Precious Riot Fest moments with Andrew W.K. | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Precious Riot Fest moments with Andrew W.K.

He’s been on every lineup since 2012, but what does he remember?

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The personification of partying himself - ASHLEE REZIN/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media
  • The personification of partying himself

Few faces are as synonymous with Riot Fest as that of Andrew W.K. The irrepressibly positive personification of partying has appeared on every lineup since 2012. "Every year that we've gotten to play, I've always been surprised," he says. "Each time we get invited back, I'm actually even more shocked, more amazed, more humbled, and moved by the gesture." Did I mention he's positive?


Andrew W.K.
Sunday 8:30 PM, Heather Owen Stage


By now it really wouldn't be a Riot Fest without Andrew W.K. He's got so many memories of the festival—albeit blurry ones—that I decided to ask him about a few of the most superlative stories he's saved up.

What's the most inspiring thing you've seen at Riot Fest?

The entire operation is its greatest achievement. Putting on the quantity of acts that Riot Fest organizes is superhuman. The biggest achievement, and really the crowning glory of each Riot Fest that we've participated in, has been the atmosphere. I've been to many festivals that were on a similar scale that had a horrible atmosphere, that was very unpleasant, very stressful—sometimes it's an almost in­describable haze hanging in the air. You just don't want to be there, and it permeates everything. That's the hardest thing, because that's a spirit. It's the first thing to be tarnished by bad vibes, and at the end of the day it's the last thing that you remember. To me the greatest thing about Riot Fest is that it feels amazing. It just has a great spirit.

What's the most unusual thing you've seen at the festival?

I think it was last year. I went in, like every Riot Fest, more or less not planning on eating until after the show. Just drink lots of fluids and maybe have some small amount of food right upon getting up so there's some kind of sustenance to work off of—that's when you hope that whatever stored body fat that you have will be there ready for you during your set. It's a very physical show; you just don't want to be burdened by a belly full of food. There was all this really appetizing free popcorn. It was a very robust flavor—like a cheddar-­chipotle popcorn or something. I had a bite, I said, "Wow, that's really good." I remember looking out the window of the dressing-room trailer and literally seeing pallets of this popcorn—case after case, stacked up, like they had too much to even give away. That's why we had ten bags in our dressing room. I said, "Whoa, I guess I'm gonna eat all of this." I ate this entire bag of popcorn. Then I realized there was probably two weeks' worth of sodium in it—which I guess in one way is good, because it helped me retain water that I needed to then sweat out.

Do you remember your most awkward moment at the fest?

A tour manager that I really loved working with, during a very particular brutal summer tour, he had a hard time—I really loved this guy, and loved working with him, and I guess he didn't feel the same way about working with me. He just fell away from us, and he wouldn't return my efforts to communicate. I don't know which Riot Fest it was—one of the last three years or something—but I was walking from one end of the festival back road to the other, and out in the distance I see this guy coming towards me. The tour manager. My first instinct was first to say hi, and then I remembered how he didn't really like me. I got scared and thought, "Oh, is he gonna try to punch me?" Then I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't say anything to him, or maybe I should apologize and try and make things better." Next thing you know, he walked right by and I don't even think he saw me. I'll probably remember that moment for the rest of my life, but nothing happened. Out of all the things I saw and experienced that day, that's the only one I really remember.

What's your most joyful Riot Fest memory?

The times I got to interact with Dave Brockie of Gwar. I got to do several interviews with him, where the two of us were either interviewed as a duo or we interviewed each other. Getting to see him and his operation, from the inside at times, and from backstage—those ones really stand out. He was so visually compelling that he sears his image in your brain. When he died I was really sad—he was a real big part of that experience and that tradition, and I'm really glad that Gwar is continuing in his honor.

What are you planning to do this year that might be different from all the previous years?

I wanted to offer the audience something different, because maybe they had seen us play every time. We asked if we could play a different stage, so that we could play later at night—just to change it up, just so that I could remember this year as being different from all the others.  v

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