: A Review of Riot Fest Chicago

Over the weekend I traveled to Chicago with my friends Matt and Brenda in order to attended all three days of the Riot Fest music festival. The whole weekend, held in the Windy City’s Humboldt Park, was a strangely segmented affair and trying to turn all of my thoughts from it into one cohesive piece seems not only painfully difficult but also rather needless. A list it is, then.

And so, without further ado, here are 29 thoughts, in roughly chronological order, on my weekend at RiotFest:

  1. There is a special place in Hell reserved for liars, blasphemers, and the people who designed the Chicago freeway system. It is anything but free. Basically any travel in that city can be reduced to this Office Space scene, repeated indefinitely. We sat in traffic for a long time, is what I’m saying.
  2. Matt, Brenda, and I were staying with friends in the city, so once we were parked near their apartment we needed to get down to the show itself. Enter Uber, which is pretty much your best friend for drunk traveling (or, as in our case: leave-the-car-behind-I’m-about-to-get-drunk traveling).
  3. After pointing out that it was only 48 degrees outside, our Uber driver noted that the ideal music festival weather was probably 70 degrees or so. “You don’t have to rub it in,” said Matt. No, you don’t, Mr. Uber Guy.
  4. It seems counter-intuitive to have the Main Entrance to your music festival be a solid 20 minute walk from the nearest stage. Especially when cold rain has turned your entire park/venue into a gigantic, muddy Slip ‘N Slide. You may want to reconsider your layout for next year, Riot Fest.

    This, sadly, was not our Friday night.
    It was like this except muddy, cold, dark, and totally miserable.
  5. That first night was cold and rainy and as I stood in a long line I thought to myself, “Gee, I sure paid a lot of money for this experience.” And then as that heartwarming thought was setting in I got to the ATM and withdrew more cash than I care to admit so that I could drink my fill of $7 beers. Fiscal responsibility!
  6. Due to the endless Chicago traffic, we missed almost all of the bands we wanted to see on Friday night. I say almost because we did get to catch Pity Sex which features one of Matt’s former co-workers. Despite their regrettable name, their show was rather enjoyable. Once they were done, Matt went to go and say hello to said former co-worker in dramatic “Look who’s here – it’s me!” fashion, only he got totally shown up by a surprise appearance from the co-worker’s brother. Oh, Matt, you silver medal, you.
  7. After that we trudged through the mud, which by now was everywhere, and stood in the rain watching Rise Against. Who none of us really like all that much. Which for some reason took us a few songs to realize. And then we left.
  8. Out for drinks with our friends Shannon and Alex, who were hosting us, Brenda ordered a salad that seemed to be made almost entirely out of onions. Yum!

    This looks about right.
    “All onions, just like I wanted!” -No one, ever.
  9. Oddly enough, between the five of us, it turns out that a pair of us have a strange bond. Two of us have fathers who, going out for a snack in downtown Chicago (a Subway sandwich and a banana, respectively), were struck by a vehicle as it made a left turn. That’s a pretty specific – and pretty weird – thing for any two people to have in common. There’s no greater story here. I just thought that this shared experience was very weird. As to not embarrass the roadkill dads, I’ll keep their identities to myself.
  10. Well, okay. Twist my arm. I’ll divulge one identity: it was my dad that got hit by a car crossing the street to get a banana. Don’t worry, he’s fine – which makes it okay to laugh at the whole thing, I think. (Right, Dad?) The banana didn’t make it. R.I.P.
  11. As the night went on (and we drank more and more), the following image became the subject of great debate (“What is it?”) even though it is clearly a mole climbing out of a beer barrel holding a lantern. How did our art expert describe it?

    “It’s a legless penguin with a giant uni-boob carrying an axe.” -Matt Dye, professional artist
  12. Day Two, Saturday. With Shannon joining our ranks, we headed back to Riot Fest. The hundreds of thousands of feet that had stomped through the rain on Friday had reduced Humboldt Park to a vast, muddy mess. Something like this but scaled back just a notch or two. Being covered in mud became something like the central tenet of the weekend.
  13. Hypothesis #1: Slightly more than 99% of RiotFest attendees wear black.
  14. Hypothesis #2: Slightly fewer than 1% of RiotFest attendees actually are black.
  15. Conclusion: Diversity! RiotFest may have a lot of things, but it’s certainly lacking this one. It’s weird to be in a place where basically everyone looks exactly the same. And that’s coming from a guy who lived in Oregon – possibly the whitest state in the union – for two years.
  16. Though they are delicious – both Brenda and I partook – it’s hard to see a sign that says HOT ASIAN BUNS and not giggle like a little boy. I mean, come on people. The horrible innuendo practically writes itself.
    “These buns are so [censored] that I can’t help but [censored] every time I [censored] all over my [censored]. [Censored]!”
  17. We saw a lot of bands and some may have had more energetic crowds, but I don’t think anyone put on a better or more impressive show than RX Bandits. It was the first time I had seen them play without a horn section and they could not have sounded any better. And it was nice that they got to play for maybe the biggest crowd that I’ve ever been a part of at an RXB show.
  18. The Bandits played on the Rock Stage…and so did essentially everyone else that we wanted to see on Saturday. We got to stay in one place and just watch band after band after band. Though we missed a few bands that we would’ve liked to see because they were playing stages on the far side of the park, it still added up to a good – and extremely nostalgic – lineup. (For those who are curious, we saw: RX Bandits, Streetlight Manifesto, Saosin w/ Anthony Green, Say Anything, Dashboard Confessional, The Used, and Taking Back Sunday.)
  19. Ten years ago it seemed like every guy at every show was wearing skinny jeans, a patched/customized hoodie, black eyeliner, and – as a pre-fun. Nate Ruess ably noted – sporting the same side-swept girl’s haircut (jet black with maybe a bleached streak, right?). Well apparently time travel is real because this kid in front of me during the Saosin performance certainly appeared to have been dragged out of the past and into the present. “He looks like 2005,” said Brenda. And she was right. As he was lifted into the air to crowd surf (a.k.a. be tossed onto the unsuspecting heads of those in front of us) I heard Brenda shout, “There goes 2005!” It was like watching a bygone era drift into the distance. Except that, only seconds after a security guard pulled him down from his perch atop the crowd, he was back. Directly in front of me again. I have no idea how he could have gotten back that fast. Come to think of it, maybe he really was a time traveler.

