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Several faithful Reader staffers, deterred to varying degrees by chilly wind, persistent rain, and unavoidable mud, send fragmentary dispatches from day one of Riot Fest.
Molly Raskin: I've been excited for this year's Riot Fest since last year's ended. By 2:45 PM I was at the entrance, raring to go, wearing my finest black denim. And by 3:05 PM, I was hanging out with the medics, asking for Band-Aids for my blistered feet. Not that this validates everyone's claims that Riot Fest plays too much on nostalgia, but seeking out medical attention was totally my high school MO. I wasn't here to reminisce about my trips to the nurse's office, though. I was here to hear some bands, drink some beers, and compliment a whole lot of denim jackets.
I've never been in the presence of as many happy dads as I was during Stiff Little Fingers' set—and those dads rocked out, part of a colorful throng full of smiles, beards, and smoking clowns.
The Hotelier drew a sizable crowd, though as front man Christian Holden said, "You could all be watching Gwar right now." (Technically, Gwar's set was already over.) For me at least, Holden's band was a welcome break from Gwar sans Dave Brockie, which turned out to be lackluster and strange. The Hotelier's heart-wrenching lyrics commanded my full attention from the moment he started singing. It wasn't until a few songs in that I noticed the shirts on the guitarists flanking Holden. Each bore a giant pot leaf emblazoned with a single word—on the left, "Best," and on the right, "Buds." The afternoon's cold, dreary weather was the perfect complement to their intense set.
By 7 PM I was staking out the Dark Matter booth, on a quest for some much needed warmth and caffeine. I was also hoping to get my hands on a cup of the Mastodon blend—if you haven't read the description (which sounds incredible), I urge you to do so. Then go out and buy a bag to share with me.
I noped the fuck out of trying to get a good spot to watch the Offspring—as the mud suctioned my feet and poncho-clad revelers slid past me, I headed toward the slightly less muddy concrete. I didn't mind not being in the thick of the audience as the band tore through Smash, because really, how much better does it get than hearing those hits back where you can see an off-duty paramedic pumping his fist and loving life? Gone are the days when I felt the need to be front and center. Which is probably for the best—Dexter Holland is best seen from afar, now that he looks like a less greasy Guy Fieri.
Brianna Wellen: I was pretty excited to see Slayer play Reign in Blood. But then the rain started . . . raining. Once the monsoon hit, I realized that I didn't love the Offspring as much as I loved being warm. Tomorrow is a new day, yes. But every Riot Fest day should start and end at the unofficial best bar of the festival, Humboldt Park's Mas o Menos.
Drew Hunt: Well, today fucking sucked. It wasn't the music—the music was great. I caught All, the Hotelier, NOFX, the Offspring, and Slayer, and none disappointed. NOFX were their bratty, sloppy selves, and Slayer bordered on majestic, but my favorite show was the Offspring, if only because I'd totally forgotten "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" existed until they closed their set with it. The energetic bros next to me were so excited they formed a conga line; I might've joined in if I hadn't been so busy dancing on my own.
No, today sucked because a steady rain turned the festival grounds into a massive mud puddle, and the temperature hovered below 50 degrees for most of the day. Showers aren't predicted for the rest of the weekend, but the damage is done: Humboldt Park will be impossible to traverse from here on out unless you wear the proper footwear. Think Doc Martens, not Vans. Luckily, Riot Fest organizers did a nice job revamping the layout, making transit between stages much easier; there's a congested spot or two, but incorporating more of the park was a smart idea overall. If only the park weren't buried in mud.
Luca Cimarusti: Reign in Blood. The record that pulled metal out of the sludge and put breakneck, raucous thrash at the forefront of the cutting edge of music. I was thrilled for the chance to see Slayer play it from front to back. Unfortunately, I am an old man, and the cold rain that rolled in before Slayer took the stage drove me to the Empty Bottle to take cover and listen to the Hoyle Brothers instead. Sure, I regret missing that set, but about 15 years ago I saw Slayer's original, unstoppable lineup in action at the Riviera. I'm sure they killed tonight, but where was Lombardo? Let's just hope it doesn't rain during Primus on Sunday.
Leor Galil: Friday night's Mastodon set reminded me of the last time I'd seen the band, shivering in a frigid downpour at a Norwegian festival maybe seven years ago. This time there was a whole lot more mud—sludgy puddles that threatened to steal my boots if I didn't tread carefully—and a lot less screaming. When Mastodon ripped through "High Road" from the recent Once More 'Round the Sun, it sounded about as heavenly as a bunch of metal dudes from Atlanta can get, and the cold rain even let up for a moment.
I didn't stick around for much more of Mastodon, and in fact I mostly saw fractions of sets all day; Riot Fest has seven stages now, and each one features at least a few acts on my "to see" list. Occasionally I felt like I was spending more time walking to see a band than actually watching them play. But sometimes a few minutes can go a long way—Stiff Little Fingers opened with my favorite song of theirs ("Suspect Device," duh) and got through a few more rippers before I moved on. I wish I'd spent more time with locals Vamos! and their fast, furious, seriously fun garage rock. I also kind of wish I'd missed Gwar, whose longtime front man Dave Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus) passed away earlier this year; their new ringleader performs under a relatively forgettable name (it's something with a "B") and lacks Brockie's gritty vocals and devilish flair.
My awkward festival-as-playlist experience had me jumping from Title Fight to Vamos! and from NOFX to Radkey, and I took in Failure's tunes while searching for a warm meal. But I made sure to see a full set from one band: The Hotelier, whose Home, Like NoPlace Is There is one of my favorite albums of the year. Their fierce emo carries a tremendous weight in concert, and when Christian Holden sang about finding notes left by his deceased friend on "Your Deep Rest," it made my insides twist till I thought I'd puke.
The tingly energy of that visceral experience had worn off by the time Slayer dove into Reign in Blood. Not that I didn't like Slayer's set, but by then all the riffing in the world couldn't bring back the feeling in my fingers and toes. I thought I'd try to catch some of Jane's Addiction on my way out, but as soon as I got to their stage, front man Perry Farrell said he recognized some of the crowd from Lollapalooza. Sorry, Perry. Not having it.