    "I'm so over this show. I'm going to go see My Chemical Romance before they got signed." -Time-Traveling Emo Kid
    “I’m so over this show. I’m going back to Hot Topic to buy more ironic t-shirts.” -Time-Traveling Emo Kid
  20. Two quick stories about nice people: First, a parched stranger offered me a VIP drink ticket (read: a $7 beer) for three dollars cash so that she could buy a water. Somehow the drink ticket didn’t give her access to that. Secondly, as we entered the festival, a stranger on the street stopped Brenda and gave her a VIP wristband. “Your hands look small enough for it to fit,” she said. Unfortunately the wristband didn’t offer much except for access to a slightly less crowded seating area and slightly less horrifying port-a-potties. That second one came in handy for Matt in the end, although he had to force the wristband (which really was tiny) onto his big man-hand. Forcing it over his palm, Matt’s fingers turned purple as the tiny bracelet cut off his circulation. Unable to squeeze the bracelet on by his own power, Matt had to use a pen to leverage the thing over his hand. This also resulted in Matt drawing all over himself so that he looked kind of like a crazy person. But eventually he got it on. It was tight and, as far as I know, he’s still wearing it.

    And this was the reward for all his troubles.
    And this was the reward for all his troubles.
  21. It’s kind of impossible to find your friends at a show. We spent all weekend trying to meet up with our friend Terry who was also in attendance but could never seem to get our phones working at the same time and could therefore never coordinate a rendezvous. Terry did send us this helpful text at one point: “At the beer tent. Don’t see you.” There were roughly 492 beer tents at Riot Fest. Thanks for trying, Terry.
  22. Speaking of which, how do we not have the technology to keep phones working when a lot of people are gathered in one place? Don’t they have cell phones in New York? Isn’t it always crowded there? What about China or Japan? Why is a music festival too much for a cellular network to handle?

    Staggering corporate incompetence?
    “Uh…staggering corporate incompetence?”
  23. But back to my point. You can’t find your friends at a show. So once you’re in contact, it’s dangerous to split up without a clear and easy reunion plan. At the end of Saturday night, as Taking Back Sunday was getting ready to play and we were wedged up near the front of the crowd, Matt had to pee. Damnit, Matt. And so he disappeared into the crowd to find a port-a-potty. And I mean that he literally disappeared – not ten seconds after he left us he was lost to sight. Our cellphones were, of course, not working, and it seemed certain that he’d never make it back before TBS started playing. Which was correct. 30 minutes after he left, they fired up their set and Matt was still nowhere to be seen. And then, three songs in, with ‘Liar’ ripping through the crowds, a vice-like grip took my shoulder. I wheeled around, thinking that someone had slipped on the mud and needed help getting up, and there was Matt, grinning ear to ear and forcing his way between two very smushed-looking people. After we had rocked out for the rest of the show, Matt said to us, “There was a moment there where I thought I was never going to see any of you again.” Let it not be said that there are no miracles in this world.
  24. I nearly lost my shoe in the muddy mess of Taking Back Sunday’s set. The area in front of the stage was a soupy mess. As I leaped into the air during ‘Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team)’ my left shoe stayed suctioned into the mud. By some act of mercy or chance I landed almost directly on top of it and was able to slip it on (more or less). Considering how many clothing items we saw buried and broken under a layer of mud that weekend, I’ll consider it luck that none of us lost anything.

    We certainly could have had it worse.
    We certainly could have had it worse.
  25. Also: John Nolan seemed to be visibly disinterested in playing songs from the TBS albums that he didn’t help write. I thought that was kind of funny.
  26. Day Three, Sunday. Just me and Matt and Brenda again. By this time our shoes and clothes were covered in mud and we were feeling rather worn out from the sun, beer, and terrible festival food. It turns out that [censored]-ing Hot Asian Buns in my [censored] all weekend makes me feel [censored]. We caught some of Silverstein’s set mostly because the band that Matt and I had played in during high school had once opened for them at a local show. It only seemed to right to take the weekend’s nostalgia-ride full circle. And then we caught a few Andrew W.K. songs and the full Motion City Soundtrack set.
  27. Nobody has more fun on stage than Motion City Soundtrack keyboard player Jesse Johnson.

    This guy.
    This guy.
  28. And that was it. We left with a few good bands (The Cure, Mineral, Weezer) still on the docket, but we all had jobs to be at come Monday and a long drive back to our Detroit-area homes. Riot Fest, for us at least, was over.
  29. Ultimately it was an enjoyable weekend and it was a lot of fun to watch a number of bands that I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. Nostalgia, as I’ve noted before, is my generation’s drug of choice. But the best part of my Riot Fest weekend – despite how sappy it sounds – was simply spending some time being goofballs with old friends. There are worse ways to spend your time in the mud.

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